Letter to Henry Nicholas

An interactive comic strip based on a letter that was never received contrasts the experiences of a soldier at war with those of a young woman left at home. 

Envelope of letter sent to Henry James Nicholas by Ethel Martin, 31 August 1918.

Envelope of letter sent to Henry James Nicholas by Ethel Martin, 31 August 1918. H. J. Nicholas VC collection, Canterbury Museum. 2007.101.2


This envelope contained a letter for Henry Nicholas, a New Zealand soldier fighting in France, written by his girlfriend, Ethel Martin. Shortly before Ethel wrote the letter, Henry had been awarded a Victoria Cross medal for bravery. The Victoria Cross is the highest military award possible and receiving one was a rare distinction. Of the 100 000 New Zealand soldiers who fought in the First World War, only 11 were awarded a Victoria Cross. Henry Nicholas died before reading Ethel’s letter, just 19 days before the armistice. (An armistice is an agreement to stop fighting. The armistice that marked the end of the First World War was signed by England, France, and Germany on 11 November 1918.) 

The story of Ethel’s letter is told through an interactive comic strip available here. (external link) (This comic strip was developed in 2014 and may be incompatible with device/software.)

The comic strip contrasts the different experiences of a woman left at home and a man at the front, each with their sorrows.

Key questions 

  • What can we observe? 
  • What do we already know? 
  • How might people view this envelope in different ways? 

Possible discussion questions 

  • What can you see on this envelope? 
  • Where was its intended destination? 
  • Why do you think the letter looks so tattered? 
  • At what stage of the war was this letter sent? 
  • How do you think Ethel Martin felt when this letter was returned to her? 
  • Why did she decide to keep the envelope and the letter inside it? 
  • Why is this letter in the Canterbury Museum? What is the VC collection? 
  • What do you think life was like for Ethel Martin, and other women in New Zealand, during the war? 
  • Henry Nicholas won a Victoria Cross for his bravery. In what ways were Ethel Martin and other New Zealand women brave during the war? How was this bravery recognised? 
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