Nicolson House

At the height of the Battle of Britain, the skies above the site on which Leonardo's Southampton office now stands, were the backdrop for one of the Second World War's most extraordinary heroic feats.


On 16 August 1940, 23 year old RAF pilot, Flight Lieutenant James Brindley (JB) Nicolson of 249 Squadron, departed RAF Boscombe Down to engage with the latest Luftwaffe attack approaching England’s south coast.


Soon afterwards, Nicolson's Hawker Hurricane was fired on by a Messerschmitt Bf 110, injuring the pilot in one eye and one foot. His engine was also damaged and the petrol tank set alight. However, as he struggled to leave his blazing machine he saw another Messerschmitt and, managing to get back into his seat, pressed the firing button and continued firing until the enemy plane dived away to destruction.


It was only then that he bailed out and landed safely in a field close to the north west corner of Genesis House in Leonardo's modern day Millbrook site, despite being fired upon by members of the Home Guard who mistook him for an enemy pilot!


For this amazing act of valour, Flight Lieutenant Nicolson was awarded the Victoria Cross - the only Battle of Britain pilot and the only pilot of RAF Fighter Command during the Second World War to do so. His story was lauded across the UK as this Pathe News film from the time shows.


Reservists Ready

With 2018 marking the centenary of the Royal Air Force and the service celebrating the achievements of all those who have served during its first 100 years, Leonardo has chosen to commemorate the actions of Flight Lieutenant Nicolson VC by re-naming the building in his honour.


On 19 October 2018, members of the Royal Air Force, members from the Southampton Royal Legion and Leonardo Southampton staff, came together to see Flight Lieutenant Nicolson's nephew Jim unveil a plaque and to officially open the building as Nicolson House. 


Speaking at the ceremony, Jim Nicolson remembered the heroism of his uncle: "I am extremely proud to have been asked to be here today. Our family is delighted that that the memory of Uncle James and his heroic deeds are being honoured in such a way. Uncle was an extraordinarily brave man but also one who was very humbled by the adulation he received as he saw himself  as someone who represented the bravery of all the pilots fighting to protect Southampton and the country."


VP Infrared Detectors Business, Peter Dillon, added: "This year the Royal Air Force sought to mark its centenary with the RAF100 themes of celebrate, commemorate and inspire. While at the various events around the country the nation has celebrated the Force’s achievements of the last 100 years, today we commemorate the bravery and courage of Wing Commander James Nicolson, and the continued inspiration of his memory and of his deeds under fire."


By September 1941, Nicolson was fully recovered and the following year was posted to India. Between August 1943 and August 1944 he was a Squadron Leader and C.O. of No 27 Squadron, flying Bristol Beaufighters over Burma. During this time he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.


Tragically he was killed on 2 May 1945 when a RAF B-24 Liberator from No. 355 Squadron, in which he was flying as an observer, caught fire and crashed into the Bay of Bengal. His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Singapore War Memorial.


Nicolson's Victoria Cross is now on display at the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, England.


Nicolson House naming