The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. W B Higgins
William Burley Higgins was born at Sherwood Cottage in the Derbyshire hamlet of Belph, part of the Welbeck Abbey estate, on 27th September 1913. Shortly afterwards the family moved to Hodthorpe, Derbyshire.
Burley Higgins' secondary education was at Brunts Grammar School, Mansfield. He became an uncertificated teacher and taught at his old Church of England junior school at Whitwell, running the football and cricket teams. He was a noted local sportsman, showing considerable talent at football, cricket and athletics. He enjoyed shooting, had an allotment and rode a motorcycle.
In 1934 Higgins started a two-year teacher training course at Culham College, near Abingdon, Berkshire. He qualified for his teaching certificate in 1936. He was described as ‘a ... fine athletic Englishman, open air type and kind, good natured.’
Higgins joined the RAFVR in August 1938, as an Airman u/t Pilot and he carried out his elementary flying training at Tollerton.
Called up on 1st September 1939, he completed his training at 5 FTS Sealand on No. 45 Course, which ran from 11th December 1939 to 10th June 1940.
Higgins joined 32 Squadron at Biggin Hill on 18th June, direct from 5 FTS. He flew his first operational sortie on 3rd July and shared a Do17, on the 20th he probably destroyed a Me110 and on 12th August he probably destroyed a Me109 and on the 24th he shot down another.
On 9th September Higgins was posted to 253 Squadron at Kenley. On the 11th he destroyed a Me109, shared a Do17 and damaged a Me110. On the 14th he was killed in combat with Me109s and his Hurricane, P5184, crashed in flames at Swanton Bridge, Bredgar, Kent. A witness to the crash drove to the spot and dragged the pilot's body from the flames. He wrote to the girlfriend of Higgins stating his belief that Higgins had died in the air.
He is buried in the family plot at St. Lawrence's churchyard, Whitwell.
Also buried there is his brother Michael. On 6th October 1961 he was captain of Dakota G-AMSW of Derby Aviation en route from Gatwick to Perpignan in the south of France. In poor weather and probably off course it struck a mountain (Le Canigou) in the Pyrenees. All 34 passengers and crew were killed. The official report blamed navigational error.
Another brother, James Stewart Higgins, was a Sergeant Pilot, flying Blenheims with 40 Squadron in 1940, including sorties during the German advance and the 'Battle of the Barges'. He was commissioned and awarded the DFC. 'Big Jim' Higgins was an instructor in Rhodesia and flew Dakotas in the Far East. After the war he was n Germany as an operations controller during the Berlin air lift and later commanded a Sunderland squadron. He was awarded the AFC and bar. Wing Commander Higgins retired from the RAF in 1964 and died in the mid-1990s.