Sergeant (Pilot) William Burley Higgins
At the time of the Battle of Britain, William Burley Higgins was older than most fighter pilots having been born at Sherwood Cottage in Belph, part of the Welbeck Abbey estate in Derbyshire, in September 1913.
His parents, James Maurice Higgins and Gertrude May Higgins (nee Botham) moved to Hodthorpe not long after the birth of their son.
Higgins was educated at Brunts Grammar School, Mansfield. Afterwards, he became an uncertificated teacher, teaching at his old Church of England junior school at Whitwell, where he ran the football and cricket teams. He was a noted local sportsman.
In 1934, Higgins began a two-year teacher training course at Culham College, near Abingdon, Berkshire, qualifying for his teaching certificate in 1936. He was described as an ‘open air type and kind, good natured.’
Higgins joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in August 1938, as an Airman (under training) Pilot, initially training with No.27 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School at Tollerton in Nottinghamshire.
After being called up on 1st September 1939, he completed his training at No.5 Flying Training School, Sealand, between December 1939 and June 1940.
Higgins joined No.32 Squadron at Biggin Hill on 18th June, direct from Sealand. On his first operational sortie on 3rd July, he shared in the downing of a Do17, reportedly after it had bombed Kenley, which crash landed at Baybrooks, Horsmonden, Kent. Subsequently, on the 20th July, he claimed a Me.110 as probably destroyed but was also slightly wounded on this sortie returning to base safely. On 12th August, he claimed another probable, this time a Me.109, later, on 24th July, he shot down another.
When 32 Squadron was sent to Acklington for rest at the end of August, Higgins volunteered to stay in the fight and joined 253 at Kenley on 9th September.
Flying as “Yellow 2”, Higgins took off on his first sortie with 253 squadron at 3.15pm on 11th September. The squadron made a successful interception, some miles north west of Dover, of a formation of He.111’s escorted by Me.109s and Me.110s. In the fight that followed, the squadron claimed 2 Me.109s destroyed, 3 Do.215s destroyed, a He.111 probably destroyed, a Me.110 damaged, 2 He.111s damaged and a Do.215 damaged. Higgins contribution was the downing of one of the Me.109s, which crashed at Houndean Bottom, Lewes and a damaged Me.110.
Higgins second, and final, sortie with 253 squadron took place on the afternoon of 14th September. The 8 Hurricanes of the squadron took off to patrol Tenterden but were vectored to intercept reported bombers over Maidstone. However, they found only a formation of Me.109s five miles west of Faversham. The squadron was in a poor position being both below and down sun of the enemy formation. As they turned and climbed towards them, the Me.109s attacked. In the short dog-fight that followed the squadron claimed one Me.109 shot down, however, Sergeant Burns was shot down with severe burns and Sergeant Higgins was killed. His Hurricane, P5184, crashed in flames at Swanton Bridge, Bredgar, not far from Sittingbourne. A witness drove to the site of the crash and dragged the pilot’s body from the flames. He later wrote to Higgins’ girlfriend stating his belief that Higgins had died in the air.
William Burley Higgins is buried in the family plot at St. Lawrence’s churchyard, Whitwell, Derbyshire.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.