Claude Wilfred Higgins

Memorial: Thornbury - Castle School

Regiment: North Staffordshire Regiment

Medals: British War Medal, Victory Medal

Rank and number: Second Lieutenant (formerly 30857 Royal Army Medical Corps)

Parents: Oliver and Mary Ann Higgins

Marital status: Married

Home address: The Forge, 13 Pullins Green, Thornbury, Bristol

Pre-war occupation: Draughtsman

Date of birth: 21/02/1893

Place of birth: Thornbury, Bristol

Date of death: 25/04/1917

Buried/Commemorated at: Basra Memorial, Iraq and Thornbury United Reformed Church Memorial Tablet

Age: 24

Further information:

Wooden Memorial Board

Claude Wilfred Higgins was the eldest son of blacksmith, Oliver Higgins. He had a sister and two brothers. He attended the Council School. In 1905 he was admitted to Thornbury Grammar School, having received an ‘Attwells Scholarship’, which meant his parents were exempt from paying fees for three years. Claude was a talented footballer. From 1908 he was a draughtsman at the Bristol Waggon Works. Claude’s mother, Mary Ann, died in mid-April 1916. Shortly afterwards Claude married Rhoda Ann at Elmley Castle, Pershore

At the outbreak of war, Claude enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps (Private 30857). He was promoted to Corporal and then Serjeant. In February 1915 a newspaper reported that Serjeant Higgins was to represent Aldershot Command at football. He had played for Thornbury Grammar School Old Boys in 1914 and in several matches for Bristol Rover Reserves. A later report said Claude had played well as centre forward and scored Aldershot Command’s only goal

In August 1915 Claude was sent to the Western Front. His section of the Royal Army Medical Corps (including the 69th, 70th and 71st Field Ambulances) was part of the 23rd Division. These men performed their duties unarmed

In November 1915 the London Gazette reported that Claude had gained a commission as Temporary Lieutenant, Prince of Wales’s (North Staffordshire Regiment). He returned to England for officer training. It is thought that Claude served for a period in India. In March 1917, he arrived at Basra, Mesopotamia, on his way to join the 7th Battalion

On 25th April, Claude and 2nd Lieutenant Frank Harrison drowned in the River Tigris. The newspaper carried a poignant account of the accident, based on a letter written by fellow officer and friend, J. L. Craig. Claude, Frank, Craig and Albert S. Kirby, another officer, were at an advanced post, waiting to join the Regiment. Three of them went to the river to bathe. Kirby was still undressing when he heard a shout and saw Frank throw up his hands. Next thing, Claude and Frank were struggling together in the deep water, being rapidly carried downstream. Kirby ran alongside the river, trying to reach them with a rope, but they were too far from the bank. They could not swim. It appeared that Claude had gone in to try to save his friend. A Court of Enquiry found that ‘the river was particularly strong and deceptive in this part and that all was done that could have been to help them and no blame lay with anyone else’. Their bodies were never recovered. Both men are remembered on the Basra Memorial, which commemorates Commonwealth servicemen who died in the operations in Mesopotamia, whose graves are not known. Craig wrote, ‘Claude was loved by all with whom he came in contact. He was everything an English officer should be, and was always a gentleman, ready to lend a helping hand. The Army has lost one of its brightest ornaments, whilst I have lost a brother'

By kind permission, this information is based on the following source(s):

Thornbury Roots website, Thornbury and District Museum Research Group and Forces War Records