RFA West Lancs Bdes
681839 Sgt. William Charles Higginson MM, R.F.A.
William Charles Higginson was born on 6 July 1889 in Edge Hill, Liverpool. His father was William Higginson (b. 1862 in West Derby), a striker for a blacksmith. His mother was Frances Grace (Fanny) Smith (b. 1867 in Gosforth, Cumberland). William and Fanny were married in 1885. The 1911 Census says they had 13 children but 5 died young, however only 7 children appear in the other Censuses. They are Florrie (b. 1888), William, Fanny (b. 1894), George (b. 1896), Christina (b. 1898), Charley (b. 1901) and Gladys (b. 1909). Both Florrie and Gladys died in August 1911, shortly after the Census was taken so it was a very bad year for the family. At that time, the family was living at 194 Wavertree Road, Edge Hill. William jnr was a dock labourer.
A happier event occurred on Christmas Eve 1911 when William married Margaret Henderson (b. 1892 in Edge Hill). They had a daughter Margaret in February 1912, but the girl only lived a week or so. In December 1912 they had a second daughter, Grace.
When War broke out, William immediately volunteered. He attested he was willing to serve in the Royal Garrison Artillery on 20 October 1914 and was assigned service number 47136. However, he failed the medical examination. The doctor’s report says: “Patient has a haematocele on both sides but more extensive on the left. He received a blow from a cricket ball on the testicles about three years ago and the swelling resulting from that has never gone down. It causes him pain on walking and also when in bed. He has used a suspensory bandage but without benefit. He refuses to undergo an operation.” So he was medically discharged on 2 January 1915.
Haematocele can clear up without medical intervention, but whatever happened, William re-enlisted, this time with the Royal Field Artillery, in May 1915. He was initially assigned service number 4583, which in 1917 was changed to 681839. He would have initially been posted to “D” (Howitzer) Battery of 286 Brigade. At some stage, William was promoted to Sergeant. He was also, at some stage, transferred to 466 Battery of 65 Army Field Artillery Brigade. In February 1917, William and Margaret had a son, John. They also had a daughter, Florence, in the summer of 1918, but she only lived a few months.
65 Brigade landed in France on 3 May 1917. In the summer of 1917, they were at Dikkebus, near Ypres. Most of the summer was fairly quiet but in November that year, the Brigade was attached to 9th (Scottish) Division, who were engaged in the Battle for Passchendaele. As an Army brigade, 65Bde was shifted around the battlefield and attached to various Divisions as the need arose. In February 1918 they were attached to 2nd Division near Gouzeaucourt though again, fighting was relatively quiet. They were here when the Germans launched their Spring Offensive on 21 March. Over the next few days, under intense German attack, they were forced to retreat more than 25kms towards Ginchy and Longueval. It was only here on 26/27 March that they were finally able to halt the German advance. Later that year, in September and October, the Brigade was attached to 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division as they captured Cambrai and pursued the German army beyond the River Selle. At the Armistice, they were at Maretz. The Brigade saw action with a number of different Divisions in various parts of the front in France and Flanders, but by far the most intensive fighting was during the Spring Offensive and I guess that is where William was awarded his Military Medal although the formal announcement was only made in June 1919.
William returned home to Liverpool and he and Margaret had three more children: William (b. 1921), Joyce (b. 1926) and Leonard (b. 1928). I don’t know what William did for a living as he doesn’t seem to appear in the 1939 Census. He died in Edge Hill in 1969.
William’s brother George also served in the Artillery. George was born on 28 February 1896. In 1911 he worked as a coal lad but when he enlisted in 1915 he gave his occupation as fireman. He attested he was willing to serve on 7 January 1915 and he was assigned service number 68472. He was a Gunner and he was posted to 43rd Battery of 24th Brigade. 24Bde came under orders of 6th Division. This Division had seen some action at Mons and Armentières in 1914, but George landed in France to join the Division on 14 July 1915. This is an unusually accelerated process, as this was only 6 months after George attested and he was still only 19 years old. They saw action at Hooge in August 1915 and during the Battle of the Somme at Flers-Courcelette (15-22 September), Morval (25-28 September) and Le Transloy (1-18 October). They saw relatively little action in 1917 until the operations at Cambrai in November, the tank attack on 20-21 November, the capture of Bourlon Woods (23-28 November) and then the German counterattacks (30 November-3 December).
6th Division was caught up in the German Spring Offensive of March 1918 and at the end of that month George was wounded in the foot and was treated first at the front and then sent home to England to recover. George was back to join them in September when they were involved in the Battles of the Hindenburg Line, including the capture of Cambrai (9 October), then the pursuit to the Selle and the final advance in Picardy. George was finally demobilised on 26 March 1919. George returned to Edge Hill where he worked as a railway engine driver. In 1922 he married Emma Cockram, and the couple had two sons. George died in 1943.