The Man Who Fell to Earth
St Clears is a lovely place, certainly on a sunny day. So go there. Head towards Laugharne and on the left hand side you will find your destination, the Church of Mary Magdalene. It is opposite the historic Town Hall and you will pass through a beautiful lych gate into a tranquil timeless world. The church has a long history. It was founded in 1100 as a priory and apparently contains the best Norman stone carving in Carmarthenshire. And yet in all that time there can have been no one buried there who has had such a dramatic life as the man whose grave you have come to see.
It isn’t difficult to find. It is a modern headstone erected in 2003 and it shines brightly on the left hand side as you walk down the path towards the church. It is a stone which summarises a life but which is unable to give you a full picture of the quite remarkable career of Wing Commander Frederick Higginson OBE DFC DFM (1913-2003), fighter ace. As you will see, if anyone lived a life which might have been scripted for them in Hollywood, then it was ‘Taffy’ Higginson.
He was born in Gorseinon near Swansea in 1913, joined the RAF as an apprentice in 1929 and was accepted for pilot training in 1935. He was a young man living a dream but all too soon he was living a nightmare. By 1940 he had been promoted to Flight Sergeant and was fighting over Dunkirk before moving on to the Battle of Britain over the green fields of Kent. He was awarded the DFM and became one of only thirty six British fighter pilots during the whole of World War II to shoot down more than twelve enemy aircraft – and this at a time when government planners estimated the average life expectancy of a fighter pilot at only three weeks.
However Higginson ran out of luck whilst escorting a formation of Blenheim bombers raiding Lille in June 1941. His Hurricane was hit by a cannon shell and spiralled out of control near St Omer. He parachuted out and the adventure began.
“I pulled the rip-cord, the parachute opened, and after the tremendous noise all was peace and quiet. The countryside below looked delightful in the summer sunshine.”
He floated gently into a wood northwest of Fauquembergues, where he was detained by a German officer and sergeant who had watched his peaceful descent from their motorbike and sidecar. With considerable professional pride they stuffed their prize capture into the sidecar. But they couldn’t pull their eyes away from the drama of the skies above them and so, when they were distracted by a low-flying German fighter, Higginson grabbed hold of the handlebars, over-turned the vehicle into a ditch and disappeared into the woods. Suddenly he was on the run…
Read the rest of this fascinating story in my book Grave Tales From Wales Volume Two along with 35 other unexpected stories.
Published by Cambria in April 2022
Find it in the menu or on the How to Buy page or in The Shopping Cart