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Sqd Ldr Clarence Wilfred Higgins DFC

Clarence Wilfred Higgins was born on 3 October 1913 at Charlottetown, Queens, Prince Edward Island, Canada the son of John Watson Higgins and Lulu Higgins née Murdock. He had three siblings: Edna Higgins (1911-2000), Frederick Earl Higgins (1915-1979) and George Higgins (1920-1921)

Before enlisting Clarence worked for the Imperial Oil Company at Charlottetown

He enlisted at Charlottetown on 10 September 1940. Now Aircraftman 2nd Class, service number R72591, he was posted to No.1 Equipment Depot at Queens Quay, Toronto on 9 November and on 10 December to No. 1 Initial Training School located at the Eglington Hunt Club, Toronto, from where he graduated on 14 January 1941 and was promoted to Leading Aircraftman. The following day he was posted to No. 1 Manning Depot at the Coliseum Building on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds in Toronto and which accommodated up to 5,000 personnel.

His time there was short-lived as on 27 January he was posted to No. 4 Elementary Flying Training School some 450 miles west at RCAF Windsor Mills, Quebec for pilot training on Tiger Moth and Fleet Finch trainers.

tiger moth

The much-loved Tiger Moth trainer

Five weeks later he graduated and it was then back to Toronto and No. 1 Manning Depot until 7 April when he was posted to No. 8 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Moncton, New Brunswick a mere 100 miles from Charlottetown and the nearest he had been to home since he enlisted. Here he was to train on the twin engine Avro Anson and where he was awarded his Flying Badge and promoted to Sergeant on 3 July 1941.

404 crest

Later that month he embarked for the UK where he undertook further training before joining 405 'Vancouver' Squadron based at RAF Topcliffe in the North Riding of Yorkshire, probably in late October/early November 1941. At that time the Squadron was operating with Vickers Wellingtons and on 23 November Clarence made his first operational flight, a raid on Dunkirk.

vickers wellington

Vickers Wellington medium bomber

Flying as second dickey it was a round trip of three hours. He was to fly as second pilot for another six operations against targets at Ostend, Bremen, Hanover, Essen, Hamburg and against the Scharnhorst though the target was not located.

Operations as 2nd Pilot

23 November 1941 - Dunkirk (3.00)

26 November 1941 - Ostend (2.30)

21 January 1942 - Bremen (5.50)

26 January 1942 - Hanover (7.00)

12 February 1942 - Scharnhorst (3.45 daylight)

6 April 1942 - Essen (6.50)

8 April 1942 - Hamburg (5.30)

In April 1942 the Squadron converted to the four engine Handley Page Halifax. Clarence necessarily underwent additional training in flying these heavy bombers and subsequently did not return to operational flying until June 1942. However from here onwards he would fly as captain of aircraft commencing with a raid on Bremen on 25 June. Operations followed on a regular basis including 10 in July alone and on 8 July he was promoted to Pilot Officer, service number J15695.

The raid on Osnabruck of 6 October brought his 27th and final operation of his tour. This was the third time that he had been forced to return on three engines but fortunately his luck had held once more.

On two occasions during this tour he brought his aircraft back to base with only three engines operating. On night while the bomber was making it’s 'run in' on the target at Essen it was caught in a flak barrage. The flight engineer was wounded in the left leg and the starboard inner engine rendered useless, he continued on to his objective and got his bombs way before returning to base on three engines.

Another night, over Osnabruck, Germany, an engine caught fire just after the bomber had left the target. He was forced to fly home [on three engines].

Courtesy RCAF Press Release No.5612 dated 30 June 1944 from F/L H.W. Eggleston, transcribed by Huguette Oates

Operations as Captain of aircraft.

25 June 1942 - Bremen (5.10)

27 June 1942 - Bremen (5.10)

29 June 1942 - Bremen (5.15, returned on three engines)

2 July 1942 - Bremen (3.30, intercom failure; bombed Ameland)

8 July 1942 - Wilhelmshaven (4.25)

13 July 1942 - Duisburg (5.15)

19 July 1942 - Vegesack (5.20)

21 July 1942 - Duisburg (4.15, good photograph)

23 July 1942 - Duisburg (4.55)

25 July 1942 - Duisburg (3.20, abandoned mission due to icing)

26 July 1942 - Hamburg (5.45)

29 July 1942 - Saarbrucken (6.10)

31 July 1942 - Dusseldorf (4.40)

4 Aug 1942 - Essen (5.05, hit by flak; returned on three engines)

16 Sept 1942 - Essen (6.15)

19 Sept 1942 - Saarbrucken (7.20)

23 Sept 1942 - Flensburg (6.25, bombed at 1,500 feet - should this read 15,000 feet?)

1 Oct 1942 - Flensburg (6.10, attacked alternative target, Sylt aerodrome: bombed from 6000 feet at 21.20 hours)

5 Oct 1942 - Aachen (5.15)

6 Oct 1942 - Osnabruck (5.40, returned on three engines)

Having completed his tour he became a screened pilot and was subsequently posted to 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) at RAF Leeming in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Having only been formed on 7 October 1942 Clarence Higgins was, presumably, one of its first instructors.

His time at 1659 HCU was not without incident albeit minor. On 17th November 1942 flying Halifax R9384 he was involved in a minor accident and a second one on 3 December 1942 when flying Halifax L9532. The tail wheel tyre burst resulting in minor damage to the aircraft. On 14 May 1943 1652 HCU relocated to nearby RAF Topcliffe.

Clarence Higgins was promoted to Flying Officer on 8 January 1943 and to Flight Lieutenant on 10 June 1943. In October 1943 his time as an instructor came to an end and he returned to operational flying with 431 'Iroquois' Squadron based at RAF Tholthorpe near York. He commenced his second tour of operations on 22 October with a raid on Kassel and by 29 January 1944 had flown 4 more operations bringing his career total to 32.

2nd TOUR

22 October 1943 - Kassel (6.20)

18 November 1943 - Mannheim (8.00)

19 November 1943 - Leverkusen (6.35)

20 January 1944 - Berlin (8.15, attacked by fighter)

29 January 1944 - Berlin (7.50, attacked by fighter)

There followed shortly afterwards a recommendation for the award of the Distinguished Service Cross viz:

DHist file 181.009 D.5526 (RG.24 Vol.20667) has recommendation dated 20 February 1944 when he had flown 32 sorties (176 hours 45 minutes). First tour was 23 November 1941 to 6 October 1942 (27 sorties which included returning on three engines from Bremen, 29 June 1942, and returning from Essen on three engines after a flak hit, 4 August 1942. Second tour had been five sorties to date (22 October 1943 to 29 January 1944), with attacks by fighters on last two trips (20 January and 29 January 1944, both to Berlin).

This officer has taken part in attacks on numerous targets in the Ruhr Valley and other such heavily defended objectives as Berlin, Mannheim, and Hamburg. He is now on his second tour of operations and has consistently shown great determination, initiative and fine airmanship. On three occasions Squadron Leader Higgins has flown his aircraft back from Germany with one engine not functioning and in two other sorties has successfully evaded persistent attacks by enemy night fighters.

The award was duly made on 10 May 1944 as promulgated in the London Gazette of 23 May 1944 and

AFRO 1380/44 dated 30 June 1944.

The recommendation also refers to him as Squadron Leader Higgins but the date of this promotion has not been established.

He completed a further 11 operations with 431 Squadron before being transferred to 427 'Lion' Squadron based at RAF Leeming where he had been an instructor with 1659 HCU. Within 5 weeks he had completed a further 12 operations bringing his total to 28 and the end of his second tour.

On his final mission, Clarence decided to mark the occasion by giving his ever present crew a special treat.

RCAF Press Release No.5612 dated 30 June 1944 from F/L H.W. Eggleston, transcribed by Huguette Oates, reads:


It was the pilot’s final sortie on his second tour of operations and the crew who had flown with him on most of them were still anxiously awaiting the thrills they hadn’t yet experienced during assaults on enemy targets. So just to oblige them, F/L C.W. Higgins, DFC, of Charlottetown, P.E.I. (St. Avards), a Lion squadron skipper, ended his operational career in a blaze of glory by zooming his big Halifax bomber down to within 300 feet of the deck and gave his gunners and bomb-aimer the opportunity to strafe German troops, tanks and radio installations with machine-gun fire.

It all happened during a daylight attack on a launching site for German V1 flying bombs 'doodle bugs' located near Gorenflos, France. The bomber had unloaded its cargo of T.N.T. on the target and was wending its way home when it was caught in a flak barrage about 20 miles inside the French coast. One piece of flak blasted its way through the mid-upper gunner’s turret, hit a panel in front of him, bounced back and hit him on the nose. He was not seriously hurt.

Forced to take violent evasive action, F/L Higgins put his aircraft into a dive. The next thing the crew knew, they were so close to the ground that they could see German troops, tanks and radio installations looming up ahead of them. The long awaited chance had come --- the mid-upper gunner, P/O Con Kelway of Victoria, B.C., (953 Balmoral Road), the rear-gunner and bomb-aimer (both Englishmen), manned the guns and went into action.

'We could almost see the 'whites of their eyes,' said the mid-upper gunner in relating the story of the 'shoot up'. The troops digging on the beaches fled for cover as we opened fire, but those guarding the tanks opened up on us with machine guns and rifles. 'There was also a horse and cart ambling along a road. The fire from our guns startled it and it bolted. The last thing we saw it was still running. We also razed about 20 buildings close by the radio installations with long bursts before breaking off the attack. It was real fun while it lasted,' he concluded.

He holds the distinction of taking Air Vice-Marshal C.M. McEwen MC DFC and Bar, air officer commanding the Canadian Bomber Group in England, on one attack on a French target. On another occasion, he was accompanied by Group Captain Doug Edwards, officer commanding the station.

With a career total of 55 operations he was now eligible for repatriation to Canada for a well-earned rest and this was duly came about on 12 August 1944. His next few postings are uncertain but on 8 May 1945 he was with 164 (Transport) Squadron, on 24 May 1945 he was transferred to 168 (Heavy Transport) Squadron and on 14 July to 5 OTU probably at RCAF Abbotsford, British Columbia.


higgins shaking hands

higgins with ground crew

higgins quote most exciting

Clarence Higgins retired from the RCAF on 29 October 1945

He died at Toronto Hospital on 5 May 1985 aged 71 and was buried at the People's Cemetery, Charlottetown, Queens, Prince Edward Island, Canada.

peoples cemetery charlottown

People's Cemetery Charlottown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to François Dutil for suggesting this story and providing the photographs and much of the other information.

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