Thomas Higgins was the son of John and Amelia Higgins of Chester. He was born there on March 6th 1890.
In the 1891 census for England, the family are found at 40 Nicholas Street, Chester. Head of the family, John Higgins, was 37 and a solicitor’s clerk. His wife Amelia was also 37, and the rest of the family were William 14, John 12, Joseph 7, Eliza 6, Martha 3, and Thomas who was 1. Everyone had been born at Chester.
In 1901 the family were still at the same address, however only the parents and Thomas, now 11. were at home on the night.
By 1911, the census for Wales records that John and Amelia Higgins were living at Hill Crest, Meliden Road, Prestatyn, with daughter Martha, age 23. John was described as a solicitor’s managing clerk. Amelia had given birth to 8 children, who were all living.
In the 1911 census for England, Thomas is living at 14 City Road, Birmingham, at the house of William Carr, an insurance broker, and his wife. Thomas is described as a lodger, age 22, born at Chester, and his occupation is given as a surveyor land valuer for the department of Inland Revenue.
The website Soldiers who Died in the Great War confirms the details noted above, and gives his rank as Temporary Lieutenant.
Further information is found on the website Great Britain Royal Naval Division Casualties of the Great War. Thomas enlisted on September 25th 1914, and was with the 1st Field Company MEF from March 1st 1915 until July 5th of that year. He was invalided to the UK on August 23rd 1915 with enteric, and discharged to a commission with the Royal Engineers on January 22nd 1916. His service number is given as ex-Deal 241/Sapper RN, Divisional Engineers. His later rank was Temporary Lieutenant, MC.
The Prestatyn Weekly 23rd September 1916 states:
Lt Higgins of Hillcrest has won the MC. He remained on duty after being wounded, and succeeded in saving his Coy when in a tight place in France.
The Prestatyn Weekly for October 21st 1916 reports that Lieutenant Thomas Higgins RE who was recently awarded the Military Cross has been seriously wounded on the 16th October. It was a gunshot wound in the head and face.
Only recently Lt Higgins was awarded the MC. We trust the gallant young officer will soon recover. A telegram was sent to his parents. Urgent J Higgins Highbury Avenue, Prestatyn. You are permitted to visit 2Lt Thomas Higgins RE. Seriously ill at 20 General Hospital, Camiers.
The same paper for November 25th 1916 writes that it regrets that Lieutenant Higgins, whose parents reside at Hill Crest and who had been awarded the Military Cross has now died.
….He was badly wounded about the head, and succumbed to his injuries in hospital. His sister, Mrs Gasquoine travelled to France on receipt of the news, and was present at his deathbed.
There is an entry for Thomas in the UK Army Register of Soldiers Effects. His military affairs were conducted by Cox and Co, the Army agents, and a sum of over £68 was reimbursed to his account.
Thomas is commemorated on his father’s grave at Overleigh cemetery, Chester. The inscription is as follows:
In loving remembrance of John, the beloved husband of Amelia Higgins, of this city, died June 4th 1925, age 71years.
Also Thomas Higgins Lieutenant R .E. M.C. beloved son of the above
Wounded at Thiepval, France, October 15th 1916
And interred at Etaples November 15th 1916
Age 26 years R.I.P.
Thomas must have survived for about a month after being injured.
In the National Probate Calendar for 1917 there is an entry for Thomas:
Higgins – Thomas of Thiepval, Highbury Avenue Prestatyn Flintshire, 2nd Lieutenant R.E. died November 15th in France. Administration, London, February 20th to John Higgins, gentleman, effects £1616 3s 8d.
It may be that the family changed the name of their house to the place where their son was killed, probably as a continual act of remembrance.
In the WW1 Medal Rolls Index, Thomas is described as serving with Naval Forces R.E .and although hard to read it looks as if the 1915 Star is awarded by the Admiralty, while the other decorations including the Military Cross are awarded by the War Office.
There is a card for Thomas in the archives at Hawarden. It gives his period of service as 2 years and two months, his rank as 1st Lieutenant, and his distinction as the Military Cross. There are other details given already noted above. It was signed on November 13th 1919 by Martha Gasquoine, Thomas’ sister.
Thomas was awarded the MC for his actions on April 24th 1916 in the Liepzig Salient (Thiepval)
His citation in the Divisional history reads:
For conspicuous gallantry during operations. He persisted in the consolidation of the captured trenches under intense shell fire. Later he volunteered to assist the infantry by carrying up material, and made several journeys through a heavy barrage.
It was during a later incident that he suffered the wounds which caused his death.
There is a full account of Thomas’ pre-war career and also his Army service in an entry in the Great War Forum (Lt Thomas Higgins, MC, started by Gordon Caldecott), from which some of the above details have been taken.
However, in November 2014, ninety eight years after Thomas death, events occurred in which his name was mentioned in local papers, and also on the ITV Granada News. The Grosvenor Rowing Club from Chester were naming a new boat, and decided to choose a name at random from their Great War Commemoration Board of former Grosvenor rowers who had been killed. Previously, all new boats had been named after members of the Grosvenor family. Members of the Club researched Thomas’ history and traced some members of his family, who were invited to the event.
Their research showed that Thomas never received his medal – he died from injuries shortly after he had showed conspicuous gallantry in returning numerous times to the front line trenches to help shore them up, and protect front line troops. Thomas’ family were honoured and moved that their ancestor was remembered in this way, as his story was in danger of being forgotten.
On November 8th 1914, at The Groves in Chester, the site of the Grosvenor Rowing Club, The Duke of Westminster named the new boat “Lt Thomas Higgins MC”. An actor in a WW1 soldier’s uniform read Thomas’ story from the balcony of the clubhouse, and members of the Royal Engineers formed a guard of honour as the boat was named, and placed a flag over the boat.
Members of Thomas family, including his great niece were present. All she knew was that her father had had an uncle who was killed in WW1, and had sent a postcard from Dover in 1914, saying ‘I don’t suppose I’ll be needed’. They later chatted with the Duke, who recalled that he had lost both his grandfathers in WW1; the 4th Duke of Westminster Lord Hugh Grosvenor being only the second officer killed early in 1914. Research of Thomas’ family and siblings revealed they had various occupations, including a singer, an actress, the landlord of the Coach and Horses pub in Chester, and a Franciscan monk!
In addition to the Rowing Club memorial, Thomas is also commemorated on the Prestatyn and the Chester City memorials.
The Duke of Westminster names the boat