Private Norman Philip Barlow, 102nd Battalion, Canadian Infantry and Second Lieutenant Lucien Herbert Higgs, Royal Flying Corps both died on 8th June 1917 whilst on active service.
Norman Philip Barlow was born in Kidderminster on 16th June 1893. His parents, John Barlow (a steam engine fitter) and Emily Drinkwater, married in Aston in 1872 and went on to have 13 children, of whom five had died by 1911. Norman was the second youngest of the nine known children: Rose Ada (1873-1957); Lillian May (born 1876); John William (1880-1882); Eva Annie (1882-1940); Florence Emily (1884-1977); Edwin Ivan (1886-1952); Dorothy Eleanor (1888-1892); Doris Louise (born 1895).
Between 1895 and 1901, the family moved from Kidderminster to Birmingham. In 1901, they were living in Deritend and, by 1911, had moved to Balsall Heath, where they seem to have remained until at least the 1920s. The local connection is that Norman was a member of Copt Heath Golf Club, and is recorded on the club’s roll of honour.
Norman was listed as an engineering apprentice in 1911 but the following year, aged 19, he emigrated to Canada with the intention of pursuing a career in farming. He seems to have set sail on 4th September 1912 from Bristol for Quebec aboard the Royal George. In Canada, he joined the militia and enlisted in the Canadian Infantry on 1st September 1915, giving his age as 22 years and four months.
He was killed in action during the Battle of Vimy and, having no known grave, is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial.
Lucien Herbert Higgs was born in Schaerbeek, Brussels on 21st March 1892 to a British father – Herbert James Higgs, born in Bristol in 1855 – and his Belgian wife, Florentine Augusta Victorine Therese (née Benoit), known as Flore, who was born in Antwerp c. 1873. Some official records give Lucien’s name as Lucien John Halbert Higgs. It seems that he had two younger siblings – André and Simone.
Herbert managed to get his son out of Belgium in December 1914, and then followed on later. On 20th January 1915, giving his home address as 16 Royal Park, Clivedon, Bristol, Lucien joined the 19th Division Signal company, Royal Engineers as a Pioneer. (no. 54366). He was promoted to the rank of Corporal the following day. On enlisting, he gave his occupation as an importer/exporter and motorcycle mechanic. He first entered a Theatre of War on 19th July 1915 and was a despatch rider in France for almost two years, returning to England on 15th March 1917 to take up a commission.
By 1917, his father, Herbert, had set up home at Lansdowne, St Bernards Road, Olton, after apparently residing in Alvechurch (according to a letter he wrote to The Globe, in September 1915).
In April 1917, Lucien Higgs was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and, after training at the School of Military Aeronautics (SMA) Reading, was commissioned Temporary Second Lieutenant on probation on Friday 1st June 1917 and transferred to No. 5 Training Squadron at Castle Bromwich. He spent the weekend of 2nd/3rd June at the family home in Olton, leaving on the morning of Monday 4th June to take up duty at Castle Bromwich. On Friday 8th June, after only three hours and 15 minutes of dual flying experience, he made his first solo flight, taking off from Castle Bromwich in a Maurice Farman S.11 Shorthorn A6897.
It seems that he got lost. He had only had 15 minutes of fuel left when 50 miles from base and he tried to land in a field near Blisworth, Northamptonshire. The Northampton Mercury 15 June 1917 included the report of an eye witness to the crash, Edwin Thomas Freestone, a carpenter, who described how just before noon on Friday 8th June:
he noticed an aeroplane flying low at Blisworth. It seemed to him to be in control, and to be about to land. It planed down gradually and appeared to settle nicely. Then it seemed to stop suddenly, and to turn a complete somersault. He saw Lieut Higgs fall out, and with others went to render assistance. The aeroplane was a wreck and Lieut Higgs lay under the wire between the tail of the machine and the engine. He was taken to the railway station, a quarter of a mile away, and a special train was obtained to take him to Northampton. The accident took place in a clover field, and witness thought the clover, a very fine crop, clogged the wheels and overturned the aeroplane
His instructor thought that he had landed downhill and with a following wind. Lieutenant Higgs suffered a fractured skull and died in Northampton Hospital. Official reports give his date of death as 8th June, although some newspaper reports indicated that he died early on Saturday 9th June. A telegram sent to his family on 9th June informs them that he had died in hospital on the previous night.
He is buried in the churchyard at St Mary & St Margaret’s Church, Castle Bromwich, with a private gravestone in the form of a large cross, rather than the usual military pattern headstone.
He is not commemorated on the Olton war memorial, presumably because the family had moved from the area by the time the war memorial was erected. Lucien’s father died, aged 74, in Brussels in 1929, although his home address was listed as Fox Hollies Road, Birmingham.
If you have any further information on either of these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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