The grave of Flight Lieutenant J Higgins, from the RAF, occupies a quiet corner of one of Fethiye’s graveyards.
The story of how he ended up being buried in a corner of a ‘foreign field’ reserved for non-Muslims required
some dedicated research but thanks to retired RAF Group Capt. Peter Rogers, a regular visitor to Fethiye,
the resulting story, dating from the early years of the 1950s, can at last be told.
A peaceful resting place
On those occasions when quiet contemplation is needed, where better to go than a peaceful, shady graveyard?
Wherever they are in the world, a cemetery seems to encourage meditation and a feeling of tranquillity,
albeit sometimes touched with melancholy.
There is something poignant but calming about lives that have passed; simply recorded as a name and a date.
Comrades buried in Fethiye
One such grave is that of 27-year-old Flight Lieutenant J Higgins from the British Royal Air Force.
He died on 24th November 1951.
A few metres away are four more graves: Flight Officers Muhammad Safdar Jaffrey,
Syed Izam Haider, Muhammad Akbar Malik and Fakhre Alam Siddiqui, all from the Pakistan Air Force.
They all lost their lives on the same day but only the latter four graves give the reason why: they died in an air crash.
Researching the tragic tale
Google reveals nothing but fortunately the archives of The Air Historical Branch (RAF),
part of the British Ministry of Defence, were able to shed light on this little known tragedy
and in a very helpful and comprehensive letter to Peter Rogers they explained the sad story
of how these young men came to be buried in Fethiye.
Let their words relate the tale:
Flt Lt Higgins was on volunteer service with the Royal Pakistan Air Force.
In November 1951 the RPAF sent two Bristol Freighters (Nos G789 and G792) to the
UK pick up stores for the RPAF and return to Karachi.
The letter continues:
Both aircraft from 6 Squadron RPAF took off from Bovingdon on 22 November 1951,
and called in at RAF Lyneham to obtain the necessary clearances before proceeding
back to Karachi in stages.
Flt Lt Higgins was undertaking screening duties.
On 24 November Nicosia reported that Freighter G792 was overdue;
it had taken off at 1354 hours GMT from Athens bound for Nicosia [Lefkoşa]
and was last contacted at 1504 hrs.
A missing aircraft
A search for the missing Bristol Freighter was carried out by the RAF and Turkish air forces.
On 26th November the wreckage was found in the Ak Dağı Mountains at a position given as
**** N and **** E.
The bodies of the crew were recovered and buried at Fethiye with full military honours
and in accordance with their religious beliefs.
On the night of the accident it was raining and the aircraft struck the peak at a height
of about 8,000 feet.
In addition to Flt Lt Higgins there were 4 members of the RPAF on board the aircraft.”
The prefix Royal was removed when Pakistan became a republic on 23 March 1956.
It has since been called the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
Times have changed
Nowadays it would be possible to repatriate the bodies to their own countries for burial
but in those days morgue facilities in this region were very limited and with no or little
electricity and only one ice factory in the town a speedy burial was required.
As a result these men were laid to rest in Fethiye.
From time to time those who remember them place flowers on their graves.
Local legends of that fateful night have developed over the years and the old timers
still talk about the event.
First published in 2012