A Leeds man makes life changing find after Internet search.

 

Let’s set the scene. It’s Leeds, Yorkshire, just a few weeks ago and after 64 years of being uncertain about his elder sibling’s resting place, Brian Higgins decides to Google his brother’s name.

 

Not very familiar with computers, he is more than a little surprised when, having typed the words James Higgins and Fethiye into the search engine, he is presented with a story published just a few months earlier by Fethiye Times that not only tells the story of his brother, it also provides answers to some questions he’d been asking since he was a lad. He shared his news with us.

“I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have found this reference to my dead brother”

Now we must travel back to Fethiye and back in time, about five years. One of the FT team was wandering around a graveyard (like you do) when they spotted some rather different looking graves. One belonged to Flight Lieutenant J Higgins, from the RAF and four to Flight Officers Muhammad Safdar Jaffrey, Syed Izam Haider, Muhammad Akbar Malik and Fakhre Alam Siddiqui, all from the Pakistan Air Force.

Fethiye History: A corner of a foreign field

Fethiye History: A corner of a foreign field

In just a few words, the five men’s gravestones said they had all died on 24th November 1951. In order to find out more about what happened to them and why they were buried in Fethiye, a friend of the FT team, RAF Group Capt. Peter Rogers, was asked to help with some research, and with his help and that of the RAF AIR Historical Branch, the story was finally told.

Flight Lieutenant J Higgins, from the RAF 1924 - 1951
Flight Lieutenant J Higgins, from the RAF 1924 – 1951

The time has come for Brian to tell his story

A few weeks ago FT had the privilege to speak with Brian by Skype. Over the course of about half and hour he explained his story. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

I found this article about my brother James by accident. I was sitting in front of the computer one evening when I just typed in my brother’s name and Fethiye. I have done it before but nothing happened. But this time it was different.

I was born in 1936; James was older, born in 1924. I remember coming home to hear from my mother that Jimmy had been killed in an air crash. Of course it was terrible for all of us. Later she was visited by an officer, Sq. Ldr. Best, who knew Jimmy. I was out and missed the chance to learn what had happened in detail but my mother always refused to talk about it.

The Pakistani airmen were buried in the same graveyard.
The Pakistani airmen were buried in the same graveyard.

Jimmy was an incredibly clever young man. We came from an ordinary Leeds family but he had managed to study modern languages at Oxford University and had been offered a job in the Diplomatic Corps but he chose the RAF instead. He had volunteered for this job before being posted elsewhere. He was only meant to be away for a few weeks. The rest is history, of course. It has been a mystery to me ever since Jimmy died and I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have found this story.

Fethiye Times: Brian Higgins
A Christian priest performs the burial rituals

The Air Ministry, together with the local people, organised the funeral procession, which was organised with full military honours for all the men and a Christian priest for my brother. They sent me photographs, which I have and treasure to this day. The Union Flag on the coffin was made locally of silk. I have always wanted to thank whoever made it.

The funeral was held with full military honors and a union flag
The funeral was held with full military honors and a union flag
Brian has been told this flag was made from locally in Fethiye, from silk.
Brian has been told this flag was made from locally in Fethiye, from silk.

All I had to remind me of the older brother I worshipped were these few photographs, the silk flag and his greatcoat and watch that were found with his body. It was wonderful that these were sent to us all the way from Fethiye. For a long time I used to wear his greatcoat and watch to remind me of him, and to feel a little closer to him.

Fethiye Times: Brian Higgins

Fethiye Times: Brian Higgins

In all this time I have never had the opportunity to visit Fethiye to see my brother’s and his comrades’ graves. But some friends of mine went back in 1996. They promised to visit my brother’s grave and I gave them copies of the photos of the burial and they showed them to Turkish friends who recognised many of the local people from 1951, the newspaper got the story, as did the TV. I still have a copy of the newspaper called Yeni Asır, dated Cumartesi 19 Ekim 1996 (Saturday 19th October, 1996) in which there is a news story by Ender Ozer.

The story of Brian's brother in the Turkish newspaper.
The story of Brian’s brother in the Turkish newspaper.

The story hasn’t ended yet…

The FT team are currently making enquiries to see if anyone remembers the funeral or who made the flag. We think this would be a fitting end to this story. Can you help us?

Looking out across Fethiye from the graveyard.
Looking out across Fethiye from the graveyard.

We would like to thank Brian Higgins for sharing his memories and photographs with us. Please do not use these photographs without permission.

The headline photo was sent to Brian’s family to show the town where his brother was laid to rest. It shows the panorama from the Rock Tomb, Amyntas.

 

 

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