Joseph Habijan HIGGS
Rank: private
Number: 24167
Unit: No. 1 Company, 13th Battalion CHESHIRE REGIMENT
Date of Death: 29 April 1916

Joseph was born in Ardwick, Manchester in the late autumn of 1875, the son of John and Clara. The 1901 Census shows the family to be still living in South Manchester and that John appears to be the oldest surviving child. John Higgs is not listed and had probably died by that time. Clara Higgs, then aged 51, ran a draper's shop. The Census lists a number of younger people named Higgs who were probably Joseph's relatives  - Alice (17, a pupil teacher), Elizabeth (23, worked in a calico warehouse), Emma (17, cotton hooker), Hilda (10), John (22, bricklayer's labourer), Lizzie (23, shirt maker), Olive (13) and Sam )14, joiner's errand boy). Joseph was then aged 25 and working as a moulder.

By the time of the Great War, the family had moved to the Stockport area and was living at 111 Grenville Street. Joseph's service number indicates he enlisted into the army, at Manchester, between December 1914 and April 1915. He probably went overseas with the Battalion in September 1915.

Over the years, Joseph had developed a great love for the countryside and for nature and often went on rambles. In his last letter home, he wrote "Easter here will be nothing like Easter at home, for one cannot forget that which is dearest to one's life - the first holiday of the year after the long winter, when one turns naturally to the country to find nature's awake after its long sleep, the hedgerows and the hawthorn in bud and the violets wild in the wood, along with the primrose. One misses that out here."

On Easter Sunday, 23 April 1916, the 13th Cheshires went into support trenches at a position known as Zouave Valley (near the French village of Souchez, 12 kilometres north of Arras). On the 28th, they moved into the front line. An small-scale attack was planned in conjunction with the 3rd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, to recapture a section of "Central Avenue" trench which had been taken by the Germans. The enemy had also occupied a shell crater in No Man's Land, putting them dangerously close to the British positions.

After an intense artillery bombardment of the German positions, three platoons of Cheshires, under Lieutenant Fitzroy A Somerset, left the British lines at 8.12am. They advanced over the open ground to Central Avenue, which they found had been abandoned by the Germans. The trench was consolidated and barricade erected between it and the trench leading out towards the crater. A Lewis Gun (light machine gun) was brought up to open fire on the Germans in the crater. The Worcesters had failed to capture the crater and the Cheshires were now coming under heavy fire from it. After 1 hour and 40 minutes, they had to withdraw. At 1.30pm, the Worcesters made another attack but could not capture the crater. 4 soldiers, including Joseph, had been killed. Another 39 were wounded.

Lieutenant Somerset later wrote to Joseph's mother "It was after taking part with his Company in a charge to re-occupy a trench that your son was hit by an enemy machine gun. We could do nothing to save him. He always did well and will be much missed in the Company. He died a soldier's death." It will not have been possible to recover Joseph's body as it was, almost certainly, in No Man's Land for a considerable period of time. It was never found and identified and he is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing. Fitzroy Somerset would himself be killed again leading his men into action on 7 July 1916.

By the early 1920s, when the War Graves Commission collated its casualty information, Clara Higgs was living at 4 Stone Grove, Steeton, Keighley, Yorkshire.

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