Stephen Higgs 71-79 G
The OWBA Tom Hitchins Plymouth Lunch on 17th November was held at the Royal Western Yacht Club with it’s splendid views of the Sound, especially stunning as the sun went down.
It was a special opportunity for those of us who are the friends of Lt Col Stephen Higgs 71-79 G to join him in his hometown and to spend the day together and remember old times.
Although he didn’t show it Steve was very ill and four months later he sadly left us on 11th March 2013.
We, his friends, present on the day were Jo-Anne Ahlmen (nee Gale) 78-80 F, who had travelled from Sweden to be there, Matt Hopson 72-79 C, John Symons 72-79 C, Nigel Mackenzie-Shapland 71-79 G, Ian Hamilton 72-79 C, Jeff Green 72-79 F, along with teachers, Chris Ponder 73-12 S and Mr and Mrs Avens 63-95 S, it was also good to see Neil Kingdon 66-75 C. Being together brought back memories of the sixth form. Steve and I studied English, History and Politics as taught by Guy Hopson 75-92 S, Michael ‘Mickey’ Morrow 72-91 S, Steve Hewitt 76-81 S and Charles Phelps 65-85 S, each of whom was not only a gifted teacher and an inspiration but a friend as well.
Guy Hopson, with his polished wit, trademark pipe and monocle, and daring waistcoats, took us for Politics.
Charles Phelps’ exuberance and passion for literature and the theatre was infectious. Steve had a clear and eloquent voice and had won prizes for speech-making, so when studying Shakespeare Steve was a shoe- in for the parts of Hamlet or Romeo whilst the rest of us had to settle for 2nd Guard or Juliet’s nurse. Steve Hewitt, who became our good friend, was not much older than us at the time and instilled in us a love of modern literature and gave us the life-long ambition of reading (and understanding) the entire James Joyce canon (still pending).
‘Mickey’ Morrow took us for History and had a tremendous sense of humour. His lessons in the old library are forever memorable for the laughter and banter which ensued in the breaks from taking notes. Against all odds this brave band of teachers managed to shepherd us through A-levels and on to university. Steve went on to Warwick to study English and European Literature. After graduation he returned to North Devon to help his parents run two schools for maladjusted children in Atherington and Chawleigh.
After an enlightening visit to Berlin in 1985 in the company of Ian Blewett 72-77 G, already a Captain in 1 Devon and Dorset, and Paul Manley 68-77 C, his interest was raised by the formation of a Territorial Bn of the county Regiment. After joining as a private soldier in 1 Wessex he passed out from Sandhurst in Jan 1989. Posts in what became 4 DandD included Platoon Commander, OC Reconnaissance Platoon, (leading 3 Cambrian Patrols, one to a Silver Medal), and Company Commander in both Exeter and Plymouth. Interspersed with these roles was a month in Norway as an umpire with the Allied Mobile Force, and a tour of BATUS in Canada with 1 DandD. In 1999 he volunteered for six months on the staff of 4 Armd Bde for the run up to and the entry in to Kosovo.
This was followed by attachment to HQ 43 Bde in Bulford as SO2 G3trg deploying almost immediately (for his local knowledge) as Bde Liaison Officer to MAFF HQ in Exeter in an effort to mitigate the Foot and Mouth epidemic in Devon and Somerset. This was to last some nine months and resulted in a GOC’s commendation. TA Command and Staff College followed in summer 2000. After a final short spell as OC E Coy in Exeter he went to Ballykinler in Northern Ireland as OC HQ Coy 1 DandD until early 2003. His final TA appointment was as Chief Instructor of 43 (Wx) Bde Training Team, a post he would hold for three years of constant change, the Exeter based team expanding to train Phase 1 recruits and re-role as a Regional Training centre with an expanded remit and ORBAT.
There followed four years of attachment to the regular Army, responding to requests from the Army Personnel Centre in Glasgow. The first was as Chief Instructor to the Staff College of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces, part of the British led IMATT (Training Team). This rather idyllic existence was in contrast to his next deployment on OP HERRICK 8 where, as SO1 JRCC he was mentor to the Afghan Maj Gen Wahdat who was Regional Chief of Police for Southern Afghanistan. This entailed travel throughout the country and many memorable and vivid experiences.
A respite in 2009 took the form of attachment to the International Military Staff at NATO HQ in Brussels. A flat in Brussels and a job with the Russia Section within the Co-operation and Regional Security Division proved an enlightening and unforgettable insight in to the world political-military situation. His final appointment proved the most intense, Chief of Operations for Combined Training Advisory Group-Police, part of the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan. This was effectively overseeing the success or otherwise of all Afghan Police training throughout Afghanistan. Based in Kabul, it was of immense help that he had knowledge of the culture and geography of the country already, as there was simply no time to leave the office during the tour.
It was at Chris Ponder’s leaving service that Steve and I met after not having seen each other for a long time. As well as being my best friend Steve was an integral part of the camaraderie and spirit of our time in the sixth form and at the moment we were reunited that spirit was reborn.
If Charles Phelps will forgive me I’m going to adapt the work of Charles Dickens to illustrate what that spirit meant to us when we were eighteen. “It was the best of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the epoch of belief, it was the season of Light, it was the spring of hope, we had everything before us, we were all going direct to Heaven.” God bless you our friend. We will always miss you and our thoughts and sympathies at this time rest with Dan your father, Chris your wife and Jonathan 73-78 G your brother.