Band of brothers - This is the astonishing story of how six British brothers fought in the Second World War - and all survived

This is the astonishing story of how six British brothers fought in the Second World War - and all survived.

The Higham brothers enlisted to fight overseas and were shot at, survived crash-landings, were blown up and sent on rescue missions.

The Higham brothers

The Higham brothers

Their brave sacrifice has been likened to World War Two film Saving Private Ryan, which sees U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose three brothers have been killed.

Luckily all six brothers, who were born in Darlington Street in Wigan, Lancs., returned home alive despite several being seriously injured.

Their paths never crossed in five years of war after being deployed to different conflict zones - but they did see each other to take a family photo at some point during 1943.

The photo shows five of the six brothers but doesn't include the eldest Joe Higham, who was kept back on reserve occupation at the time.

Dougie Higham was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in 1945 for his "determination and continued devotion to duty" after completing more than 160 sorties.

He helped rescue 78 soldiers from the Souda beach in Crete - an incident mentioned in Winston Churchill's memoirs.

The brothers all followed in the footsteps of their father James Henry who left his family to fight in the First World War in the Royal Garrison Artillery and was involved in the Battle of Ypres.

He pleaded with his sons not to sign up but three joined the RAF, two were in the Royal Signals and one was in the Marines.

Between them they saw action on land and on the high seas - from Northern Ireland, Germany and Italy to Alexandria and Japan.

Eldest brother Joseph Higham was in the Royal Signals and volunteered. He worked on the defence of London and then followed the Allies into Germany.

R.A.F. Flight Sergeant Harry Higham volunteered at the beginning of the war. He served in Northern Island on Coastal Command as Aircrew on anti-submarine and convoy protection patrols.

Royal Marines Serviceman Gerald Higham volunteered and was posted to India.

RAF pilot Officer William Higham enlisted at beginning of the war and trained as a pilot, qualifying in early 1940.

During one raid over Germany a bomb became stuck in the bomb-bay but he still managed to land safely.

William completed ten bombing raids with 51 squadrons but on one occasion he crashed while returning to base, spending three months in hospital.

James Higham was in the Royal Signals and was conscripted in 1942. He served in Italy and Japan.

RAF Flight Lieutenant Douglas Higham volunteered in early 1939 and was posted to 230 Squadron in the Middle East to fly as an air gunner in Sunderlands.

He was involved in rescuing King Peter of Yugoslavia and the royal family and the cabinet from Dubrovnik harbour.

His eldest son John Higham, 73, said: "Dougie said that they landed outside the harbour and taxied in and met the large dinghy.

"He was in the doorway of the Sunderland to help the people board the plane.

"He said that the last passenger from the dinghy had a very large briefcase in his hand so Dougie grabbed the bag off him to help board the plane, but realised that the briefcase was chained to the man's wrist.

"The man fell into the water whilst Dougie held onto the case.

"He managed to pull the man on board, and then found out that the man was the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia and that the case contained the crown jewels.

"He was also involved in the evacuation of Crete after the German airborne invasion.

"The Sunderlands were being sent out from Alexandria to rescue as many people as they could off the beach at Souda Bay.

"All the Sunderlands had made a large number of trips, but they were eventually told that they would make the last trip.

"They flew into Souda Bay and stood off from the land as the Germans were at one end of the beach and enfilading the troops queuing into the water.

"They eventually got 78 soldiers on board and turned to go out to sea, but with the weight in the plane and the number of bullet holes in the fuselage, there was a lot of water leaking into the plane.

"They had the engines at full power, but could not get up enough speed to take off, and when the did, they would drop back on the sea again.

"They taxied all the way back to Alexandria. Churchill mentions the incident in his


He added: "Apart from Dougie's DFC I am not aware of any other awards to the brothers.

"They were all quiet men who liked a pint and horseracing, but otherwise did not mention the war much.

"Their father did not want any of his sons to go off to war. He said it was a death trap."

Raised in Wigan, Lancs, most of the six brothers worked in fruit and vegetable shops but Dougie worked for LMS Railways.

They followed in the footsteps of their father who was badly injured while fighting in France from shrapnel ricochet.