Edward S. Humphries lead a wonderful and exciting life crossing three continents with the British Army. This dutiful and fulfilling lifestyle all began with one simple belief. This was not a belief in religion or any other external force that would rocket his life into success. It was a simple belief in himself. The belief that no matter how many times he was denied what he wanted, he would always keep trying. This self belief is present throughout Humphries’ childhood memoir and also his wartime memoirs.
Towards the closing chapters of his childhood memoir, in 1906, Humphries’ meets an old Scottish man who starts work at the Constitutional Club, Northumberland Avenue, where Humphries currently works. The Scottish man who begins work at the club is known to Humphries as Jock. Humphries writes:
Jock had served several years in India and for a short time in China. He was a great raconteur and the hours we spent washing and cleaning silver passed much more rapidly than hitherto, thanks to his enthralling yarns of India and the Far East.
It was in meeting this man that Humphries’ belief in joining the British Army had revisited him. After being denied entry into the British Marines at a young age Humphries had always had his mind set on joining but never quite knew how. With Jock’s guidance and fantastic stories of being an army man Humphries’ spirit had been renewed. This shortly lead on to Humphries finding the nearest recruitment office and joining the Militia. At the time Humphries did not know what joining the Militia fully entailed, however he simply believed in himself enough to take on the task.
After a short three months training in the Militia Humphries was then able to join the British Army and he went to the nearest recruitment centre to enrol. It is at this moment in 1906 that Humphries lied about his age so that he could achieve more than he was legally allowed. He explains that:
Being eighteen months under age for the Army, I had to make a false declaration on attestation. In this matter I decided to go the whole hog by declaring my birth date as 25.11.87, thereby increasing my age by 2 complete years. This false declaration had the advantage of enabling me to keep my birthdate and it also meant that I could qualify as a trained soldier (at the age of 20) some 10 months earlier than would have been the case had I been bare 18 on joining.
This was not an uncommon practice among young recruits as they wished to be a part of something much bigger than the lives they currently lead. The BBC ran a documentary entitled Boy Soldiers of World War Two where they documented the lives of two school boys who enlisted at a similar age as Humphries and lied about how old they were. However this only adds to the belief that these young boys shared, illustrating that there was a better life waiting for them with the Army. From this shared belief between boys, of almost 40 years difference, we can see that for young lads the Army is a calling that attracted them through hope and belief.
Before joining the Army Edward S. Humphries had one habit that could only be fully indulged in the cultural city of London. Fortunately for Humphries he was situated in London for work at the time. Whilst working Humphries marvelled over how he found a passion for attending at least one performance a week in the local theatres. This passion for culture was introduced to Humphries by a nineteen year old boy named Bert who worked at The Union Club in Trafalgar Square when Humphries also worked there. Humphries writes:
Following Bert’s lead I too derived much pleasure in visiting at least one of the many West End Music Halls each week. In no time I had seen and admired several leading Artistes including George Robey, Vesta Tilly, Harry Tate and Victoria Monks, to name but a few.
Humphries was very proud of his cultural involvement in London as he believed it to be a great part of his journey. This weekly habit satiated a thirst for involvement that Humphries had carried with him all the way from Castle Street, Exeter where his journey began. As a young man he would always want to be a part of something much bigger than himself. This desire lead into many interesting habits for Humphries in his later life. Many of these Habits lasted a short amount of time due to the nature of Humphries work and being constantly shipped around to new destinations.
Humphries lead a wonderful life full of adventure and culture. This is evident in his photographs taken in Mesopotamia and his writing in both memoirs. For more information on Humphries’ involvement in Mesopotamia and lot’s of interesting photographs make sure you keep an eye out for my next blog post on War and Memory. It is clear that as a man he enjoyed all aspects of life, but most of all he enjoyed meeting new people and getting to know the lives that they live.
361 HUMPHRIES Edward S., ‘Childhood. An Autobiography of a Boy from 1889-1906’, TS, pp.63 (c.35,000 words). Extract in J. Burnett (ed.), Useful Toil. Autobiographies of working people from the 1820s to the 1920s (AlIen Lane, London, 1974), pp.209-14. Brunel University Library.
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