Edward Stewart-Humphries was born in Totnes, Devon in 1889. I was fascinated by the brief description of his endeavours in John Burnett’s ‘Useful Toil: Autobiographies of Working People from the 1820s to the 1920s’ where he summarizes the life of Humphries. Burnett writes:
[Humphries’] father was a NCO in the Royal Marines, his mother had been a cook. Educated at National Schools in Exeter and Plymouth, he started work part-time at the age of nine on a milk round, and full time at the age of eleven, as a page boy, in a series of clubs and hotels. In 1906 he enlisted in the Royal Scots Regiment, serving in India and in France and in Mesopotamia during the First World War.
What I find particularly interesting about Burnett’s summary is that he makes no mention that Humphries was in foster care from a very young age, also making no mention of his foster parents. This is one of the reasons that I have chosen to research the life of Edward Stewart-Humphries as I believe that I can illuminate the sections of his life that have not yet been looked at in detail.
Whilst conducting research into the life of Humphries I have discovered that he has also written two unpublished memoirs as well as the one that I have in my possession. These two texts are entitled ‘A Rankers Ramblings’ and ‘On My Own’ and they both detail the later life of Humphries. The text ‘On My Own’ is currently in The University of Leeds special collection and I will be attempting to gain access to this in the near future to enhance my reading of Humphries life. These texts detail how Humphries retired in 1934 and but then re-joined the army under MI5 as a security officer in 1939. The special collection at Leeds University also contains photographs and medals awarded to Humphries during his service. He was awarded with the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Cross during his service and later became a Major.
Humphries life grew from humble beginnings. He was fostered at an early age and lived with his foster family in their home in Bamfylde Street, Exeter. This home also doubled up as a grocery store that his foster parents owned and lived in. Humphries mentions that the grocery store didn’t make much money but it was enough for the family to get by. He then had various jobs during his childhood including a milk round at the age of nine and working as a pageboy in various hotels. This eventually led to him attempting to join the Royal Marines. He had his trial, and didn’t succeed. However disheartening this may have been for Humphries it did not thwart his ambition for military service.
After moving to Cornwall and living in a small cottage whilst working in a vicarage Humphries began to want more from his life. He achieved this by moving to London in the hope that the bigger city may bring bigger things to his life, he was not wrong. Shortly after moving to London Humphries joined the Royal Scotts regiment and travelled up to Scotland with a fellow recruit. It is here that his many years of military service had begun along with the excitement that he had wished for.
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.
Bourke, Joanna. Working Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class, and Ethnicity. Routledge: London. 1994.
Burnett, John. Useful Toil: Autobiographies of Working People from the 1820s to the 1920s. Penguin Books, London. 1974.
Humphries, Stephen. Hooligans or Rebels? An Oral History of Working-Class Childhood and Youth, 1889-1939. John Wiley & Sons: November 1995