Humphries’ time in World War One was spent fighting Turkish soldiers in Mesopotamia (now known as Iraq). He took many photographs of the areas that he travelled to during the conflict as he was an avid amateur photographer. This is evident from the sheer amount of photographs I discovered whilst reading Humphries’ diaries. Humphries thoroughly enjoyed travelling with the British Forces and made sure to document all things that interested him. His fascination with new experiences and meeting new people are what make his memoir so thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. In this post I will be sharing with you some of these instances where the world is shown vividly through words and photographs.
One particular instance that stuck out in the memoir of Humphries is The Siege of Kut-El-Amara. This siege was described by historian Christopher Catherwood as being ‘The worst defeat of the Allies in World War One’ and it’s easy to see why. The siege was lead by the Turkish against Kut which at the time was garrisoned by 6500 Indian and British troops. Despite Allied attempts to relieve the pressure on Kut from the outside, the Turkish smashed the garrison and the remaining survivors of Kut were marched to prison camps in Aleppo. Humphries was a member of the relieving forces, however, it is not the battle itself that interests me.Whilst searching through Humphries’ diaries on his involvement in the event I came across a hand drawn map of the siege.
This map, drawn by Humphries, is almost identical to the official map of the siege. I have included a picture of both so that you may see for yourself. In some respects Humphries map is actually superior to the official map as it clearly states the enemy positions. Humphries was clearly a talented soldier as this was found in one of his diaries that was written whilst still in Mesopotamia. Perhaps some details were added at a later date, such as the ink outlines on certain areas of the illustration. All aspects of the drawing considered, Humphries has produced a extremely well illustrated depiction of the attempts to relieve the siege of Kut.
The next area of Humphries’ journey I wish to discuss is that of him achieving the rank of officer. Eleven months after the siege of Kut, in February 1917, Humphries is awarded the rank of officer. After eleven years of service to the crown, Humphries had reached a point that he had always dreamed of. An interesting note on the awarding certificate from King George V is that the kings signature does not seem to match the printed block signatures of the time. This suggests that the certificate may have actually been hand signed by the king himself, however, this is very unlikely. The signature also appears to be in a different ink to the rest of the certificate which adds to the mystery of it. I have attached a photograph of the certificate so that you may ponder the mystery yourself.
The final instance I wish to share with you from Humphries war time memories is that of a near miss. The way in which Humphries writes about such serious things in a light hearted masculine manner has always caught my attention. How he crafts such serious matters into a simple shrugging of the shoulders and moving on. This particular instance happened in WW1 when Humphries was riding his bicycle through a nearby town. He writes:
Behind me, as I gaily peddled along the brow of the pave road, came an artillery ammunition limber wagon going at full gallop. As if this wasn’t sufficient to spur me on to record speed, a shrapnel shell exploded with a terrific blast above the road. The blast lifted both me and my bike a foot or so off the road and dropped me several yards ahead. Fortunately I came down squarely on both wheels.
This could have been a catastrophic event in his life with a shrapnel shell exploding just enough above him to cause no damage. Had he not been peddling as fast he may have not lived to write his memoirs. However he simply regards it as good fortune that he is ok and continues cycling his route. To illustrate the area that Humphries was riding through I have attached a photograph (taken by Humphries) of the Principle High street in Baghdad 1917 as this is around the same time as the event.
Humphries had an interesting and varied war time career and progression. I have only touched the surface of his involvement in WW1 in this post. From a working class childhood in a single room in Exeter to becoming an officer in the British forces during the First World War. Humphries memoirs contain a tale of masculinity and determination to reach the goals that he needed. Travelling the world with the Army and visiting new and interesting places became more than just a career for Humphries, it was his passion.
Christopher Catherwood – A Brief History of the Middle East (Carroll and Graf in the USA and Constable in the UK, 2006)
World War One Blog – here
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.
All photographs are my own
Official map of Kut – here