Edward S. Humphries: Life and Labour – Writing Lives

Edward S. Humphries: Life and Labour

Edward S. Humphries was a man who did not shy away from work. At the age of eleven his father insisted that he was now to be fourteen so that he may start to work and bring in extra income for the family. Thus began a working life for Humphries age eleven. Throughout his childhood Humphries worked through many jobs. He began with a milk round at the age of nine and then went on to work in various hotels and clubs until eventually joining the Royal Scott’s regiment in 1906. Although his working life did not end here, as his involvement in Mesopotamia was full of toil and effort as he joined the Royal Indian Signal Corps and began to work on communication lines. This is also how he earned his Military cross medal whilst repairing lines when the area was under siege. The focus of this post will be on the later working years of Humphries as part of the signal corps in both India and Mesopotamia.

Edward S. Humphries. Signal Corps Certificate of Instructor Training Completion. 31st July 1925.

Whilst at the University of Leeds Special Archives I discovered various new pieces of information on Edward S. Humphries. Some of the most interesting information was his involvement with the Signal Corps and his progression towards the Military Cross medal. The certificate photograph above is of Humphries promotion to the position of instructor within the regiment. This marks a point in Humpries’ life where he had worked hard at a task to ensure that he got what he wanted. In his later memoir ‘On My Own’ he describes the signal unit as a place where he met a couple friends that he then cherished for the rest of his life. Just below is a photograph of his signal regiment. Humphries has drawn an arrow on the top right of the photograph to indicate his position. However, due to the photograph’s condition, it is almost impossible to accurately make him out.

Indian Signal Corps. 1925.


The photograph to the left I believe is dated just before the promotion of Humphries to the role of instructor as he is sat at the back of the photograph. The troops are displayed in ranks with the highest ranking officers at the front of the photograph.



The following quote from Brigadier General F.J Moberly explains the beginning of British involvement in Mesopotamia and also the journey that Humphries took to land at the port of Basra.

Great Britain declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 5 November 1914, and two days later landed troops on Turkish soil at the head of the Persian Gulf. Indian Expeditionary Force ‘D’, commanded by General Sir Arthur Barrett, quickly captured the port of Basra and expanded their hold to encompass the Shatt-al-Arab as far up-river as Kurna, at the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Humphries was transported to Basra in 1914 to aid in the signal line repairs and the construction of new signal towers. Humphries shares with us a photograph of the ship that had transported the troops from Bombay to Basra – the S.S Shuja. This ship carried many troops  into Basra to fortify the garrisons against the Ottoman empire.

S.S Shuja in Basra

Whilst posted in Mesopotamia a turn came about in Humphries world. He had worked extremely hard within his war time activities. This had considerable affects on how he was seen by his superiors which in turn led to his promotion to officer on the nineteenth of February 1917. He was awarded this role as he had shown consistent effort and hard work. He had also earned the respect of his fellow soldiers when earning the military cross medal for repairing lines when no other would. Humphries went out beyond the front line to repair damaged signal lines that were crucial to communication between army squadrons. This task was described by Humphries as something that simply needed to be done and as no one else would venture to complete the task, Humphries bravely took the task upon himself. Humphries went out under heavy shell fire in the dead of night to repair the lines. His commanders thought it impossible as enemy fire seemed too heavy for a man to survive out on the field that night. However, Humphries prevailed after spending the entire night fixing the lines. He returned in the morning victorious and was recommended for the military cross which he was later awarded.

Humphries’ labours in life are representative of his hard working ethic and masculine traits that enforced bravery in all aspects of his life. This bravery lead to many important victories within his military career. His promotion to officer was a decisive point in his career that enabled him to continue his activities in Mesopotamia.



Moberly, Brigadier-General F. J. (1927–1930). The Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914–1918 (4 Vols). History of the Great War Based on Official Documents By Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence (IWM and Battery Press ed.).

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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