Edward S. Humphries: War and Memory Part One – Writing Lives

Edward S. Humphries: War and Memory Part One

This post concerns Humphries military career pre World War One. Before the First World War he had been a soldier for eight years, serving in Scotland: Penicuik and Shorncliffe from 1906 to 1907. Humphries then set sail for India in 1908 and joined the the Indian Signal Corps in 1911. With the signal corps he served at Fatigarh, Kasauili and Simbala until the signal unit mobilised for the First World War, 6th August, 1914.

Edward S. Humphries began his career in the British army at the age of seventeen. However Humphries had lied about his age during his enlistment to allow himself to progress a whole ten months faster to the position of soldier. In 1906 Humphries joined the Royal Scots regiment, the oldest regiment in the entire British Army, and travelled to Scotland with a fellow recruit. To get to Scotland the recruits were told to meet at Euston Station to catch the Scottish night express to Edinburgh. Humphries explains that ‘The recruiting sergeant, who came to see us safely entrained, was disappointed but not surprised, to find that only two of the eleven recruits turned up, the remainder having taken a few King’s shillings and faded way to repeat the procedure’. This practice was not uncommon among unemployed men around London as it gave them somewhere to sleep and put a warm meal on the table whilst they were in search of employment. With the sheer amount of recruiting offices around London at the time it was easy for them to do so. Jumping between each office after a short stay made sure that the men were always fed, rested and never enlisted.


Joining the Royal Scots regiment meant one thing to Humphries: he was finally a part of the army. This is something that Humphries had always wanted to achieve ever since applying to be a drummer boy in The Royal Marines at the age of eleven. He was now able to fulfil his goal and adventure the world. This event also marks where Humphries first memoir, ‘Childhood’, ends. This is symbolic in that Humphries joins the army and becomes a man. This was the case with many working class boys as they believed it to be a right of passage into the world of adulthood. Soldiers are often illustrated as a very masculine presence, mature and well disciplined. This is reflected in the writing of Humphries’  later memoir ‘On My Own’ as it concerns war and a masculine approach towards conflict.

Humphries second memoir ‘On My Own’ begins with his involvement with The Royal Scots in Britain. He describes the only other recruit to embark on the journey to Scotland with him as having ‘the misfortune of possessing dark multi-coloured skin and rather large pouting lips.’ He then continues to say they got on well together and were mothered by a matronly lady on the train who gave plied them with questions and gave them ‘juicy apples’. However casually racists Humphries’ comments may seem it is evident that he was by no means a racists and thoroughly enjoyed all people and cultures he encountered.

Indian Signal Corps, Kasauili 1914.


Whilst searching through what remains of Humphries notes and photographs I came across a photograph (pictured above) of the Indian Signal Corps. Humphries is the second to last man to the right on the top row. The photograph was taken at a time just before the Corps was to set sail for Mesopotamia to fight the Turkish in World War One. Little did he know at the time that he would be fixing vital communication lines to strengthen the Allied war effort. Humphries always welcomed an adventure and made some very good friends in the Signal Corps, especially a man named Scottie. Their friendship lasted their entire lives until Scottie was sadly killed whilst fighting in the trenches. The bond that the two men shared began in the Indian Signal Corps and never waned as the pair were separated to fight on different fronts of the War.

Humphries’ involvement with the army before World War One had been brief, but he had learned the skills necessary to continue his adventure. His masculine attitude always proved to bolster his emotions in difficult situations, such as the death of Scottie. This masculinity is illustrated in many instances of Part II of the memoir when Humphries writes of his experiences in Mesopotamia. I will be writing of these experiences in the post that follows this one: War and Memory Part Two.


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.

Dawson, Graham. Soldier Heroes: British Adventure, Empire and the Imagining of Masculinities. London: Routledge, 1994,


The Royal Scots Regiment –

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