Topic: Cecil Frederick George Humphries

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Cecil Humphries was a First World War soldier with links to New Brighton

Cecil Frederick George HumphriesBorn in Mataura, 27th October 1886 to Charles Humphries and Ada Humphries (nee Bond), hoteliers in Mataura. Cecil Humphries attended Mataura for his primary school years and later Otago Boys High School. Well known as a footballer, he had a place in a Canterbury representative football team which toured New Zealand a few years before the war, was a strong swimmer who belonged to the New Brighton Surf Bathing and Lifesaving Club, and was a keen golfer, belonging to the New Brighton Golf Club.

Cecil was a clerk in Christchurch but was on holiday in the United Kingdom with his mother Ada when the First World War broke out. She stayed in the U.K. for the duration of the war.  They were obviously close as he wrote in his diary "If the fates are against me I hope I will die an honourable death with my heart full of love for my darling Mother". Cecil was a regular correspondent with friends and family.  Several letters have been reprinted in New Zealand newspapers of the period.

He enlisted from the U.K. and was drafted as a clerk at the rank of private and within weeks was promoted to corporal.

At his own insistence he was transferred to a military unit, 1st Battalion Manchesters, Indian Expeditionary Force, even though this entailed being demoted to private again but by September 1914 unsurprisingly he was promoted to Acting-Sergeant.

By December 1914 Humphries was proving himself to be a brave man.  The War Office Records read: "For conspicuous gallantry and coolness at Givenchy in the attack of Dec 20 & 21 and for endeavouring to bring into cover the body of his company commander, who had been killed. For this act of bravery Humphries was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

On January 9, 1915 he wrote a modest postcard to a Waimate resident which describes the incident: "We had a bit of a 'bust up' on deck on the 20th and 21st last. I got hit several times, but was lucky and got through without a scratch. I have sent my shirt to the Mater as a souvenir. It has eight holes in the tail (please don't think I was running away), but I happened to be leaning over a poor chap who had 'stopped one', when they turned the machine gun on to me, and God knows how I am here with a whole skin.  But it's the way of the world, so there you are."

On 12th March 1915 during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, he was wounded in the buttock. While convalescing he applied for a commission and was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in the 12th Highland Light Infantry.  By September 1915 he had been promoted to Captain, had been injured again and was being rehabilitated through the Labour Corps when he was awarded the Military Cross. 

This quote from the Taranaki Daily News, 29th December 1917 describes this incredibly brave man's next act of heroism.

”Captain Cecil Humphries of Christchurch was awarded the Military Cross for an act of bravery on June 6 1917. Further information contained in a private letter shows that the circumstances under which the decoration was won were as follows (the quotation being an extract from his commanding officer's despatch) "An ammunition train was being bombed by aeroplanes, and Captain Humphries commanding SSO. 10 Labour Company, arrived on the scene and took charge of the party. Under this officer's guidance and help eight trucks were salvaged. The, eighth was uncoupled by Captain Humphries and Sgt.-Major Harland, while the ninth truck was burning fiercely, and its load of shells was exploding freely. This remarkably gallant piece of work was carried out under' a hail of shell and fragments, anyone of which could have exploded the contents of the trucks which were being moved. I consider, from my observation of the explosion, that Captain Humphries and the other members of the party are deserving of the highest praise, and have the honour to bring to your notice their gallant and valuable work." Captain Humphries who is also the holder of the D.C.M. is one of the "Old Contemptibles," as those who went to France prior to November, 1914, are known".

Promoted 2nd Lieutenant 12th Battalion Highland Light June 1915

Promoted Captain 12th Battalion Highland Light September 1915

Back in action October 1917 with 1st Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry when Humphries was awarded a Bar to the Military Cross for the leadership of his Company.

In April 1918 as the Commander of his Battalion, he was gassed in the Forest of Nieppe whilst personally reconnoitring the Company's position under heavy fire but returned to duty leading his battalion forward, despite a fierce counter-attack by the enemy and was awarded the DSO for "fine leadership".  He personally led his men and inspired confidence with his courage.

In May 1918 Lt-Col Humphries had been posted to command the First Norfolks. This incredibly brave man was seriously wounded by shellfire at Achiet-le-Petit and died of his wounds 22 August 1918, aged 31.

Cecil Frederick George Humphries is buried at Foncquevillers Military Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France.

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