Herbert Humphrey was born in Reigate Surrey on Monday 21st March 1921.
His RM service records contained a letter of recommendation from the
local vicar stating that as a youngster, he’d learned the clarinet
with a local group and regularly hid under the stage in the village
hall listening to a band, who provided Gordon with some tuition. He
also loved listening to music on his grannies radio. As a young man,
Gordon loved the 'new jazz' scene and was honoured to have played in
London one evening with Stéphane Grappelli.. who was a French-Italian
jazz violinist and Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt.. a Belgian-born
Romani-French jazz guitarist and composer.
Young Gordon enlisted as a Band Boy just short of his fifteenth birthday on 11th March 1936. He joined the Royal Naval School of Music at the Depot in Deal to study the cello & clarinet with one of his squad oppos.. Sidney Walkden RMB/X 922. The letter X on their service numbers indicated that the rank enlisted on the revised scale of pay.. the squad would have been one of the last entries to have had the letter before it ceased being issued. On completion of training in April 1939, Gordon was posted to the RM Band onboard the light cruiser HMS Glasgow, she and her sister ship HMS Southampton accompanied the ocean liner RMS Empress of Australia, which was chosen to function as the Royal Yacht for King George VI and the Queen Elizabeth’s Royal tour of Canada and the United States in 1939.. The ships sailed from Portsmouth on 6th May, arriving at Quebec eleven days later. The tour included a royal visit to the World's Fair, held at Flushing Meadows in New York… the trip of a lifetime for Gordon at just eighteen years old.
War II was generally considered to have begun on 1st September 1939,
when Nazi Germany under Hitler invaded Poland. In September 1939, Gordon
joined the RM Band onboard the light cruiser HMS Edinburgh, who’s
sister ship was HMS Belfast. The bands onboard ships those days would
have had to multitask as they were only about twelve strong and usually
composed of a Bandmaster 2nd Class, Band Corporal and ten Musicians..
1 piccolo/Flute, 1 Alto Saxophone, 2 Clarinets, 3 Cornets, 1 Trombone,
1 Euphonium, 1 Bombardon and 1 Drum. While at sea, musicians were responsible
for operating the fire control and communications systems deep within
a ships. The Edinburgh was in the Firth of Forth, around five-hundred
yards east of the Forth Bridge, when the Luftwaffe made their first
raid on the naval bases at Rosyth on 16th October 1939. The ship sustained
minor damage in the attack from splinters when bombs were dropped but
suffered no direct hits. HMS Edinburgh left Rosyth on 23rd October,
on escort duties with the convoys heading to and from Narvik in Norway.
The Edinburgh was later ordered to support ‘Operation Substance’, a British naval operation in July 1941, detailed to escort GM 1.. the first of the series of convoys from Gibraltar to Malta. The convoy defended by Force H, which the Edinburgh attached itself to, was attacked by Italian submarines and aircraft.
crossing the line ceremony is an initiation rite that commemorates a
person's first crossing of the Equator.. 'Crossing the Line' is one
of the oldest traditions in the Royal Navy and takes place when a ship
crosses the equator. Royal Navy tradition dictates that any ship crossing
the equator must pay its respects to the Lord of the Seas, King Neptune,
to gain his acceptance. The ceremony involves sailors being assessed
to ensure they are capable of handling rough seas and, as per tradition,
can see them being painted, fed a less than appetising snack and being
dunked. HMS Edinburgh crossed on 24th August 1941.
Edinburgh served and saw a great deal of combat during the Second World
War, especially in the Norwegian Sea and the Arctic Ocean during the
Arctic-convoys. Generally.. the weather was extremely poor with thick
mists and heavy seas resulting in poor visibility.. the cold was beyond
belief.. each morning the crew would have to chip the ice away from
the deck. On 6th April 1942, the three years old HMS Edinburgh, which
was anchored at Scapa Flow, was the detailed cruiser and ready to escort
the largest convoy (PQ14) of ships that had assembled at Reykjavik in
Iceland fully loaded and equipped to sail to Murmansk.
number of crew were rescued including Gordon and fellow RM Musicians:
survivors were taken to Murmansk, which served as the main port for
Anglo-American convoys carrying war supplies to the U.S.S.R. through
the Arctic Ocean. All the survivors were interned there for 6/7 months
until another convoy could repatriate them back home. The Russians had
nothing and lived in sub-human conditions and were being hard pressed
by the Germans at the time whose front lines were only twenty-miles
away with air raids by the Luftwaffe a daily occurrence. The British
sailors were given warm clothing and taken to bathhouses once a week
and what little the Russians had was shared. The food on the British
ships, although not brilliant would have been far better than was available
ashore. On the contrary.. Gordon told of his shocking treatment by the
Russians.. they were kept under armed guard, very little food and denied
medical treatment even by their own doctors.
Following his return from Russia, Gordon was discharge from the Royal Marines, and spent a couple of years in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, he then returned home but for various reasons the family couldn't look after him, so he moved to a convalescent home in Bournemouth. He hated the home so he discharged himself and went to Ma Burton's house where she was only too pleased to take him in. They remained friends until Ma Burton died.. they often went to her for holidays after the war.
a period of time, Gordon was well enough to go working with his father
in the building trade. He enrolled at night school learning building,
roofing, plastering, tiling, carpentry, gas heating, plumbing, lead
work etc, Gordon met Patricia Hayes when he briefly worked for her father..
who’d set up a building company after the war which failed, but
Gordon continued with the contracted work for him and then continued
on by himself in Coulsdon and later Caterham.. turning it into a very
successful business. Gordon and Patricia married in 1952. Gillian was
born in 1965.
Belfast was brought to London
HMS Edinburgh lies in nine-hundred feet of water, 170 miles north of Murmansk in the Barents Sea and is believed to contain thirty of the crew that perished. In 1981, a team of divers working at incredible depths in the Barents Sea found and recovered the gold bars from the wreck.. valued at about £50 million.
Leonard Mizen passed away on 3rd July 1994. Gordon and Patricia retired
to Corsham in Wiltshire prior to the millennium.
Gordon Humphrey sadly passed away on 7th April 2020 at the ripe old age of 98, he died of natural causes at Bybrook Nursing home in Box, Wiltshire. In addition to their four children.. Gordon and Patricia boasted seven grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren, a remarkable legacy for a hero who cheated death on many occasions throughout the war. His medals were specifically left for safe keeping to his grateful daughter Gillian Hazell, who has committed to extensively researching her father’s time during WWII.