Alfred John Humphrey was born in Fernhurst in Sussex on 25th January 1893, the illegitimate child of Maria Winifred Humphrey. Alfred lived with his grandparents William and Mary Ann at Hillgrove near Lurgashall in Sussex and the 1901 census lists him there with his widowed grandfather, mother Maria and two cousins, William Humphrey and Rose White. Later that year his mother married Jessie Dalmon in Lurgashall and they had two children, Winifred in 1902 and Alice in 1905. In 1911 the family were living at Northchapel where both Alfred and his step father Jesse were farm labourers.
However, the sea was calling and Alfred joined the navy at Portsmouth on 28 May 1912, signing on for 12 years. He was described as 5ft 6ins in height with brown hair, hazel eyes and a dark complexion. His rank on joining was stoker 2nd class and his first ship was Victory II which was actually a shore based training depot at Portsmouth. Later he served on a variety of ships including H.M.S Thetis a minelayer.
In the spring of 1913 he was promoted to stoker 1st class and served throughout the first years of World War 1 on various ships including HMS Amethyst which took part in the Gallipoli landings.
On 27 April 1916, Alfred joined the crew of HMS Queen Mary, a modern battlecruiser. Six weeks later, she sailed for Denmark as part of the British fleet sent to halt the German attacks on the eastern coast of Britain and to fight the now famous Battle of Jutland.
The battle began with a German advance in the Skagerrak, south east of Norway. British intelligence had deciphered German coded messages and Admiral Jellicoe ordered the British fleet to sea. On the afternoon of May 31st, fifty two British ships faced forty German and the fighting was fierce.
HMS Queen Mary fought hard and inflicted damage on three German ships but she was targeted by shells, one of which hit the forward magazine which exploded. The ship then quickly sank, taking with her 1266 crew, including Alfred Humphrey and his fellow stokers. He was just twenty three years old and one of thousands of men killed that day. In all the British navy lost fourteen ships and 6084 men, while the Germans lost eleven ships and 2551 men. His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Portsmouth War Memorial.
Back home in Sussex, Alfred’s family stayed in Northchapel and his sisters both married there; Winifred in 1933 and Alice in 1929. His mother Maria died in 1933 in Guildford. Alfred was a second cousin three times removed. His grandfather Robert Luff was my four times great grandfather.
With thanks to
The Great War Forum
Commonwealth War Graves Commission