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Charles Ernest Pumphrey (1881-1950)

Officer with 10th Battalion Durham Light Infantry who returned to France after losing an arm

The son of Joseph Pumphrey and Frances, nee Priestman, Charles was born at Shotley Bridge in County Durham. His father originated from Oxfordshire and worked as a farmer, owning 377 acres of land according to the 1881 census. The 1901 Census finds the family living at Ebchester and Charles’ Father working as a coal proprietor. Charles went to Sedbergh School and later to Christ’s College in Cambridge where he spent a year in the University Rifle Volunteers. He also secured a ‘blue’ in rugby, and played the sport for both Northumberland and Durham counties.

After leaving Cambridge, he worked as a mining engineer, marrying Iris Moberly-Bell in 1907, who was the daughter of the manager director of The Times newspaper. In 1908, Iris gave birth to twin boys, Jonathan Moberly and Michael Ernest Christopher, ad in 1910 or 1911, another son, Edward Nigel, was born. By 1911 the couple were living with his parents at Old House, Ryton, a house of 30 rooms, with some 14 servants. The family continued to grow, with their first daughter, Lilla Mary Alyson, being born in 1914.

When war was declared, Charles Pumphrey joined up almost immediately. In his memoir, Colonel Hubert Morant says:
‘On the first or second day of mobilisation, CE Pumphrey and BG Bryant applied in person to me for commissions in whatever would get them out to the front quickest. I sent both their names in for 3rd DLI. As there was so much delay in getting commissions they joined as privates in Kitchener’s First Hundred Thousand and arrived at Woking with the first draft. Though subsequently offered commissions in the Special Reserve, they preferred to remain in the ranks of the 10th DLI, in which they were appointed to commissions in the following January. There were destined to become two of the most distinguished officers in the 10th’.

Charles Pumphrey’s brother, John Laurence, was killed at Ypres in 1914. In 1916, Iris gave birth to a fourth son, who they named after Charles’ brother.

The battalion left for France in May 1915. In January 1916, Pumphrey was awarded the Military Cross, possibly as part of the New Year’s Honours. However, in fighting at Longueval and Delville Wood on 14 August 1916 (part of the Battle of the Somme), he was severely injured in his arm by shrapnel, resulting in it being amputated. Returning to England on the St Denis hospital ship, Pumphrey was sent to the VAD hospital at 17 Park Lane, London. His first appearance in front of a medical board took place on 5 October 1916, when he was declared unfit for any sort of service for six months, and granted leave until 4 April 1917. He next appeared before the board on 5 April 1917, where he was declared still unfit. Captain Pumphrey’s service record says that he was ‘admitted to Roehampton’ on 10 April 1917 until 6 May. After the start of the war, Queen Mary’s Hospital at Roehampton had quickly become known for its expertise in prosthetic limbs. There is no way of knowing if Charles Pumphrey was fitted with a prosthetic or if the month spent a Roehampton was for convalescence.

Captain Pumphrey’s last appearance before the medical board took place on 28 September 1917, when he was deemed fit ‘for general service with exception to his left arm’. He had already been granted a gratuity of £250, and was also eligible for a wound pension of £100. Pumphrey made the decision to be sent back out to France, and became a Staff Lieutenant Second Class from 27 February 1918. However, Pumphrey found this harder to cope with than he had expected. In a letter dated 30 May 1918, he asked to relinquish his commission. This request was accepted and he was allowed to retain the honorary rank of captain.

Charles Pumphrey returned to his work in the mining industry, going on to become a director of Ashington Coal Company, and Priestman Collieries. In 1920, Iris and Charles had a daughter named Lettice Mary. The 1939 register finds them living in West Bitchfield, near Belsay, Northumberland. He also served as a major with 3rd Battalion Northumberland Home Guard during the Second World War, from 1941 to 1945. All his sons, except Michael who was a vicar, served in the Second World War, and won several honours. John Laurence, known as Laurie, was a prisoner of war in Colditz after escaping his previous prison, and later in life became ambassador to Pakistan.

Charles Ernest Pumphrey remained in West Bitchfield until his death in 1950.

This information was derived from the officers service records, held at The National Archives, Kew, London: WO 339/69741

Other sources:
Durham Mining Museum
Independent obituary for John Laurence Pumphrey

Civil Parish: Benfieldside

Birth date: 29-Jan-1881

Death date: 15-Feb-1950

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: Elm Park, Benfieldside (1881, 1891)
Derwent Hill, Ebchester (1901)
Hindley Hall, Stocksfield (1911)
Ryton Old House, Ryton (1914).
Bolam Hall, Bolam, Morpeth
West Bitchfield, Northumberland

Education: Sedbergh School
Christ’s College, Cambridge University

Employment: Mining Engineer
Director of mining companies

Family: Parents: Joseph and Frances Pumphrey (nee Priestman)
Wife: Iris Mary Moberly Bell
Children: Jonathan Moberly, b. 1908; Michael Ernest Christopher, b. 1908; Edward Nigel b c.1910; Lilla Mary Alyson, b. 1914; John Laurence, b. 1916; Lettice Mary, born 1920

Military service:

1900-1901 Cambridge University Volunteer Rifles
10-Aug-1914 Applied for commission
Aug-1914 Enlisted in army, 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
16-Jan-1915 Received temporary commission, 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
15-Feb-1915 Temporary Lieutenant
29-Jul-1916 Temporary Captain
14-Aug-1916 Severely injured
27-Feb-1918 Staff Lieutenant 2nd Class
9-Aug-1918 Relinquished commission

Medal(s): Jan-1916 Military Cross
25-Nov-1918 Silver War Badge
Victory, British and 15 Star
Mentioned in despatches twice

Gender: Male

Contributed by Vivienne Lowe | Durham County Record Office