Written by Jennifer Weymark – Archivist, Oshawa Museum
Jack Humphreys was born on September 15, 1879 in Newton, North Wales. For many who lived in Oshawa in the late 1970s, Humphreys was known as one of Oshawa’s oldest citizens. Each milestone birthday, beginning with his 100th birthday in 1979, Humphreys was celebrated in the local newspapers and with letters from local and provincial politicians.
His life before arriving in Oshawa seemed to be out of a movie script. At the age of 15, Humphreys joined the army and was stationed at Hamilton Academy in Scotland. Just 5 years after joining the army, the Boer War began and, on October 11, 1899, he sailed from Glasgow to Africa with the Cameronian Scottish Rifles as part of the mounted rifles battalion.
While in Africa, Humphreys’ and another soldier were out on a patrol when they were spotted and fired upon. As the two pushed their horses to get back to their battalion as quickly as possible, Humphreys’ heard his partner yell out and turned to see his horse crash down after being shot. Thinking quickly, Humphreys’ raced back to help. In an interview with the Oshawa Times in September 1974, Humphreys recounted this harrowing experience: “I turned around immediately to get him. I pulled my foot out of the stirrup so he could swing on behind the saddle. For that I was promoted to Queen’s Corporal. No one could ever take that rank away.”
With the end of the war, he returned to England to take part in the coronation ceremony for King Edward VII. Illness postponed the coronation but two months, during which time Humphreys was given leave to travel. He, along with a bunch of the men he served with, hoped on a ship heading to Canada. They travelled across North America and found themselves in San Francisco during one of their larger earthquakes. He and the men he was with were able to use their experiences during the Boar War with assisting during clean-up efforts.
Eventually he stopped travelling and settled in Joliet, Illinois. He lived there with is wife Amelia and worked as a machinist until he travelled to Winnipeg and enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on October 11, 1917. He enlisted with the No. 10 Forestry and Rail Company Depot.
Humphreys left Halifax on November 27, 1917 and arrived in Liverpool, England on December 14. His stay in England was short and he arrived in France on January 17, 1918. As part of the railway troops, Humphreys used his experiences as a machinist to work on railway maintenance. Members of the Corps. were expected to build, repair, operate or destroy militarily relevant railway lines and associated infrastructure. During his time serving, Humphreys earned the rank of Sapper. This rank indicated that he was a soldier who performed military engineering duties.
He was discharged from the army on April 8, 1919 and stated on his discharge papers that he planned to return to Illinois. Sadly, it appears that Amelia died while Humphreys was overseas, as the beneficiary noted with his pay was changed from his wife to a Sawyer Coy.
Humphreys found himself back in Canada and found his way to Oshawa and a job at General Motors in 1922. In June 1924, Humphreys married Ruth Upper and together they had a son Alvin. He worked at G.M. until his retirement in 1954. He marched in every Warrior’s Day Parade at the C.N.E. representing Boer War veterans until CNE officials stopped his participation at 96 out of concern for his safety.
Jack Humphreys lived to 104 years old. He celebrated this milestone birthday with his wife of almost 70 years by his side. He passed away on October 31, 1983 after a long and fascinating life.