Humphrey Firman, V.C., R.N.

Humphrey Firman’s story

Lieutenant Humphrey Osbaldeston Brooke Firman VC
Lieutenant Humphrey Osbaldeston Brooke Firman VC

Humphrey Osbaldeston Brooke Firman was born on 24 November 1886 at 26 Queensberry Place, Kensington, SW7.

He joined the Royal Navy as a cadet on 15 May 1901 aged 15. He became a midshipman and then a Sub-Lieutenant in the Battleships H.M.S. Glory, H.M.S. Albion and H.M.S. Illustrious. He also served aboard the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 31 August 1908 and he was established as a Lieutenant on board the H.M.S. Essex by 1911.

Unmarried and at the age of 29 he took part in an action which was reckoned to be near impossible. So dangerous was the task that the Navy called for volunteers to attempt it and would not accept married men.

The Siege of Kut

British Army personnel were under siege in the town of Kut in Mesopotamia. Their supplies were dangerously low and the only way to reach them was by ship along the River Tigris. However, it was known that enemy troops were positioned along both banks of the river.

On the night of 24/25 April 1916, Lieutenant Firman, Commanding S.S. Julnar, with a Lieutenant Commander, a sub-lieutenant and 12 ratings, started off with 270 tons of stores up the River Tigris.

The moon was due to rise at 1.15am. so they calculated that they had five hours of darkness to cover the 20 miles of river and took the Julnar against the current all the way.

Unfortunately the enemy received intelligence of the mission and Julnar was attacked almost at once by Turkish machine guns and heavy artillery. At Magasis, steel hawsers stretched across the river halted the expedition. The enemy opened fire at point-blank range from both banks of the river.

Three shells passed clean through the ship and one shell struck the bridge, killing Lieutenant Firman instantly. Several other members of the crew were killed. The survivors and supplies were captured and the prisoners were believed to have been executed.

After the war

The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration and it is given in recognition of an act the most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.

For his service on board S.S. Julnar that night, Lieutenant Humphrey Firman was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.