Born – Brecon, June 1875
Died – Pozieres, France, 23rd July 1916
Humphrey Bircham was typical of the gentlemen cricketers who appeared in both Minor County and country house matches during Glamorgan’s first two decades. Having played for Monmouthshire in 1892, he was also chosen in the scratch Glamorgan XI which met Cardiff and District the following summer.
Born in Brecon during 1875, he was the son of Francis Bircham, who had served in the Royal Horse Artillery, besides playing for both Breconshire and Monmouthshire. Humphrey was something of a schoolboy prodigy at Eton College, playing for the 1st XI before his 17th birthday, and holding a place in his final year at the College in 1893.
Later that summer, he accepted a place at Sandhurst and began his military career. Nevertheless, he still found time to play in club cricket for Cardiff CC and Newport CC, as well as for I Zingari, the MCC, the Royal Marines, Greenjackets and the United Services. After leaving Sandhurst, he joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in February 1896, and rose to the rank of captain in 1901, besides being twice mentioned in dispatches during the Boer War, during which he was wounded at Brakenlaatge in October 1901.
Humphrey was elevated to the rank of Major in February 1914 and commanded the 2nd Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifles during their time on the Western Front, during which they took part in the Battle of Ypres. Humphrey was mentioned several times in dispatches and his gallant actions in leading his men earned him the DSO.
In July 1916 Humphrey also took part in the Battle of the Somme, but his bravery was to cost him his life. His unit were deployed on the evening of July 23rd to mount an attack north of Mametz Wood on a newly dug “switch” line to the north-east of the village of Pozieres. The Rifles were supported to the left by the Royal Sussex Regiment and to the right by the 10th Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment.
Prior to their attack, there was an intense artillery barrage for around seven minutes, but this lit up the skyline and alerted the German troops to the presence of the Rifles poised to attack their trenches. To make matters worse the attacks to the left and right-hand flanks failed and the Germans counter-attacked on both flanks with hand grenades and shells. During this skirmish, Humphrey was struck by a shell and fatally wounded, before his unit withdrew back to their original position the following day following the failure of their manoeuvres.