Feasting in Edinburgh

Coffey would by now have been reunited with his wife. And so Margaret would also have had the opportunity to enjoy the great welcome given to the officers and men at the banquet held in honour of those who had fought in the Crimea by the citizens of Edinburgh.

On the last day of October 1856, the 34th left the Castle at 4.15pm to march down to the Grassmarket where the new Corn Exchange stood (it was demolished in 1965). The Daily Scotsman recorded how the ‘route was filled with spectators, who loudly cheered as they passed’. Of the interior of the Corn Exchange, the Courant wrote:

The decorations were of an unusually brilliant and magnificent character ... The hall when filled presented a most brilliant array. The ladies’ mantles in scarlet and blue vied with the uniforms of the gallant guests occupying the body of the hall, while, with the profuse and gorgeous decorations of the hall, a scene of the most striking, brilliant, and magnificent description was presented.

Tables for the guests, military and civilian, stretched down from the table at which the Lord Provost of the city presided. The wives of soldiers sat at tables set up on special galleries at the north end of the hall. The whole company was well over a thousand. They feasted on beef, mutton, veal and chicken pies, puddings, pastries, cake, fruit and biscuits. Each guest was provided with a bottle of pale ale and a pint of wine. The Courant noted: ‘The viands were all of excellent and substantial character, while the quality of the wines was such as fully to maintain the high character of the purveyors.’

After dinner, a trumpet was sounded, toasts were drunk, the national anthem sung, speeches were given and returned, and music specially composed for the occasion performed. The Lord Provost spoke, among other things, of the

devoted heroism of the 34th Regiment, whose deeds of daring reflect lustre on their regiment and their country. The advanced post occupied by them was one of peculiar danger, and was nobly defended. Their heroism and valour were conspicuous in the trenches, and especially while engaged in attacking and possessing themselves of the rifle-pits and quarries over against Sebastopol, and tenaciously retaining them, notwithstanding the most desperate attempts of the foe to regain them. Once within our grasp they were firmly held, and no effort of the foe prevailed to make them again his own... The heroism and endurance of the soldiers have been such as to make the campaign peculiarly a soldier’s struggle. Sebastopol will hand down to future ages with imperishable lustre the indomitable perseverance which characterised the long sustained and arduous efforts of men who voluntarily betook themselves to the profession of arms. They were opposed by obstacles which at one time seemed so great as to require power more than human to overcome them. The natural strength of the position chosen by our gigantic foe as the stronghold of his power, and the scientific skill displayed by him in its defence, together with his vast resources, rendered success a work of almost superhuman exertion. There are officers and soldiers now present who distinguished themselves during the campaign whose names I wish I could mention, but I forbear.

The Edinburgh News mentioned some names, however, including Coffey’s: ‘Corporal Coffey wears his medal for saving some dozen of his comrades by seizing a live shell and casting it out before bursting, which it did almost in the throwing out.’ The ‘medal’ referred to and worn at the banquet by Coffey would have been the DCM.

The banquet concluded at 10pm with the singing of Auld Langsyne, as thousands waited in the illuminated Grassmarket for the departure of the guests. The Courant wrote: ‘... and as the company left the hall, the animated scene presented to them outside seemed scarcely less interesting than that which they had just been witnessing.’