The Coffey brothers Crimea bound

Coffey’s departure for the Crimea came about in this way. Russia had taken advantage of the decline of the Turkish Ottoman Empire by claiming rights in Ottoman territory, invading the Balkans in 1853, and successfully sinking the Turkish fleet near Constantinople. However, if Russia had expanded her influence, that would have proved a threat to British supremacy in India and at sea. And so on 28 March 1854, Britain joined France as allies of the Turks in a war against Russia.

William Coffey was now faced with a choice. He could remain with his regiment and sail to India - it was only much later that the 82nd would be redirected to the war - or he could join the forces now bound for the Crimea by volunteering to another regiment. Many of the 82nd’s best men were transferring to the 34th (Cumberland) Regiment of Foot (later the 1st Battalion The Border Regiment). Moreover, Lt.-Col. Brown, who had only recently come to the 82nd from the 34th, returned to command his old regiment.

Within days of the declaration of war, the Coffey brothers had made their decisions. William and Timothy became non-effective with the 82nd on 31 March at Edinburgh, and from 1 April they were officially members of their new regiment, the 34th, which assembled in England at the new Hillsborough Barracks at Sheffield. Coffey’s choice would lead to him being noted as more than a soldier of good conduct: the war would prove him a soldier of distinguished conduct and the highest valour.

Now one Allied war aim was to capture the Russian port of Sebastopol in the Crimean peninsula of the Black Sea and demolish its dockyards and storehouses. Forces were assembling to invade the Crimea, and the 34th was to join them. So on 22 August, Coffey left Sheffield with his regiment, and they made their way to Portsmouth, and from there sailed to the Greek island of Corfu, which was at that time a British protectorate. The regiment remained on Corfu from 8 September until 22 November.

When they disembarked, they left behind nearly 200 of their number who were considered unable to undergo the especially cruel Crimean winter which was bringing so much suffering, disease and death to the ill-equipped British troops. Coffey, however, was among those considered fit to continue. On 1 December they passed Scutari where British casualties were nursed and died in horrifying conditions that Coffey was lucky never to experience. Then on 9 December he and his comrades landed in the Crimea at Balaclava and took up their share of siege duties in the 1st Brigade of the Light Division.