‘Unfit for further service’

For a while after his first wife’s death, Coffey’s military life continued as usual. He was on duty during the monthly parades in July and August 1865, and from October to January 1866 he was at Amritsar, and then from February to April he was back at Lahore. However, like so many, Coffey was suffering from long exposure to the Indian climate.

Coffey became ill, and at the end of July 1866 and then September he was absent from the monthly parade at Mian Meer on account of being in hospital. Hospitalisation was not unusual for a soldier - the average British soldier was in hospital every thirteen months and Coffey had been no exception. On one occasion he had been in hospital a full thirty-nine days after his march from Brecon to Devonport back in 1848. But his condition was this time to prove more serious. In March 1867 he was sent to the cantonment at Kasauli near the Himalayas, a regular destination for convalescent soldiers. Then on 10 October, a regimental board meeting at Jalandhar (Jullundur) proposed that Coffey be discharged from the army ‘in consequence of his having been found unfit for further service’.

Coffey’s pensionable service to date (which was reckoned from 25 January 1847 as his nominal eighteenth birthday, with the break in service in 1860-1) was given at the conclusion of a detailed breakdown as 20 years 81 days. His conduct was also assessed and judged to be ‘very good’, just as it had been at his first discharge. It was noted that ‘he was, when promoted, in possession of three good conduct badges and he would, had he not been promoted, [have] been now in possession of four good conduct badges’ - an indication of good conduct throughout his years as a private and as an NCO.

Coffey had to sign to say that his pay and other just demands had been settled up to the end of the month. By December he had left Kasauli and was en route for Calcutta. On 20 February 1868 he embarked by ship for England, where he was admitted to Netley, the grand new military hospital near Portsmouth. Under Netley’s foundation stone the Queen had laid a Crimean Medal and the prototype of the Victoria Cross.

On 22 July Coffey’s Long Service and Good Conduct Medal was finally issued, and with it was banked a gratuity of £10. His army career was, however, now declared to be at an end. His medical report of 8 August indicated that while he had no disorder of the eyes and had never received any wounds or injuries during his service, the disability for which he was due to be discharged was ‘chronic bronchitis’. This condition was said by the surgeon to be ‘due probably to exposure to climate of India and length of service’. The report went on: ‘He suffers from cough and expectorative, and from difficulty of breathing after exertion.’ The condition was however ‘not aggravated by vice’. Nevertheless, his condition was so severe that it was concluded that Coffey could never again re-enlist in the army.

Coffey was finally discharged at Netley on 25 August with a total of 21 years 36 days pensionable service - in fact he had served another two months, having joined about two months before what was taken to be his eighteenth birthday. His pension was set at one shilling eight-and-a-half pence per day. The only surviving description of Coffey comes from the day of his discharge: he had dark brown hair, hazel eyes, a fresh complexion, and no marks or scars on his face or other part of his body.

description WO 97/1629

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