Remaining in India

One event from this time which commands our attention is the official replacement of Coffey’s DCM. How the original medal came to need replacing we do not know - presumably it was either lost or stolen - but an order of 25 October 1861 to the Royal Mint requested the making of a Distinguished Conduct Medal ‘for Serj. Will. Coffey 75th late 34th’. The order gave his rank as sergeant, though he had in fact been re-enlisted as a private.

The loss of the original DCM and its official replacement is interesting not simply in its own right, but because of the existence not only of Coffey’s original VC but also of a copy. It might be tempting to surmise that the original VC was also lost - hence its damaged condition - and that it was replaced along with the DCM. However, though there is a record of an official replacement of the DCM, there is no such record of a replacement VC. Moreover, when Hancocks examined the duplicate VC in 1968, flaws in its inscription and composition marked it out as a copy. It may be that Coffey either found himself in the position of having to sell the original and wanting a replica, or perhaps his experience with the lost DCM made him want to obtain a duplicate VC to wear, just to prevent the original VC’s (further) damage or loss. There is no way we can know for certain.

Now the 75th had been in India for some years, and not long after Coffey joined them, the time came for them to return home. At the beginning of 1862 they were holding themselves in readiness to return to Britain, when 204 of their number decided to take advantage of the option of remaining in India. Coffey was one of these. Having taken the decision to return to the army, he had now taken the further decision that he and his family should remain in India.

And so at the end of January Coffey volunteered, together with some others, to his original regiment, the 82nd, which was stationed at Delhi (McCrery mistakenly gives July 1863 rather than February 1862 as the date of his transfer).


WO 97/1629

Regimental records show him fitting back into army life - he is variously recorded as being on musketry practice or some other duty. He moreover began to regain the position he had held before his brief discharge. An order of 9 September 1862 happily declared that his previous years of service with the 82nd and 34th were to be counted towards his pension. He was also granted three pence per day good conduct pay backdated to the day of his re-enlistment with the 75th. In time he was also chosen as lance corporal, and then on 11 July 1863 he was promoted to corporal. On 7 September 1864 he finally regained his former rank of sergeant.

His family life, however, suffered the sadnesses shared by so many European and military families in India. His daughter, Emma Emilie, died on 28 February 1862; she was only a year old. Her father had just volunteered back to the 82nd, and they were making the journey from Calcutta to Delhi. She died not far from Calcutta at Chinsurah, and was buried there by a Fr John O’Donoghue.

The Coffeys’ next child lived a shorter life still - a mere ten months. William John Coffey was born at Delhi on 7 February 1863 and eleven days later was baptised by Delhi’s Catholic military chaplain, Rev. Dr W. Heegan. Michael Curry and Ellen Norton were the names of the godparents. William John died on 10 November, and was buried by Fr Francis, the Franciscan chaplain at Subathu in the Himalayan foothills, whence the regiment had been moved from Delhi.

By 1865 the regiment had moved once more, this time to the cantonment at Mian Meer (Meean Meer), five miles from Lahore, a fine city filled with ancient buildings and mosques, in what is now Pakistan. From March to April Coffey was based in the fort at Lahore, where the men were quartered in what had once been the royal throne room. But before then, Margaret had given birth to another daughter. This was my great-grandmother, Margaret Coffey, who was born on 13 January 1865 at Mian Meer, and was baptised on 7 February.

This daughter seems to have been Coffey’s only child to live to adulthood, but her mother did not long survive her birth. Coffey’s wife died on 13 May at the age of about twenty-eight. She was buried at Mian Meer on the following day by Fr Marianus, the cantonment’s military chaplain who had also baptised her daughter.

Now this means that Coffey’s first wife, Margaret Linch, was, after all, the mother of Margaret Coffey, and not ‘Margaret Dowd’. Remember that Coffey has been thought to have taken a second wife in India, a woman called Margaret Dowd who was supposed to have been the mother of Coffey’s daughter. But if Margaret Linch was the child’s mother after all, what then of this mysterious ‘Margaret Dowd’?

The myth of Margaret Dowd arose with the help of misinformation from one of Margaret Coffey’s sons, but it seems to have come principally from a note of the name ‘Dowd’ next to ‘Coffey’ on the record of the daughter’s birth in the regimental register. When doing her researches in the late 1960s, Margaret Pratt took it to indicate the maiden name of the mother, and hence supposed that the mother was a second wife of Coffey’s, not Margaret Linch but a ‘Margaret Dowd’. However, a note of Margaret Linch’s death by the record of her marriage in the regimental register proves that she and not ‘Margaret Dowd’ was definitely the child’s mother. What ‘Dowd’ in the entry of birth indicates is not the mother’s maiden name at all, but rather the surname of Margaret’s adoptive father and mother.

When her mother died, Margaret was adopted. Her stepmother was Mary Dowd, the wife of Corporal William Dowd, another soldier of good character, who was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1869. Dowd had married Mary Bernard at Glasgow on 3 March 1853 while the 82nd was stationed there. Both were Irish - William came from Fermoy where Coffey had first enlisted, and Mary, like Coffey’s wife, was a native of County Fermanagh who had moved to Scotland. The Dowds already had a son, who had been born in England, while another two children had been born and died in India, but now the Dowds adopted Margaret Coffey.