Coffey meets the Queen

The 34th board ship

The 34th departs the Crimea
Illustrated London News

Coffey’s journey back to Britain began from Balaklava on 14 June 1856. On the evening of 10 July the Prince Arthur arrived at Spithead, and the next day entered the harbour to land the regiment at Portsmouth. They then marched to the new permanent camp at Aldershot, where on 16 July they were inspected by the Queen, who proved solicitous in welcoming home her troops. In her journal, Victoria recorded her pride in her army and how she and the royal party, in the presence of representatives of both Houses of Parliament, had seen those officers and men newly returned from the Crimea. She writes how the colonels walked with her, ‘pointing out each man, who had been specially decorated, with either a French medal, or that for distinguished conduct.’

The Queen inspects the 'medal bearers'

The Queen inspects the 'medal bearers'
Illustrated London News

The name the Queen singles out for mention is that of Coffey, though she mistakenly says that he was in the 41st regiment, which had been lined up next to the 34th:

I ought to have mentioned, that amongst the 41st: was a Corporal, of the name of Coffy [sic], who had received the 2 medals for throwing a live shell out of the trenches, thereby saving the life [sic] of many of his comrades. By walking down the line, we had the opportunity of seeing each man closely, which was very interesting and gratifying.

She then watched a series of manoeuvres in which the 34th took part.

But that was only the first occasion on which the Queen saw William Coffey. Two days later she saw him again and this time spoke with him, when the royal party drove round the camp and, as was their custom, inspected several of men’s huts. William Coffey had evidently made a great impression on the Queen, and this time she is clear that he was a corporal of the 34th rather than of the 41st regiment. She writes: ‘After this, we drove to the 34th:, entered one hut, & spoke to the gallant & promising young soldier, Corporal Coffy ...’ 

When the regiment left Aldershot on 21 July, they proceeded by rail to Glasgow. On 20 and 22 August they moved to Edinburgh. A report of their arrival on 22 August appeared in The Edinburgh Evening Courant:

A numerous assemblage awaited their arrival at the railway station, and cheered them as they marched off for the Castle. A large proportion of this fine body of men wore the Crimean medal.

Then on 28 August Coffey would have had the opportunity to see the Queen once again. She arrived by rail at the station at St Margaret’s, and men of the 34th were among those who lined the route from the station to Holyrood Palace. She wrote in her journal: ‘The 34th Regt lined the road & the 5th Dragoon Gds (both old friends from Aldershot, & who had been in the Crimea) formed the Escort to Holyrood.’ For the next two days the regiment provided a guard of honour at the palace for the duration of the Queen’s stay, but whether Coffey was included in this guard we do not know.