Coffey’s greatest honour

On 18 November 1856 Coffey was promoted to sergeant at the discharge of Sergeant William, and his good conduct pay was renewed after his promotion. But now his greatest honour was to be bestowed. On 5 February 1857 the London Gazette announced the institution of the Victoria Cross, which was to be awarded ‘For Valour’ in the face of an enemy. Of those NCOs and men of the 34th who had received the DCM and Medaille Militaire, only Coffey’s name was put forward for the VC, although he was joined by the previously undecorated Private Sims who had rescued wounded comrades during the first assault on the Redan.

A list of names was presented to the Queen for her approval on 15 February, and two days later she made it known that she was to present the crosses herself. On 24 February the awards were announced in the London Gazette, with Coffey’s given as follows: ‘For having, on the 29th March, 1855, thrown a lighted shell, that fell into the trench over the parapet.’

London Gazette entry

London Gazette

On 12 June the Queen determined that she would make the presentations fourteen days hence at a Review in Hyde Park, where as many as possible would be able to see and where she would attend on horseback. And so on 26 June 1857 came the parade itself.

Hyde Park

The Queen presents the Victoria Cross
Illustrated London News

The ceremony had to be arranged in a mere two weeks and 62 recipients assembled in London, Coffey coming down from Edinburgh with other members of the regiment and perhaps Margaret Coffey. Of this day I have already given a description, and I shall only repeat some words from the Queen’s journal: ‘I was glad ... to give the ‘Victoria Cross’ ... to Corporal Coffey, of the 34th:, whom I had seen at Aldershot.’ She gives Coffey’s rank as corporal - although he was a private during the siege and a sergeant when he received his award, he had indeed been a corporal on the previous occasions he met the Queen at Aldershot and that is how she remembered him.