23 May 2007

A ceremony has been held in Wilford Hill Cemetery, Nottingham, to place a new headstone over the grave of Lance Corporal John Caffrey VC, 2nd Bn, York & Lancaster Regiment. The previous stone recognised Caffrey's parents but did not display his own name.

Two local men, Sean Westerby and Ron Booth, decided to raise funds to replace the original stone, which was deteriorating badly, with a new headstone which would recognise John Caffrey as being a holder of the Victoria Cross. The fundraising was concluded successfully with the unveiling of a new headstone on the 23rd May 2007.

John Caffrey was born at Birr, King's County ( later Offaly ), Ireland, on 23rd October 1891. He left Ireland at an early age and settled in England and was educated at St Mary's Catholic School, Derby Road, Nottingham.

Caffrey enlisted into the army in 1910 and joined the 7th Bn, Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment. Later, at his own request, he transferred to the 2nd Bn, York & Lancaster Regiment in which his father had served. Upon the outbreak of the First World War Caffrey was mobilized on 4th August 1914, sailed for France on 8th September and went into action with his battalion on the 21st September. Caffrey served with the 2nd Bn, York & Lancster Regiment throughout the war.

The 2nd York & Lancaster Regiment moved into the Ypres salient on the night of 31 May / 1 June 1915. By the end of August the battalion had received four drafts of replacements numbering 340 men, bringing it back up to strength after the attack at Hooge.

On the 15th November 1915, the 2nd York & Lancasters returned to the trenches, this time at La Brique. The relief was completed by 22.50 hours that night and the situation was described as 'quiet'. The next day, the 16th, was fine and bright and it was here that Private John Caffrey earned his Victoria Cross.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 22 January 1916 ], La Brique, France, 16 November 1915, Private John Joseph Caffrey, 2nd Bn, York & Lancaster Regiment.

For most conspicuous bravery on 16th November 1915 near La Brique. A man of the West Yorkshire Regiment had been badly wounded and was lying in the open unable to move and in full view of and about 300 to 400 yards from the enemy’s trenches. Corporal Stirk, Royal Army Medical Corps, and Private Caffrey at once started out to rescue him, but at the first attempt they were driven back by shrapnel fire.

Soon afterwards they started again under close sniping and machine-gun fire, and succeeded in reaching and bandaging the wounded man, but, just as Corporal Stirk had lifted him on Private Caffrey’s back, he himself was shot in the head. Private Caffrey put down the wounded man, bandaged Corporal Stirk and helped him back to safety. He then returned and brought in the man from the West Yorkshire Regiment.

He had made three journeys across the open under close and accurate fire and had risked his own life to save others with the utmost coolness and bravery.

John Caffrey was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 23rd February 1916.

It appears that Corporal Stirk received no official recognition for his part in the rescue, beyond being mentioned in the citation of Caffrey's award. In a way, Caffrey's deed was a repeat of an earlier act of heroism which earned him the Russian Cross of St George ( 4th Class ), awarded on the 25th August 1915 when he brought in a seriously wounded officer under heavy fire.

Medal entitlement of Lance Corporal John Joseph Caffrey - 2nd Bn, York & Lancaster Regiment

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1914 Star + clasp "5th Aug-22nd Nov 1914"
  • British War Medal ( 1914-20 )
  • Victory Medal ( 1914-19 )
  • King George VI Coronation Medal ( 1937 )
  • Cross of St George ( 4th Class ) ( Russia )


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Iain Stewart, 25 May 2007