b. 01/11/1891 Crinkle, King's County, Ireland. d. 26/02/1953 Derby.
John Joseph Caffrey (1891-1953) was born at Crinkle, Parsonstown, King’s County (later Offaly), Ireland on 1st November 1891. His surname was originally Caffery, but became Caffrey on enlistment. His father was John Caffery, a bricklayer’s labourer born in Nottingham, whose parents were Irish. He served in the Nottingham Militia before enlisting in the 65th Regiment of Foot (later 1st York & Lancaster) at Leicester in 1873. He served in the East Indies, India and in the Egyptian Campaign of 1882. He later took part in the Sudan Campaign, before several postings in England and then Ireland, where John Joseph was born. He was awarded the Egypt and Sudan Medal with clasps for El Teb and Tamaii and the Khedive’s Star. John’s mother was Hannah nee Cowan, born in Cork, and she married John in St George’s RC Church, York in 1889. They had nine children in all, though their first two children (twins Florence and Nora) died only after a few weeks in 1893. Two of his other sisters also died in infancy.
John was educated at St Mary’s Catholic School, Nottingham and was a member of the 12th Nottingham Company, Boys’ Brigade. He enlisted in 7th Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) in May 1910, but in July enlisted for regular service in 2nd York and Lancaster, the Regiment his father served in. He went to Ireland, where he won two medals for Army Cross-Country and another for Aldershot Cross-Country.
John’s Battalion was mobilised on 4th August 1914 and moved from Limerick to Queenstown. It embarked for London and and sailed for France on the SS Minneapolis on 8th September, arriving at St Nazaire the following day. John was awarded the Russian Cross of the Order of St George, 4th Class for rescuing a injured officer under fire (gazetted 25th August 1915).
On 16th November 1915 near La Brique, France, a man was badly wounded and lying in the open unable to move, in full view of and about 350 yards from the enemy's trenches. A corporal of the RAMC and Private Caffrey at once started to rescue him, but at the first attempt were driven back by shrapnel fire. They tried again and succeeded in reaching and bandaging the wounded man, but just as they were lifting him up, the RAMC corporal was shot in the head. Private Caffrey bandaged the corporal and helped him back to safety, and then returned and brought in the other wounded man.
He was gazetted on 22nd January 1916 and received his VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 23rd February 1916. He was then swiftly promoted to Corporal and then Sergeant. He served through the remainder of the war, and was discharged on 8th February 1922, and was issued Silver War Badge 187425. He had married Florence Annie Avey on 24th March 1917 in Cambridge. They lived in Derby and had no children.
John was a member of the VC Guard at the interment of the Unknown Warrior on 11th November 1920. He served as a constable with the River Wear Watch. He then worked for Messrs Cammell Laird at their “Metropolitan Carriage and Wagon Company” works until 1931, when it closed and he was on the dole. He was then found a job as an assistant public administrator at the council offices. John became a member of the National Defence Companies in 1937. He is reputed to have served as a Company Sergeant Major in the Sherwood Foresters from November 1939.
After the Second World War, he became a “sergeant” at Butlin’s Holiday Camp, Filey, Yorkshire. Harry Nicholls VC was also employed there as a boxing instructor. He died in Derbyshire Royal Infirmary on 26th February 1953 and is buried in Wilford Hill (Southern) Cemetery, Nottingham. His name was not included on the initial headstone. Ron Booth, a descendant of Anthony Booth VC, and the local Western Front Association organised a new headstone, which was dedicated in May 2007.
In addition to the VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and the Russian Cross of St George 4th Class. The VC is held by the York & Lancaster Regiment Museum, Clifton Park Museum, Rotherham, Yorkshire. The George VI Coronation Medal is missing from the group.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: YORK & LANCASTER REG MUSEUM, ROTHERHAM.
BURIAL PLACE: SOUTHERN CEMETERY, NOTTINGHAM. SECTION R, GRAVE 23-8.
Caffrey's grave at the Wilford Hill (Southern) Cemetery, Nottingham
War Illustrated, 5th February 1916