b. 10/02/1870 Blackheath, London. d. 04/02/1959 Torquay, Devon.
Clifford Coffin (1870-1959) was born at 9 St John’s Park South, Blackheath, London on 10th February 1870. His father, Isaac Campbell Coffin, was born on Nantucket, off the coast of Massachusetts. He entered military service with the East India Company, and retired as a Lieutenant-General with Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India. He married first to Marrion St Helena Elizabeth Harrington in 1824 in Bengal, but she died in Madras in 1864. He then married Clifford’s mother, Catherine “Kate” Eliza Shepherd on 23rd October 1866 at the British Embassy in Berlin. Clifford had eleven siblings in total from his father’s two marriages.
Clifford was educated in England at Haileybury College from 1884-1886 and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He was commissioned on 17th February 1888 and promoted to Lieutenant on 17th February 1891, serving with the Submarine Miners in Jamaica from 1891-1894. He married Helen Douglas nee Jackson on 22nd August 1894 at St Bartholomew’s, Gray’s Inn, London. The couple went on to have four children (Geoffrey, Kathleen, Damaris and Humphrey). He served with 1st Fortress Company at Cork, Ireland and was promoted to Captain in 1899. He was a French interpreter and attended the Staff College in 1899, graduating early due to the outbreak of the Boer War. He was Assistant to the Commander Royal Engineers (CRE) of 6th and 10th Divisions and was involved in actions during the relief of Kimberley, Paardeburg, Poplar Grove, Dreifontein and Zillikat’s Creek.
He was mentioned in despatches before being appointed CRE Standerton until returning to Britain n September 1904. He was then appointed GSO3 in the Intelligence Section, Army HQ from 1904-1907, and received a promotion to Major. He commanded 56th Field Company at Bulford and was GSO2 Sierra Leone from 1911 to 1914.
He was then appointed CRE 21st Division from August 1914 to January 1917, including at Loos and on the Somme. He was appointed Temporary Lieutenant Colonel on 9th June 1915 and promoted fully on 22nd June. He went to France on 10th September 1915. He was temporary commander of 64th Brigade from 18th-31st March 1916 and was appointed Chief Engineer XV Corps from April to May 1916.
He was awarded the DSO for his services in the field while CRE 21st Division on 1st January 1917. He was also awarded the Russian Order of St Stanislaus 3rd Class with Swords while serving with the Canadian Engineers on 15th February 1917. On 31st July 1917 in Westhoek, Belgium, when his command was held up in attack owing to heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, Brigadier-General Coffin went forward and made an inspection of his front posts. Although under the heaviest fire from both machine-guns and rifles and in full view of the enemy, he showed an utter disregard of personal danger, walking quietly from shell-hole to shell-hole, giving advice and cheering his men by his presence. His gallant conduct had the greatest effect on all ranks and it was largely owing to his personal courage and example that the shell-hole line was held.
He was the first general officer to be awarded the VC, and was promoted to Brevet Colonel on 1st January 1918 and received his VC the following day from King George V at Buckingham Palace. He was then awarded a Bar to his DSO during the German Spring Offensive on the Somme, handling his Brigade skilfully especially whilst covering a withdrawal of the remainder of his Division. On 1st January 1919 he was created a Companion of the Order of Bath, and also awarded the Belgian Commandeur de l’Ordre de la Couronne and Belgian Croix de Guerre, and mentioned in despatches five times.
He was appointed as Brigadier to command the 1st Brigade, Western Division in the British Army of the Rhine from March to September 1919. He commanded 16th Brigade in Ireland, appointed Commander Troops Ceylon from 1920-1924 and ADC to the King for the same period. He retired as an Honorary Major General in 1924.
He worked for the British Empire Ex-Service League and was Chairman of the Executive Council during World War II. He was Colonel Commandant Corps of Royal Engineers 1936- February 1940. He died whilst on holiday at Whitbourne, Torquay, Devon on 4th February 1959. He was buried in Holy Trinity Churchyard, Coleman’s Hatch, East Sussex. He left £34,620 gross. His grave fell into disrepair and was renovated by the members of the Victoria Cross Trust in 2013. It has since been cleaned and renovated a second time by Steve Davies (Military Grave Restorer)
In addition to the VC he was awarded the CB, DSO with Bar, Queen’s South Africa Medal 1899-1902 with four clasps, King’s South Africa Medal 1901-02 with two clasps, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, Russian Order of St Stanislaus 3rd Class with Swords, French Officer of the Legion of Honour, Belgian Commander of the Order of the Crown and Belgian Croix de Guerre. Clifford’s will stipulated that “his full sized orders, decorations and medals to be placed for the use of my brother officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers”. The medals were presented to the Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham, Kent in April 1959.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL ENGINEERS MUSEUM, CHATHAM, KENT.
BURIAL PLACE: HOLY TRINITY CHURCHYARD, COLEMANS HATCH, SUSSEX.
Victoria Cross Trust / Steve Davies – Image of Coffin VC’s grave
Derek Walker – Image of the Lewisham Shopping Centre Memorial
Paul Deeprose – Image of the Haileybury College Memorial.