Remarkable story of the ten Calpin brothers who all signed up to serve in First World War

David Calpin: Youngest brother, survived but died shortly after war; Right: Ernest Calpin: Ninth brother, survived, grandfather of Michael

Henry Calpin: Eighth brother; Right: Arthur Calpin: Seventh brother

Thomas Calpin: Sixth brother; Right: Martin Calpin: Fifth brother

William Calpin: Fourth brother; Right: James Calpin: Third eldest brother

Patrick Calpin: Second eldest brother; Right: John Calpin: Eldest brother, sent home after suffering a mustard gas attack and died in York in 1916

Parents Paddy Calpin and Sal with their only daughter, Anna. Paddy was born in Ireland in 1855 and came to York after the potato famine. He married Sal at St George’s Church in 1874

Published in News York Press: Photograph of the Author by

ONE hundred years ago, as war broke out over Europe, the Lord Mayor of York wrote to a family in the city, thanking them for their patriotic service to the country.

The family was that of Paddy and Sal Calpin, an Irish immigrant and his wife from the Walmgate slums, who had watched as all ten of their sons signed up to fight in the approaching war.

From 39-year-old John to 18-year-old David, all ten of the Calpin boys had joined either the Army or the Navy, and when the Lord Mayor heard of the family’s remarkable sacrifice he wrote to Paddy and Sal to congratulate them, and to invite them and their only daughter, Anna, to visit him at the Mansion House.

Nearly a century later Michael Calpin, 63, who is the grandson of the ninth Calpin boy, Ernest, treasures the letter which has been passed down through the family at his home in Thirsk.

Michael said: “I am very proud to have this. It’s not something that will ever happen again, is it? Hopefully there will never be another world war, and there certainly won’t be ten brothers fighting together.”

The Lord Mayor of York Henry Rhodes Brown’s letter shows he heard of the Calpin family through a newspaper article, and wrote offering his “hearty congratulations”.

He wrote: “It will be hard for anyone in the Empire to equal your record of ten sons all serving their country.

“Our sincere thanks for their noble service, and I trust in their return to their native country.”

The family became minor celebrities because of the brothers’ service, and their story was used as a recruitment tool as the war went on.

Later in 1914 Paddy, Sal and Anna went to a civic reception at the Empire Theatre, now the Grand Opera House.

Michael knew his own grandfather, Earnest, who served on HMS Dreadnought and went on to fight in the Second World War. Michael’s father, Owen, believed seven of the men served and returned home safely.

However, the eldest, John, was gassed in the trenches in France and died in York in 1916.

His forgotten grave was uncovered by family members in Cemetery Road last year.

The youngest, David, served on the HMS Ariadne and suffered from exposure when the ship was sunk by a German U-boat in 1917. Although he returned to York and worked at Rowntrees, he died not long after the war ended.

York Press: The 
letter sent by the Lord Mayor of York to the Calpin family
The letter sent by the Lord Mayor of York to the Calpin family

York Press: Michael Calpin at his home in Borrowby with a pictorial record of his family's exploits during the First World War, presented to his family by the Lord Mayor of York
Michael Calpin at his home in Borrowby with a pictorial record of his family's exploits during the First World War, presented to his family by the Lord Mayor of York

Comments (5)

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11:15am Fri 28 Feb 14

family of ten says...

Hi
Read with interest the above article re. Calpin brothers especially the part about John's forgotten grave in York cemetery as my grandfather George Naylor who died in 1916 age 51years was buried in John's grave 19days prior to John's burial. As children we visited his grave quite often as George was my mother's father and we would look for our soldiers grave he had been allowed to be buried in John's grave as an act of kindness through John's family as George would have had to be buried in a paupers grave without a marker as he left a wife and 10 children and the family were very poor.
Thought you would like to know that John's grave has never been forgotten over the years as I visited there last year myself I found out about this as I traced my family tree in 1998 and wrote to the Cemetery Trust the grave is a Commonwealth War Grave Commission public grave19819.
Hi Read with interest the above article re. Calpin brothers especially the part about John's forgotten grave in York cemetery as my grandfather George Naylor who died in 1916 age 51years was buried in John's grave 19days prior to John's burial. As children we visited his grave quite often as George was my mother's father and we would look for our soldiers grave he had been allowed to be buried in John's grave as an act of kindness through John's family as George would have had to be buried in a paupers grave without a marker as he left a wife and 10 children and the family were very poor. Thought you would like to know that John's grave has never been forgotten over the years as I visited there last year myself I found out about this as I traced my family tree in 1998 and wrote to the Cemetery Trust the grave is a Commonwealth War Grave Commission public grave19819. family of ten
  • Score: 7

2:29pm Fri 28 Feb 14

seatothewest says...

Remarkable indeed; however many countries are looking forwards and not always obsessed with a 'glorious' past. No wonder the UK is struggling economically when we are so obsessed with a once 'mighty' Empire. How dynamic we might be after ceasing to wallow in this historical celebration, on which a significant amount of public money is being wasted.
Remarkable indeed; however many countries are looking forwards and not always obsessed with a 'glorious' past. No wonder the UK is struggling economically when we are so obsessed with a once 'mighty' Empire. How dynamic we might be after ceasing to wallow in this historical celebration, on which a significant amount of public money is being wasted. seatothewest
  • Score: -12

3:32pm Sat 1 Mar 14

donebor says...

seatothewest;- If it wasn't for families like these you may well have a different outlook, and speak a different language!! Know your past & embrace it.
seatothewest;- If it wasn't for families like these you may well have a different outlook, and speak a different language!! Know your past & embrace it. donebor
  • Score: 6

10:20pm Sun 2 Mar 14

Sugarhill says...

family of ten wrote:
Hi
Read with interest the above article re. Calpin brothers especially the part about John's forgotten grave in York cemetery as my grandfather George Naylor who died in 1916 age 51years was buried in John's grave 19days prior to John's burial. As children we visited his grave quite often as George was my mother's father and we would look for our soldiers grave he had been allowed to be buried in John's grave as an act of kindness through John's family as George would have had to be buried in a paupers grave without a marker as he left a wife and 10 children and the family were very poor.
Thought you would like to know that John's grave has never been forgotten over the years as I visited there last year myself I found out about this as I traced my family tree in 1998 and wrote to the Cemetery Trust the grave is a Commonwealth War Grave Commission public grave19819.
Great article, Pam, thanks. I have visited the grave too as George was my husband's grandfather also
[quote][p][bold]family of ten[/bold] wrote: Hi Read with interest the above article re. Calpin brothers especially the part about John's forgotten grave in York cemetery as my grandfather George Naylor who died in 1916 age 51years was buried in John's grave 19days prior to John's burial. As children we visited his grave quite often as George was my mother's father and we would look for our soldiers grave he had been allowed to be buried in John's grave as an act of kindness through John's family as George would have had to be buried in a paupers grave without a marker as he left a wife and 10 children and the family were very poor. Thought you would like to know that John's grave has never been forgotten over the years as I visited there last year myself I found out about this as I traced my family tree in 1998 and wrote to the Cemetery Trust the grave is a Commonwealth War Grave Commission public grave19819.[/p][/quote]Great article, Pam, thanks. I have visited the grave too as George was my husband's grandfather also Sugarhill
  • Score: 1

4:45pm Thu 6 Mar 14

Stephanie L M says...

Hi

Whilst researching my own Calpin family who originated in Co. Mayo and ended up in Derbyshire and Scarborough (and my branch from Hull) I have often come across this story. I have not seen the pictures up close though so it is great seeing those. I know we are not directly related but I do feel the York Calpins are some distant relatives way down the line, a long time before the potato famine brought them over to England.

Thank you for sharing your story and pictures Michael.
Hi Whilst researching my own Calpin family who originated in Co. Mayo and ended up in Derbyshire and Scarborough (and my branch from Hull) I have often come across this story. I have not seen the pictures up close though so it is great seeing those. I know we are not directly related but I do feel the York Calpins are some distant relatives way down the line, a long time before the potato famine brought them over to England. Thank you for sharing your story and pictures Michael. Stephanie L M
  • Score: 1

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