Band of 10 brave brothers all went to fight in the First World War

How forgotten band of 10 brave brothers all went to fight in the First World War and all but one of them made it home alive

  • Ten of the Calpin brothers, from York, served Britain during the First World War
  • Their names & ages at time of war were John, 37, Patrick, 36 and James, 33 
  • William, 32, Martin, 29, Thomas, 27, Arthur, 24, Henry, 22, Ernest, 21, also served 
  • David, 18, was on board HMS Dreadnought when it was sunk by German U-boat 

The heroic story of how ten brother fought for Britain in World War One and all but one survived has revealed on the eve of the Armistice centenary.

The Calpin brothers are the biggest band of brothers to have fought for King and Country during the conflict, which killed more than 700,000 British soldiers.

All but one of the brothers made it home alive, which mirrored the fatality rate among British soldiers involved in the war.

Top left to right: Martin Caplin, William Caplin, James Caplin, Patrick Caplin and John Caplin. Bottom left to right: David Caplin, Ernest Calpin, Henry Calpin, Arthur Caplin and Thomas Caplin

The Calpin family were recognised in local news reports at the time for their war efforts

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Their names were hailed by King George V and the group were used as part of a recruitment drive in their home city of York.

Despite their war efforts, many of the brothers were buried in unmarked graves and no permanent memorial was made to honour their sacrifice. 

Descendants of the Calpin family are calling for a proper memorial in honour of the brothers.

King George V personally thanked the family for their patriotic sacrifice 

The brothers, listed with their ages at the start of the war, included reservist John, 37, soldier Patrick, 36, infantryman James, 33, infantryman William, 32, infantryman Martin, 29, infantryman Thomas, 27, infantryman Arthur, 24, gunner Henry, 22, sailor Ernest, 21, and sailor David, 18.

John passed away in 1916, aged 39, after he was gassed in the trenches in France. He died after being transferred back to a UK hospital and his grave marks the only place any of the servicemen are commemorated. 

Michael Caplin, 68, is the grandson of the ninth brother Ernest Caplin, who served on HMS Dreadnought and went on to re-enlist in World War II before he passed away in 1957.

Mr Caplin said: ‘John was gassed in France in 1916 and was brought back to York but died a few weeks later. All the other brothers survived the war.

‘He is the only one to have any physical presence that proves any of the brothers existed really because he was given a war commissioned grave which meant the army paid for his headstone.

‘The rest were all buried in paupers graves which are unmarked because they were a poor family living in the slums of York.

‘I think that’s why they have never been recognised because only one of them died during wartime.

The Lord Mayor of York, Henry Rhodes Brown, wrote to the family to offer his ‘heart congratulations’ at their war efforts

‘Their achievement has gone unrecognised, it would just be nice to have a civic-type plaque in honour of the sacrifice they made.

‘When they came back from the war they were just completely forgotten. For ten brothers to actually sign up is a unique thing which will never happen again.’

The Calpin family moved from County Mayo, Ireland, after being driven out by the 19th century potato famine.

The Lord Mayor of York, Henry Rhodes Brown, wrote to the family to offer his ‘hearty congratulations’ at their war efforts.

Six brothers signed up for the Army, most with the East and West Yorkshire infantry regiments. They joined two brothers who were already in military service at the time. 

Arthur had served eight years in the Army and was in India during the break-out of the war. William had been serving in Malta, and the pair were quickly reunited to fight German forces.

William was injured in action but returned to Britain alive. Older brother James, a former Yorkshire boxing champion who had served in the Boer War, joined the 4th West Yorkshire infantry regiment.

The youngest of the brothers, David, was serving on HMS Ariadne when it was sunk by a German U-boat. He was rescued from the water but suffered severe exposure and died a few years after the war, aged 32. 

Private John Calpin, the eldest brother, was gassed in the trenches in France and shipped back to hospital in Nottingham before he died in York.

He sent a Red Cross postcard to his wife to let her know he had landed safely in England, but died in November 1916 at the age of 39.


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