The writer was an officer in the Gloucestershire Regiment, was in C Company, was ex-Cheltenham College, and was captured by the Boers not too long after October 19th, 1899.
And who was the sergeant who was accidentally shot and killed?
LETTER FROM AN OFFICER.
A resident in Cheltenham received by Monday's mail a letter from his son, who is one of the officers of the Gloucestershire Regimen, and since the letter was written has been captured by the Boers and taken to Pretoria. We are permitted to make the following extracts from the letter, which is dated from Ladysmith Camp, October 19: -
I have only just found time to write you a letter. We landed at Durban on Friday last at midday in a very heavy rain, which kept up all day and night. Everyone at the stations we passed on the way up gave us enthusiastic cheers, and tea at some places. We got here 4 30 a.m. The line runs up and down hills and round frightful curves, so that, although the distance from Durban is only 168 miles, we took about 14 hours to get here. We were for two days here in a big camp at Ladysmith (our concentrating point).
We stayed two days in the camp, and the next two days and nights we were dotted about the hills on picket duty. Those two nights I slept out in the open in my overcoat with my half company under arms, all rifles loaded with 10 rounds, and my revolver loaded. We had four sentries out, and sent out patrols at intervals. The other companies did similar work on other hills. I slept alternately with a sergeant and a corporal the first night, and with only a sergeant the second, each of us taking it in turn to sleep and to visit the sentries. We (i.e., my company) came in here about midday yesterday, and we were patrolling over the hills all last night, which was terribly hard work. There are three of our companies here now, and we are keeping a good look out for any of the enemy who may approach.
The cavalry captured a spy yesterday, but I don't know what was done with him. Another man was also found trying to poison the fodder. A rumour is about that he was shot last night, but I don't know if there is any truth in that.
The remaining troops of the Gloucestershire Regiment are scattered about on different hills. and our work is to secure any part of Ladysmith from surprise. Cavalry go out every day and night to patrol, and two shots were fired at them by the enemy's artillery a couple of nights ago. The rest of the troops are round in the camp and different places quite close. The Gloucester Regiment are what are called Divisional troops, and do not belong to any brigade, but are independent and consequently we have an awful lot to do.
It is warm in day time here, and the sun very hot, but the weather is cold at night. I have been sleeping out on the ground (when I could get any sleep) up to now, but as last I have got my tent here, though of course I must leave it here with the others and only take my luck at getting a sheltered bit of ground to lie on whenever I go out again. This is the first peaceful morning I have had so far.
We have heard that the wires have been cut not very far away, but I believe the Engineers have fixed them up somehow by now. This letter is very disconnected and puzzling to you, I expect, but I have to rush it off, and there is such a lot being done all round that I can't make a continuous story of it.
We have had it fine so far, luckily, but it looks like rain to-day. There is nothing to be seen all round but rocky hills, which you have to clamber over with great difficulty. There is no grass to be seen. The place is nothing but small and large rocks and stones. A compass cannot be used owing to the iron in the ground...….
One of our men was cleaning one of our officers' revolvers the other day, and let it off. The bullet passed between several men, went through the wall of the tent and two other tents, and hit one of our sergeants about 25 yards away in the arm, and then lodged in his stomach. He was a very good soldier, but, poor fellow! he died the next day. We were all awfully sorry to have had anyone killed by accident like that.
One of the Meyricks (other Cheltonians) I saw at the station yesterday, one of the twins in the R.E. I don't trhink he recognised me. Theobald, of Cheltenham, is with us here in this regiment. The captain of my company is B. O. Fyffe and the other subaltern A. H. Radice. I am in C Company, and Theobald is in F Company. No more time. Will write again when I can...….
P.S. Boers are supposed to be about 15 or 20 miles from here in small numbers. The frontier of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal is about 25 miles away...…...Just heard from the headquarter staff that the Boers attacked Kimberley and each time were repulsed with heavy losses. We are longing to get a chance at them, and have orders to hold on to the last to this place.
Firstly, I can help you with the sergeant's details as I have his QSA clasp Natal.
2322 Sejt. W. Parks, Gloucester Regiment.
Queen's South Africa Medal clasp Natal. Accidentally killed Ladysmith 16 October 1899.
William Parks enlisted 23 March 1888. Born Enniskillen. Occupation musician. He was the Bandmaster Sergeant and arrived in South Africa with the rest of his battalion from India, landing at Durban 13 October 1899. The battalion entrained for Ladysmith, arriving in the early hours of the following day. Two days later he was killed when an officer's servant accidentally discharged a revolver while cleaning it. The bullet passed through two tents before hitting him in the left arm and side. (One account states groin). He was the first member of the regiment to die in the campaign and one of the earliest casualties of the entire war. Buried in Ladysmith Town Cemetery. Left 8/- to his father Samuel. Served in 1st Battalion.
According to one transcript of an eyewitness account I have and the medal and casualty rolls, Parks was killed outright although another account and the officer's account state that he died the following day.
As for the officer, his account sounds very much like the transcript of a snippet I have which was taken from "A Subaltern's Recollections of the Boer War" by Radice and published in the Gloucesters' regimental journal The Back Badge in 1935. Lt. A.H. Radice was one of many members of the battalion taken prisoner at the disastrous action of Nicholson's Nek 30/10/1899. He also served as a Captain in the Gloucesters in WW1.