Saturday 8 October 2016

The unfortunate death of Private 4991 John Hood, 2nd Dragoons

The casualty rolls show Pte 4981 (sic) J Hood 2nd Dragoons died of exposure at Dorsfontein (sic) April 25th, 1902. Exposure is not an uncommon cause of death - the climate in South Africa can be harsh - not just heat and dust but rain and freezing temperatures were common place. In the field men usually did not have tents and often slept in wet clothes under a single blanket. Often the blanket was frozen solid in the morning.

Was Pte Hood a victim of the climate? Reading around we find from the most unlikely sources the circumstances of his death. Currently I am researching the Royal Artillery Mounted Rifles (RAMR). In about 1905 Colonel TS Baldock RA wrote a short history of the RAMR for the Royal Artillery Institution. Today this monograph is very scarce if not rare, there are no copies in the British Library or other lending libraries in Britain. The copy held by the RA Library is now in store. There was only one copy available to purchase.

On page 471 Baldock relates how, on April 24th,  a patrol of the RAMR came across a "naked and nearly dead" soldier in a burnt out farmhouse in the area between Pretoria, Elandsfontein and Balmoral. The soldier was "too crazy from starvation and exposure" to give a full account. However, his rescuers ascertained he was from the 2nd Dragoons and had been captured and stripped as was common. However the Boers abandoned him in the shell of the farmhouse with no food. The man the RAMR rescued was Pte Hood, the RAMR camp was at Dorstfontein. The casualty rolls do not show Pte Hood being captured. Turning to The Times they record Pte 4991 W (sic) Hood, 2nd Dragoons captured and injured by a fall from his horse at Irene April 18th. So, Hood had spent six days without food, warm clothing and decent shelter before being found.

The RAMR patrol took him back to camp where he died the following day. Soldiers' Effects show John Hood was a miner who had enlisted at Niddrie, Edinburgh on April 30th, 1900. He was unmarried his war gratuity and pay was distributed amongst his father, three sisters and a brother.

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