Born at Wigginton, Tamworth, Staffordshire, and baptised in St Editha's Church, Tamworth on the 24th of December 1815, the son of Thomas and Lydia Parkes.
See Further information, below, for more on his family background.
Enlisted at Tamworth, 30th of July 1832.
Height: 6' 2".
Description: Fresh complexion. Grey eyes. Lt. brown hair.
He spent almost a decade in India, 1832-1841. The muster roll for the period shows him "On Service in Scinde", and was almost certainly at Ghuznee [see below, on medal entitlements].
Returned from India aboard the Repulse, 27th of March 1842, having left Bombay 28 December 1841.
[PB, Jan, 2104: According to Wendy Leahy, he embarked for India on the 9th of March 1832 aboard the Abercrombie Robinson, arriving at Bombay on the 21st June 1832; and returned from Bombay, 10th of November 1841, arriving Gravesend 12th of March 1842, aboard the Mary. http://shadowsoftime.co.nz/4ths/dragoonpq/parkes3.html (accessed 31.1.2014)]
Saved the life of 1295 Trumpeter Hugh Crawford, 4th Light Dragoons, during the Charge at Balaclava, 25th October 1854, for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross (for more details, see below).
Taken prisoner of war at Balaclava after his horse had been shot under him. He was Orderly to Colonel Lord George Paget at the time.
Joseph Grigg mentions Parkes in his account of the Charge:
"Private Samuel Parks, Lord Paget's orderly, who dismounted to pick up Trumpet-Major Crawford, was taken prisoner with several others.
After thirteen months he was exchanged, and Lord George Paget asked him all about his doings. He told us that General Menschikoff said to him, "Did they make all your men drunk before the charge?"
"No Sir," he answered, "unless a pen'orth of rum in an evening would do it, for we only pay a penny a day for our allowance."
"Well," said the General, as he walked away, "I never saw a prettier charge in all my life."
Parks also told us that he and some others were taken to St. Petersburg, where they were well treated, and allowed eightpence a day each for food, which was very cheap."[Source: "The Charge of the Six Hundred" by Joseph Grigg, 4th Light Dragoons', in Told from the Ranks: Recollections of Service by Privates and Non-Commissioned Officers of the British Army 1843-1901, by E. Milton Small, pub. 1901. Transcribed by Wendy Leahy and available online on her website, http://shadowsoftime.co.nz/JosephGrigg4LD1.html (accessed 31.1.2014). It can also be viewed <>here>.]
Rejoined the regiment from Odessa, 22nd of October 1855.
A nominal roll of men of the regiment at the Cavalry Depot, Scutari, made out on 9th of November 1855, shows him as a Prisoner under sentence of Court-martial from 4 November.
See record of 1292 Joseph Armstrong for details of the courts-martial held on the returned prisoners of war.
Statement of Samuel Parkes to the Court:
"I was with the 4th Light Dragoons in the charge at Balaclava on the 25th of October 1854, and my horse was shot under me. I was at once surrounded, and made prisoner. I was sent by the Russians to Simpheropol, where I remained until being sent about 1200 miles up the country.
I was kept there until August the 27th 1855, when together with the other prisoners I was sent to Odessa, from whence I was forwarded to Balaclava and reached that place on the 25th of October 1855."
Discharged from Aldershot, 1st of December 1857: "Free to pension, at his own request, after 24 years' service."
Served 26 years 121 days. In Turkey and the Crimea, 1 year 10 months. India 9 years 5 months.
Aged 44 years 3 months on discharge.
Awarded a pension of 1/1d per day.
Conduct: "a good soldier" (though he was tried by a Regimental Court-martial on 21st November 1848, and sentenced to 56 days' imprisonment).
In possession of four Good Conduct badges by 18th of November 1857.
To live at Tamworth, Staffs, but he was living in the North London Pension District in 1860.
Next of kin (in 1854): Mother, Mrs. Lydia Parkes, living in Tamworth, Staffordshire.
The muster roll for the period shows him "On Service in Scinde", and from this and other known recipients, he was almost certainly entitled to the medal for Ghuznee. However, there are no extant rolls for this campaign. (See comment on this medal's existence in later paragraph.)
Entitled to the Crimean medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava, and Sebastopol (but not shown on the medal roll for the last).
Awarded the Victoria Cross for saving the life of 1295 Trumpeter Hugh Crawford, 4th Light Dragoons. He was decorated by Queen Victoria at a ceremony held in Hyde Park on 26th of June 1857.
From the citation for the Victoria Cross, published in the London Gazette, 27th of February 1857:
No. 635 Private Samuel Parkes
In the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava, Trumpet-Major Crawford's horse fell, and dismounted him, and he lost his sword; he was attacked by two Cossacks, when Private Samuel Parkes (whose horse had also been shot) saved his life by placing himself between them and the Trumpet-Major, and drove them away by his sword.
In attempting to follow the Light Cavalry in the retreat, they were attacked by six Russians, whom Parkes kept at bay, and retired slowly, fighting, and defending the Trumpet-Major for some time, until deprived of his sword by a shot."[Source: London Gazette, 27th of February 1857.]
(There is a photograph in the files of a painting said to be of Parkes defending Trumpeter Hugh Crawford at Balaclava and so winning the VC. The large original hangs in the Officers' Mess of the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars, but the artist is unknown.)
In one of the two paintings (see photographs in the 4th Hussar files) showing the presentation by Queen Victoria of the Victoria Cross to those who were awarded it, at a ceremony held in Hyde Park on 26 June 1857, Parkes is the figure on the extreme left of the waiting line of recipients in this, but in the original picture now in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle the last visible in line to him was Lieutenant Dunn of the 11th Hussars.
In the second, painted from the seating behind the presentation, he is just visible between the two Royal Princes on horse-back. Some 61 Crosses were presented to members of the forces on this occasion. (See record of Lieutenant Alexander Roberts Dunn of the 11th Hussars for antecedents of the artist who painted a picture of the scene and also a copy of the report of the presentation taken from "The Illustrated London News" for 4th of July 1857 in the 4th Hussar files.)
In an affidavit filed by Parkes on 2nd of June 1863 and entered in the Cardigan-Calthorpe law-suit he affirmed that he "was formerly of Her Majesty's 4th Light Dragoons, and now Inspector of Hyde Park, stationed at Stanhope Gate, London":
"I was twenty-six years and four months in the service and I have got the Victoria Cross. I remember the charge of the Light Cavalry Brigade on the 25th of October 1854 at Balaclava. I acted as Orderly to Lord George Paget on that day, and took part in the charge.
I saw Lord Cardigan leave the Heavy Cavalry Brigade, ride through the right of our squadrons and heard him give orders to Lord George Paget that the Light Brigade should advance, and he ordered them to "Trot - Gallop." At the time the first line of our cavalry was about 250 yards in front of our line.
We then all charged, and as we passed the redoubts on our right and left they fired on us. When our line arrived past the redoubts and the smoke and dust had cleared away we saw no sign of the first line and could not imagine what had become of them.
We continued our charge and reached the guns in front of us and got through them, cutting down the gunners and drivers and silencing the guns. Whilst we were so engaged we observed that the 11th Hussars were being cut up by the enemy and a number of the 4th Light Dragoons, together with Lord George Paget and myself, charged down to their support.
We then saw that the Russians had drawn back; but at the same time we saw a regiment of Lancers in our rear. Lord George Paget first thought they were the 17th Lancers, but in discovering they were the enemy's troops he called out to some officers near him, "Where is Lord Cardigan" and I then heard some-one (whom I have always thought to be Captain Lowe) say, "Lord Cardigan has gone back some time."
Lord George Paget then ordered us to get through the Russians in the best way we could and so we then retreated right through the Russian cavalry, who opened up right and left and let us pass, showing no resistance to us. When we were retreating and just after I had passed the first redoubt, my horse was shot and we were attacked by the Cossacks.
I defended myself for a long time, but at length, whilst so engaged with a Cossack, a shot struck the hilt of my sword and wounded my hand; two Russian officers galloped up and took me prisoner, taking me to General Liprandi.
Later that evening he sent for me again, with others, and asked us many questions relevant to our positions and strength and also asked me if we had been made drunk before the Charge. He further asked me if it was Lord Cardigan who went to the rear on a chestnut horse with white legs; we said "Yes," and he then said, "If he had not had a good horse, he would never have got back."
The water kegs, haversacks, etc., were taken from all the other prisoners, but the General then gave orders that mine should not be taken and nothing was taken from me except my scabbard and belt.
From the time we commenced to charge I did not see Lord Cardigan again until my return to England. He gave no order to our line except to 'Charge', as before stated."
Notice he made no mention in this of his part, along with 1481 John Edden, and 1295 Trumpeter Crawford, in their vain attempt to carry Major John Halkett, all 4th Light Dragoons, after the latter had been wounded [see their records].
[PB, Feb 2014: It would be good to review the evidence for this attempt, whether and when it took place, and who was involved.]
He is shown on a "List of persons appointed and sworn in to act as Local Constables within the Metropolitan Police District", 23rd of December 1857. He was then at Hampton Court Palace in the parish of Hampton, County of Middlesex. (The Chelsea Out-Pensioners records show him as being appointed a "Warder at Hampton Court Palace" at the time of his discharge.)
His warrant was cancelled on 7th of January 1858 and he was re-sworn in "To keep the peace within all of her Majesty's Parks and Gardens." This was most probably when he was appointed Inspector in Hyde Park.
The second warrant was returned on 2nd of December 1864: "Man dead."
Enquiry of the present Metropolitan Police archives shows that they did not take over responsibility for the policing of Hyde Park until 1st of April 1867, and unfortunately none of the records of the original Royal Parks Constabulary have survived.
In an article in the Journal of the Police History Society (Number 4, 1989) on policemen who had served in the Light Brigade, the author, Martin D. D. Jones, Head of the History Dept at Brighton University and SP's great-great-great nephew, stated that Parkes was born at Wiggington, near Tamworth, and was baptised at St Editha's Church at Tamworth on the date already known.
According to the author, Samuel Parkes overstated his age as 18 when he enlisted and that he was the oldest Russian War VC winner. Parkes had married Ann Jeffrey at St. George's, Hanover Square, on 13th of February 1858. Both were shown as being "of full age", he a "Soldier" and she a "Spinster", both of "Oxford Street". His father as given as Thomas Parkes, a labourer, and hers as Jonathan Jeffrey, a farmer. The marriage was "after banns".
The 1841 Census Returns record a Jonathan Jeffrey, born at Fewston, an Agricultural Labourer, as living at Low Mill, Thurscross, Yorkshire, with his wife, Sarah, and four children. He was then aged 44, born at Fewston, his wife 36, born at Thurscross, and the children's ages ranging from 18 years to 6 months.
There is no baptismal entry for the eldest child, Mary Ann (and assuming that she was the Ann Jeffrey who married Samuel Parkes) at Fewston, as there is for all the others.
By the time of the 1851 Census the father had died and his wife was shown as a widow, a shopkeeper, aged 46, living with Mary Ann, aged 25, a dressmaker, and Sarah Harrison, the second daughter, now 21, a widow, and her two children.
The 1861 Census shows him as living in West Lodge, Marble Arch, with his wife, Ann, but no family are shown. He was shown as being 45 years of age and his occupation as Hyde Park Constable, and she as 35. His place of birth was confirmed as Wiggington, Tamworth, and shows hers as Fewston, in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
According to his death certificate he died of "Apoplexy" (5 days) at Stanhope Gate, Hyde Park, London, on the 15th of November 1864, aged 49 years. His occupation was then shown as being "Inspector of Hyde Park Constabulary" and a "John Sneezum" was shown as being present at his death. This may well have been 1452 John Sneezum of the 11th Hussars. (See his record.) See also copy of Parkes's death certificate in the "Certificates" file.
He was buried in Brompton Cemetery, Fulham, on the 19th of November 1864. It is a common grave, Section R. (No. 39265) and no stone was erected. See photograph of the grave-site in the 4th Hussar file. (The spelling of his surname in the burial registers there is given as "Parks.")
An article relating to his service career life and death and the finding of his grave-site, appeared in the Daily Telegraph on the 30th of October 1997. Inaccurate in just about every detail, its only point of interest was that the merged successors of his original regiment intend to place a headstone over his grave. (See copy of the article in the 4th Hussar file.)
On 8th May 1999 the dedication of a newly-erected grave-marker to him took place in Brompton Cemetery, and was attended by representatives of his greater family, an officer descendant of General Lord George Paget, regimental and other groups of an ex-military nature, as well as descendants of the family of John Edden who had been assisted by both Parkes and Crawford in a effort to save an officer of the regiment shortly before Parke's VC winning action. Because the grave space also having been used for other burials, a full-size stone was not allowed and the marker was in the form of a marble slab placed flat on the ground, the inscription on it reading:
Private Samuel Parkes, VC.
He served his Queen and Country
for 26 years and 41 days with
the 4th Light Dragoons.
He won his VC in the Charge of
the Light Brigade at Balaklava.
During his time of service he
received the Ghuznee Medal,
the Crimean medal with the
3 clasps for Alma, Balaklava and Sebastopol,
also the Turkish Crimean medal
and the coveted Victoria Cross.
These medals were brought from the now amalgamated regiment in Germany and were laid on the tablet in a glazed case during the service, but no regimental piper of trumpeter was present, the honour of the "Last Post" and "Reveille" being sounded by a sergeant-trumpeter of the Inns of Court Yeomanry regiment. It had been originally intended for a trumpeter from the Household Cavalry Division to have performed this, for some unknown reason this was cancelled. (See photographs of the grave and scenes at the service in the 4th Hussar file, as well as a copy of the Order of Service. and of the glazed cased containing his medal group)
It has now been learnt that the family responsible for this happening is descended from a brother, Henry. After Samuel's death, the VC decoration passed down this family on the male side until the last known possession of it around the early 1900s, when contact with the then owner was lost and the whereabouts of the decoration not heard of until recently when it learnt it was in regimental possession.
A cavalry sword, believed by the family to have been the one he used in the Crimea, which has passed down the female side and still in family possession, was laid on the grave-marker at the time of the dedication service. (This latter belief cannot really be considered feasible though, as Samuel Parkes himself said that "he had lost his sword after it had been struck on the hilt", and that after being taken prisoner of war his belt and scabbard had been taken from him. There is, of course, always the possibility that the sword may have been one he carried later on, and took with him on leaving the Army, as a number of others are known to have done.)
It was a family promise to a deceased relative that something would be done to recall his name and memory, and an exhibition set up in Stafford Castle in October 1991, which really started everything off. (Although the event itself, which had been hoped would bring in more information, failed to do so and it was dismantled.)
However, in 1994, an interview on the local radio station brought in a local researcher, who provided copies of various newspaper reports etc, of the time and led to contact with the regiment concerned. Having by now been amalgamated with other regiments and officers of the new regiments now being in control at RHQ, they were seemingly unaware that a full record of everything known about Parkes existed in their archives and hence advised him to contact a person said to have been commissioned by the Army to trace him. (Possibly the same person who had "discovered" the grave in October of 1997, when in fact its location has been known of for at least thirty years.)
Although the regiment made the first contact with Brompton Cemetery authorities regarding the possible erection of a stone, it was the family that made the final arrangements, and paid for it. Permission for a full-size standing stone and/or kerb is not now given, only in a tablet form to be laid flush on the ground, so that it can be mown around. Although thought that Parkes was the sole occupant of the grave, it is now known that it was a common grave, he being buried at a depth of 10 feet, and that the site is filled to capacity.
Wiggington honours Crimean War soldier Samuel Parkes
A memorial has been built to honour a Staffordshire soldier who saved the lives of two comrades during the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Samuel Parkes of the 4th Light Dragoons was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery for his actions during the Crimean War battle in 1854.
Villagers have raised £14,000 for an obelisk in Wigginton to remember him and others who fought.
His great, great, great nephew Peter Elkin said thanks to the village's efforts his relative would be remembered for generations to come."
[Source: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-stoke-staffordshire-14725406 (accessed 30.8.11) [PB, 30.8.11].]
Tamworth Herald, 28 September 2011:
Brave war hero emerged from the 'Valley of Death'
Posted: September 28, 2011
A new memorial was officially unveiled in the village of Wigginton last week, honouring the memory of war hero Samuel Parkes - the first private soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross. PETER ELKIN, Samuel's great-great-great nephew, takes a look back on his role in the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade
IN THE Crimea, at an area known as Balaklava, on October 25, 1854, just one hour before dawn, the most infamous, ludicrous and suicidal military action ever was about to take place.
Known today as 'The Charge of The Light Brigade', it was a catastrophic blunder which was to become an heroic chapter in British history.
English troops were ordered to charge down a valley, flanked each side with Russian cannons, with an order to advance to the front to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns.
This order - whether it was intended or misinterpreted is still open to debate - sent 673 men charging down a valley, made infamous as 'The Valley of Death' in Alfred Lord Tennyson's famous poem.
And it was here where Wigginton's Samuel Parkes, of the 4th Light Dragoons, took his place in history.
Born in the village in 1815, Samuel was the bodyguard of his commanding officer and he had his horse shot from under him as he charged down the Valley of Death.
Many of his comrades did not survive the bloody carnage, and those who finally reached the guns were ill equipped to carry out the order and had to retreat - retracing their route past fallen comrades whose bodies, along with their horses, had been horribly ripped and torn apart by relentless shelling.
Hugh Crawford, the trumpeter of his regiment, also had his horse shot from beneath him, but as horse and hero fell, he became trapped under his mount.
Crawford lost his sword and injured his arm. Realising his dire predicament, Samuel Parkes ran to his aid, fighting off ravaging Russians and Cossacks.
John Edden, from Tamworth and also of the 4th Light Dragoons, also came to Crawford's aid.
As the three men retreated, they came upon their second in command, Major Halket [sic], who was lying on the ground, mortally wounded.
Edden and Crawford managed to lift Major Halket on to Samuel's back, and still Parkes fought off the Russians and Cossacks, wielding his sword like a madman.
The sight of 6ft 2in Samuel Parkes fighting for his life with an injured man on his back must have been awesome.
But eventually, Samuel was disarmed by his Russian foes, and, along with Hugh Crawford, he was taken prisoner. His actions at least allowed John Edden and others to escape from the bloody carnage and reach the relative safety of the British lines.
After a year in captivity, Samuel was repatriated - and inexplicably Court Martialled for desertion.
But when the full story emerged, he was cleared of all charges and rather than be punished - he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Samuel Parkes was only the second man in the British Army to receive this ultimate medal for gallantry under fire.
He was presented with his medal by Queen Victoria herself in Hyde Park, London, on June 26, 1857.
'The Charge of The Light Brigade', also known as the Battle of Balaclava, has not only been immortalised by Tennyson's poem, but also in many films, most notably by Errol Flynn's 1938 movie The Charge of the Light Brigade.
The Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for bravery, was born out of the Crimean War and the medals themselves are still made from the bronze of cannons which the Light Brigade were sent to retrieve.
After leaving the army, Samuel did not return to the area, but lived out his life in relative poverty in London.
He died in 1864 and was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in Brompton Cemetery.
Few people in his home town even knew of his existence, and his last resting place was lost even to members of his family until 1999, when I discovered precisely where he was buried.
Samuel Parkes is my great-great-great-uncle and I made it my personal mission to ensure that at least he would become known, remembered and given the honour that he richly deserves in his home town.
A memorial stone was placed on his grave and, in 2004, a brass plaque was placed in Tamworth Parish Church - the very place where he was baptised back in 1815.
I also published a book entitled 'Tamworth's Forgotten Hero', telling his remarkable story.
And last week, in the presence of Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex, a memorial was officially dedicated in Samuel's name in the village where he was born.
Perhaps now, Samuel can truly rest in peace in the secure knowledge that his place in history is secure.
[Source: Brave war hero emerged from the 'Valley of Death', Tamworth Herald, 28 September 2011 (accessed 5.2.2014).]