b. 20/12/1841 Kamptee, India. d. 05/07/1875 Dehra Ghazi, India.
Henry William Pitcher (1841-1875) was born at Kamptee in India, the second son of Vincent Pitcher, an officer serving in the 6th Madras Light Cavalry, who died young, and Emelie Le Geyt, daughter of Vice-Admiral George Le Geyt. His elder brother Colonel Duncan George Pitcher also served in India. After her husband’s death, Mrs Pitcher settled in Jersey and subsequently married the Rev Thomas Le Neveu of St Martin. There is a large memorial window, dedicated to Henry, in St Martin’s Parish Church.
After leaving Victoria College, Henry Pitcher was commissioned Ensign, and set sail for India, arriving in December, at the height of the Indian Mutiny. He was promoted Lieutenant in May 1858, and joined Coke’s Rifles, one of eight regiments which, together with the Guides’ Infantry and Cavalry, were to become known as the Punjab Frontier Force, the famous ‘Piffers’ – supreme exponents of mountain warfare. The regiment’s uniform was not khaki, which was then being introduced for such warfare, but black, which made the men stand out sharply against the mountains of the frontier.
He was attached to the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, under the command of Sir Colin Campbell, and served with the 79th Highlanders for the remainder of the Mutiny, seeing action through the campaign of 1858–1859. He was present at the siege and capture of Lucknow, as well as at many other actions which restored peace and order to India’s plains.
He was appointed Adjutant of the 4th Punjab Infantry and in 1863, a force, including his regiment, was formed to stop raids by former mutineers and fanatical Muslim tribesmen from the hills of North-West India – the present border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It advanced through the Umbeyla Pass, but after three days the troops halted, penned in on low ground, with surrounding hills occupied by tribesmen.
On 30th October 1863, Pitcher led a party of his regiment in an attempt to re-capture the Crag Picket, after its garrison had been driven out by the frontier tribes. During the loss of the garrison sixty men were killed in the desperate hand to hand fighting. The approach to the top of the Crag was treacherous and difficult, with only one of two men could advance at any time.
Major Keyes, commanding the 1st Punjab Infantry, gave the orders for Lieutenant Fosbery of the 4th European Regiment to push through the rocks with a few men. With great coolness and skills, Fosbery was the first man to reach the top of the Crag. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Pitcher, with equal daring and gallantry led a party to the last rock, until he was knocked down and stunned by a large stone thrown from above. Pitcher was severely wounded, and had to be carried down. He would lead a second assault on the Crag Picket on the 13th November 1863, when again, he was wounded.
Pitcher was gazetted for the VC on 16th July 1864, but there is no record of an investiture. Sadly, after remaining in India after the Umbeyla Campaign, he died aged just 34 of heatstroke on 5th July 1875 at Dehra Ghazi Khan. He was originally buried at Dehra Ghazi Khan Cemetery, but after some flooding, he was re-interred in Dehra Ismail Khan Cemetery, Kohat (now in Pakistan then India). Pitcher’s medals were in private ownership until 30th August 2008, when at an auction, the Jersey based charity “Raising the Standard” purchased them for £110,000. The seller and great-great niece of Pitcher donated the money to the Help the Heroes Charity soon afterwards. On 10th January 2009, the medals were presented to the island of Jersey, and are now displayed in the Jersey Museum, St Helier.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: JERSEY MUSEUM, ST HELIER, JERSEY.
BURIAL PLACE: DEHRA ISMAIL KHAN CEMETERY, KOHAT, INDIA.
Ned Malet de Carteret – The three images of the replica medal group display at Victoria College, Jersey, his medal group in Jersey Museum, and the reverse of his VC medal.