b. 26/02/1877 Blackburn, Lancashire. d. 18/02/1955 Blackburn, Lancashire.
James Pitts (1877-1955) was born on 26th February 1877, at 77 Barton Street, Blackburn, Lancashire, the eldest of 16 children. His father, Patrick, was an umbrella hawker. Both his parents were of Irish origin. James attended St Ann’s and then St Alban’s schools. He left at age 13 and worked in the mill until he was 18 when he enlisted with the 1st Manchester Regiment at Ashton Barracks. In November 1897 he sailed for Gibraltar. Two years later he was on his way to the Cape, Pietermaritzburg first and then Ladysmith.
At the outbreak of the war the Boers had quickly surrounded Ladysmith. A British counter-attack failed and Ladysmith was besieged for 118 days. Knowing British relief was on its way, the Boers attacked on the night of January 5th 1900. The British line south of Ladysmith ran along a ridge known as the Platrand, whose features had been named Wagon Point, Wagon Ridge and Caesar’s Camp – after features near Aldershot, well known to the British troops. The Boers stormed Caesar’s Camp, and it was here that James Pitts and his comrades held out without food or water for fifteen hours, under heavy fire all the time.
During the attack on Caesar’s Camp, in Natal, on the 6th January, 1900, two men (Privates Robert Scott and James Pitts) occupied a sangar, on the left of which all our men had been shot down and their positions occupied by Boers, and held their post for fifteen hours without food or water, all the time under an extremely heavy fire, keeping up their fire and a smart look-out though the Boers occupied some sangars on their immediate left rear. Private Scott was wounded.
Both men were recommended for, and gazetted for the Victoria Cross on 26th July 1901. They were invested with their medals by the Commander in Chief, South Africa, Lord Kitchener, at Pretoria on 8th June 1902. In 1904 Pitts returned to Blackburn to an enthusiastic welcome and a presentation of £50 from the Mayor. He started work as a labourer at Bank Top foundry, but found regular work hard to come by. In 1914 he re-enlisted in Kitchener’s army, joining his old regiment.
After the war Pitts got a job with the Highways Department with Blackburn Corporation and remained there for 34 years. He died on February 18th 1955 in Blackburn Infirmary. He was buried in Blackburn Cemetery with full military honours, a three volley salute, and a bugler who sounded the Last Post and Reveille. The grave was recently discovered to have become overgrown around the headstone which was erected in the 1970s. In July 2012, a local Blackburn stonemason, Brent Stevenson offered to renovate the area around the headstone. His medals are held by the Manchester Regiment Museum, Ashton under Lyne.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: MANCHESTER REGIMENT MUSEUM, ASHTON UNDER LYNE.
BURIAL PLACE: WHALLEY NEW ROAD CEMETERY, BLACKBURN, LANCS. PLOT D GRAVE 2524
Kevin Brazier – Image of the Pitts VC Headstone in Whalley New Road Cemetery, Blackburn.
Paul Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of the Pitts VC Stone outside Blackburn Town Hall.
Manchester Regiment Museum website – Images of the Pitts VC Medal group and the reverse of his VC.