James Pitts (26th February 1877 to 18th February 1955)

 

I don’t usually agree with MP Jack Straw but when he heard the grave of James Pitts in Blackburn Cemetery was overgrown and said, “I am very concerned about this. I will talk to the council about how we can put this right” and I agreed with him. Good on him he got this resolved and the foliage was cut back and the grass mown. On the way to walk up Pendle Hill I called at Blackburn Cemetery to see if I could find the grave.

 

James was born two miles away from his grave, the oldest of 16 children. Perhaps so many siblings in a small house persuaded him to leave school at 13 to work in the local mill for low wages. One night he was walking home through the town when he heard an army recruiting sergeant giving a speech about joining the army. He was so disillusioned with the long hours at the mill that he enlisted aged 18.

 

By 22 he was very long way from home, fighting in Africa in the Second Boer War (where Great Britain defeated two Boer nations in Africa.) The Boers had surrounded a place called Ladysmith. They attacked at approximately 3am on 6th January 1900 knowing British relief was days away. The Boers stormed in and killed or wounded all of James’s comrades. However one soldier, Robert Scott, was alive with him and they occupied a sangar (a small structure used to observe the enemy.) They remained here for 15 hours under heavy gunfire without food or water. Robert took a bullet in the chest and lay bleeding on the floor. Neither man would surrender and resolved to carry on to the death, Robert lying on the floor passing bullet up to James. Finally the Devonshire Regiment arrived as night began to fall.

 

It took six months for James’s bravery to reach Blackburn and he received the Victoria Cross from Lord Kitchener on 6th June 6th 1900. After the Boer War he worked as a general labourer in a foundry. The near-death experience in Africa didn’t scare him though as he enlisted in the army again when the First World War started.

 

After the war he returned to Blackburn and got a job with the council working in the Highways Department (a job he held was 34 years.) When he died aged 77 he was buried here where I’m stood with full military honours, a three volley salute, and a bugler who sounded the Last Post and Reveille.

 

Though Blackburn cemetery is fairly large I headed to the Catholic Section (I knew James’s parents were Catholics) with a grainy photo of the headstone. Apart from my red car there was little colour around, winter bleaching colour out of most things. I soon spotted a red wreath and walked down to it. This was it.

 

I’d read about the two brave man in bed the night before the visit. As I stood by the grave I wondered he ever stayed in touch with Robert Scott. Neither must have ever forgot that fifteen hours they remained fighting, all the time expecting life to end any moment. Peter lived another six years, died aged 86 and is buried in Northern Ireland.

 

 

 

Looking for…

 

 

The grave had become overgrown…

 

The sangar occupied by James and Robert Scott was 15 hours looked something like this…

 

Touching the “VC” and there it is…

 

You just have to salute…

 

The main entrance to Blackburn Cemetery…