"On the 6th of January 1900 sixteen of the Manchester Regiment, without any officers to guide or direct them, held a remote position at Caesar's Camp from three o'clock in the morning till nightfall. When the Devonshires reinforced the fighting line at that point and the enemy were repulsed, it was found that fourteen of these brave men were lying dead, another was wounded, and only one remained unscathed."
Thus did Sir George White, leader of the British forces at Ladysmith, describe the action which saw Private James Pitts become Blackburn's first winner of the Victoria Cross. The action took place during the Boer War on craggy heights in Natal's mountain wilderness.
James Pitts was born in Barton Street on February 26th 1877, 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.
It wasn't until July that year that news of Private Pitts' VC reached Blackburn. Pitts received the medal the following year on June 6th from Lord Kitchener. In 1904 Pitts returned to Blackburn to an enthusiatic 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 Dept with Blackburn Corporation and remained there for 34 years. He died on February 18th 1955. He was buried in Blackburn Cemetery with full military honours, a three volley salute, and a bugler who sounded the Last Post and Reveille.