When I first began researching my Pitts ancestors on Ancestry.com my main focus was James Pitts V.C. M.S.M. and my great-grandmother Elizabeth Pitts, his first cousin.
James Pitts, Blackburn’s first Victoria Cross recipient is my only relative to have his own Wikipedia page, and to have his likeness grace a memorial statue.
The family story about Jimmy’s gallant stand at Caesar’s Camp on 6 January 1900 involved the propping up of corpses to deceive the Boers, a tale I later realised borrowed heavily from Beau Geste. But perhaps there was some truth in this story?
I began by researching the Boer War years 1899-1902, but my project soon expanded after I discovered that my own great-grandfather Hubert Blakelidge had served in the Second Boer War and at Diyatalawa POW camp in Sri Lanka with the King’s Royal Rifles as a teenager guarding Boer prisoners.
The British Newspaper Archive, and particularly the Lancashire newspapers offered some tantalising hints of family secrets and scandals dating back to the 1830’s.
To respect the privacy of family members I decided not to write about anybody alive today and to end the narrative before the Great Depression of the 1930s.
So here it is:
A history of an Irish immigrant family in Blackburn - the Pitts family - from 1830 to 1930s with 40 pages of illustrations.
PART I covers the trials of the family in Dickensian Blackburn through the Cotton riots of 1878 and to the tail end of the 19th century.
PART II examines the experiences of James Pitts at the Battle of Elandslaagte and the Battle of Caesar's Camp on 6 January 1900 during the Boer War through to his homecoming and marriage.
PART III covers the prelude to World War I, the fragmentation of the family through migration, and their lives and losses during the war period, ending in the 1920’s.
The book is not a novel. It is part historical fiction and part creative non-fiction with an extensive Cast of Characters, References and Notes to help the reader determine the truth from the imagined.