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  • Christina Drummond

Lieutenant Francis Burton Pitts, 3rd Battalion, The Leicestershire Regiment

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1917, Lieutenant Francis Burton Pitts, 3rd Battalion, the Leicestershire Regiment, died as a prisoner of war from wounds received two weeks earlier during the Battle of Bullecourt. The son of a church canon, he was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, and the Royal Academy of Music. At the outbreak of the Great War he enlisted with the 21st Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), which was known as the 4th Public Schools Battalion. One of his brothers served as a chaplain, the other as an officer with the Machine Gun Corps - both survived the war.

He was sent to France in November of 1915; the battalion was later disbanded, many of the men having been commissioned, and Lieutenant Pitts was himself commissioned in August of 1916 when he joined the Leicestershire Regiment. October saw his battalion repairing trenches on the Somme; this continued through the winter after which they moved towards Bullecourt, at the heart of the Hindenberg Line. On the 3rd of May, the battle of Bullecourt took place, an assault which was the biggest since the Battle of the Somme – traversing the thousand yards of No Man’s Land before they could reach the enemy, a large number of the Battalion was taken prisoner, including the wounded Lieutenant Pitts.

He wrote this letter to his father a week later, after having been declared missing: “I once thought I should never write to you again, I suppose you all heard about our weeks doings in France. I wonder if anyone ever thought we would get through it. The Red Cross Germans were certainly very good, and helped all they could for our injured men and officers. Some dirty work was doing on all around us, and our bombardment died for a second. It was decided that our party was to move away at once, myself and three men under a we started, we four (of course the British were close to now. We tried one way - no snipers, we tried another, firing too close that one. All I then know was that I had been hit, and was writhing at the bottom of a shell hole, the others vanished. I was in that same German trench an hour, how it was done, God only knows. A red cross was binding me up, and giving me water. This is about seven or eight days ago, and this is the third hospital I have been to. Of course, I am still in bed, very weak, but the worst is now over. I wonder what it will be like to be on my feet again. Goodbye, I expect Loughborough will see me just about the same sometime.” Sadly Lieutenant Pitts died of his wounds a week later, while still a prisoner. He was buried by the Germans in Bouchain Military Cemetery, east of Arras, but in 1924 the War Graves Commission removed all British soldiers from there to the Caberet-Rouge British Cemetery at Souchez, Pas-de-Calais in France.

Francis, from Loughborough, was 27 years old.

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