Before the war, William James Pitt worked as a boilermaker and labourer in the Great Western Railway Works in Swindon. He married Celia Sarah Davis in November 1905, and had six children with her. William had previously served as a reservist with the Royal Warwick Regiment, and in October 1914, at the age of 43, he re-enlisted with the 4th Wiltshires.
William sailed from Southampton to Bombay, India on the 9th of that month. There were concerns that the war might provoke Indian separatist sentiment, and Germany had been trying for some time to stir up unrest and anti-British sentiment in the region. As the experienced soldiers stationed in India were brought back to fight on the Western Front, new recruits needed to be sent to replace them. The 4th Wiltshires were one of many territorial battalions to volunteer for overseas service on the outbreak of war, and would have been less concerned about William’s relatively advanced age.
Service in India was not kind to William, and on April 4 1917 he was discharged, suffering from Tuberculosis and permanently unfit for service. TB is estimated to have cost the lives of 50,000 Commonwealth soldiers each year in the First World War, and William became one of them when he died of his illness three months after he was discharged, on July the 17th, 1917.
William’s daughter Violet remembered that when her father came back from the war he was ill and had to live in a special shed in the garden of 21 Hawkins Street. She recalled playing round his feet in the kitchen, making dens under the blanket that covered his knees.
In the 1930s Celia worked as a cleaner at the Civic Offices in Euclid Street, but how she managed in those early post-war years with six children to raise alone has passed out of family memory. She later lived at 142 County Road, opposite the football ground. She died there in 1947, having survived another world war.