The forgotten hero

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The hero is Captain Henry Pitcher VC, who, as a Lieutenant aged 22, was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1864 following action on India’s North-West Frontier the previous year.The Victoria College register shows that Henry William Pitcher entered Victoria College in the autumn term of 1856, aged 15.

A laconic note in the register against his name states: ‘possibly joined the army’.Four other Old Victorians are known to have gained the VC.

Their surnames: Sartorius (two brothers), Bruce and Diarmid, are commemorated in the names of three of the school’s five houses.

The name of this hitherto unknown recipient of the VC has in fact always been visible on a 19th-century stained glass window in the south aisle of St Martin’s Parish Church.In modern times, nobody has been sufficiently curious in the window or in the name of Pitcher to do any research, until the chairman of the Société’s history section, Frank Falle, noticed it, and wondered to whom it might refer.He contacted the two Société librarians, Anna Baghiani and Angela Williams, and Mrs Baghiani put the next piece in the jigsaw puzzle by finding details of the citation on the Victoria Cross website.

She then consulted the list of Jersey Freemasons and the Victoria College registers to see whether the same name cropped up there, and found that both Pitcher and his elder brother had been among the first generation of students in what was then a new school, opened only three years previously.

Further research by Mrs Baghiani revealed that the two sons had been born in India – their father had been an officer in the Madras Cavalry, but had died aged 31.

Their widowed mother, who was the daughter of Vice-Admiral George Le Geyt (1786-1861), returned to Jersey after her husband’s death.

Her sister, Marguerite, was the sister-in-law of Victoria College’s first headmaster, Dr W G Henderson.Mr Falle said that thanks to the research of Mrs Baghiani and her colleague, the residence of Pitcher’s mother in the Island had been confirmed: she lived for many years at St Martin and died in 1901.Both her sons went into the Indian Army.

The eldest, Duncan, retired in 1896 as a Colonel, and died in Jersey in 1924.His gallant younger brother served with the 1st Punjab Infantry.

In 1863, as a Lieutenant, he led a party up a narrow pass to recapture a picquet camp on the summit of a steep hill that had been taken by the enemy – Pathan frontier tribesmen – with the loss of 66 British troops.Although successfully recaptured, the hilltop camp was later captured yet again by the Pathans, and Lieut Pitcher, although wounded, led the charge that saw the position retaken for the second and final time.The citation reads: ‘The gallant bearing of this excellent young officer was the admiration of all spectators.

It is impossible to say too much about, or to overrate, his services.’ He was afterwards promoted to Captain, but died, at the age of 34, in 1875.

He is buried in India.Jersey military historian Major Michael Barthorp, whose book ‘Afghan Wars and the North-West Frontier’ devotes a chapter to the Umbeyla campaign in which this action took place, said that the campaign was a difficult one for the British forces.They had been constantly pinned down in narrow valleys by enemy fire from hilltops, and who were forced into costly actions to take enemy positions on the surrounding high ground.It is not known whether there are any near relations still living in Jersey, and Mr Falle said that as his wife was from Ireland, the Victoria Cross medal may have been taken back there by his widow.Victoria College headmaster Robert Cooke said he was surprised and delighted that new research proved that an hitherto unknown Old Victorian had been decorated with the VC.

‘It is excellent news,’ he said.

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