Lance Sergeant William Pitts

Service Army Service No. 17565
Rank Lance Sergeant
Regiment:Machine Gun Corps, 23rd Company
Date of Birth: 1887
Born Kenton
Date of Death: 22/06/1917
Memorial: Cofton Memorial Inscription William Pitts. Mach.Gun Corps. June 22nd 1917

Service History

William Henry Pitts (born St Thomas district – surrounding Exeter and including Kenton – Oct-Dec 1887, Vol 5b, page 7) joined the Devonshire Regiment with a service no. 7882 and was stationed in Malta with the 2nd Battalion at the time of the 1911 census.

It appears likely that he was with the 1st Battalion which had been stationed on Jersey since 1911. On 21st August 1914 they landed at Le Havre, where they were reinforced by nearly 500 reservists from Exeter.

This accords with the Medal Roll Index Card for William H Pitts that shows his “date of entry” (France) as 22-8-14 which entitled him to the award of the 1914 Star.


It is possible that he then re-enlisted with the Machine Gun Corps (Infantry). At the time of his death he held the rank of Lance Serjeant with service number 17565.  (see Documents, below, for more detail)

In 1914 (Jan-Mar, vol 5b, p 172) William had married Ethel Beatrice Westcott (Born Lambeth, Jan-Mar, 1890, vol 1d, pa 565) in Exeter. The Westcott family had moved to Middlewood, Dawlish and Ethel’s father was a pensioner of the Metropolitan Water Board.

The Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects show that William was serving with the 23rd Company of the Machine Gun Corps at the time of his death on 22nd June 1917. His name is inscribed on panel 56 of the Main Gate at Ypres.

23rd Company, Machine Gun Corps
The 23rd Machine Gun Company was formed from the Machine Gun Sections of 23rd Brigade, 8th Division on the 15th of January 1916. They were in action at the Battle of The Somme. In 1917 they fought in The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line and then moved to Flanders and were in action in The Battle of Pilkem and The Battle of Langemarck.

Association with Dawlish

William Henry Pitts was the son of Edward and Mary Ann Pitts. Edward Elston Pitts (1858-1934) started life in the Union Workhouse in Crediton where, at the age of two, he was described as a ‘scholar’.

Edward E Pitts married Mary Ann Fawdon (1855-1930) in Q2 1878 in Crediton (vol 5b, p 685). She had been a general domestic servant to a farmer, Richard Ellis of Chagford.

In 1881 Edward and Mary Pitts were living at No 3 Cottage, Marldon, where Edward was a farm labourer. They had two children, Hannah, 3, born in Crediton and Edward J, 2, born in Drewsteignton.

At the next census (1891) they were at Cofford Mill Cottage, Kenton with four more children, Emily J, 8, Rosalina A, 5, William H, 3, and Leah L, 4 months old, all of which were born in Kenton.

In 1901 The parents had moved to Duckaller Cottage, Port Road, Dawlish and William Henry, 13, Leah L, 11 had been joined by Albany J, 7, born in Dawlish. The other children had moved away and one of their number had died, as recorded in the 1911 census when the parents with Albany John Pitts were living at Westwood, Cofton, Starcross, joined also by Albert Edward Pitts, 11, a grandson. By this time Edward’s occupation is shown as a gardener, as is his son Albany.   (See Documents, below, for expanded entry)

Devon Roll of Honour
Additional Information Commonwealth War Graves Site

Next of Kin: Ethel Beatrice Pitts, widow
Last Known Address: Duckaller Cottage, Port Road, Dawlish

Machine gun Corps badge

Menin Gate, Ypres, by day, courtesy CWGC website

Menin Gate by night, courtesy CWGC website

Birth, Marriage Death refs

The 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment

Refs via subscription:

Census records

UK, Army registers of Soldiers’ Effects

UK, Soldiers died in the Great War