Charles Austin Pittar, MC

Charles Austin Pittar was the brother of Dorothy Mabel Austin Clarke, one of the ‘Civilian Dead’ whose names are recorded on the War Memorial in the parish of Ham, Surrey.  Dorothy and her husband, Sydney, were killed in an air raid over Ham in 1940, and their post is on my blog for Ham’s War memorial.  Charles was Dorothy’s only sibling.  It seems churlish to overlook Charles Pittar, and so I’m posting about him here, just to rescue something of his story, for his sister’s sake.

Lieutenant Charles Austin Pittar, M.C., (1898–1921)
The Coldstream Guards,
Died 1921, buried at Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford.

Charles and Dorothy were the children of Charles William Erskine Pittar (1863–1931), and Mabel Frances Austin (1876–1955), who were married in Dresden on 20 August 1897.  (I am intrigued by that marriage in Germany, and hope one day to discover a little about the background to this.)

Charlie was born in Calcutta, Bengal on 17 August 1898 and baptised there three weeks later.  His father was born in Kidderpore in 1863, where his paternal grandfather, Charles Frederick Pittar was a solicitor. His maternal grandfather, Ware Plumptre Austin, was also a Civil Servant, in Madras so the marriage of Charles and Mabel was in one sense another example of the prevailing dictum, ‘like marries like’.

Educated at Eton, like his father before him, Charles proved to be, according to a short biography included in the catalogue when his sword was auctioned in 1998, someone who ‘excelled at athletics, and was an accomplished scholar.’

Alexandra Churchill, in Blood and Thunder: the boys of Eton College and the First World War echoes this, describing him as ‘a phenomenally talented athlete and a bright boy’.  She also notes that he ‘had trouble with his eyesight and so operated with divisional troops rather than a fighting unit’. In connection with the events in which this was alluded to, she notes that ‘one of his main responsibilities in the hot weather’ prevailing on that day, was to get sufficient water up to the men on the fighting on frontline.

In an attempt to find out the cause of Charles’s death, and its connection to his military service, his service record was viewed at The National Archives. Charles’s medical declaration, made when he applied for a commission in 1916, does not record any eye problems. In the first category, for ‘serious illness or injury’ he does declare a kidney problem which occurred in 1911 and “was cured by the end of 1912”.

For the second and third categories, Charles strikes out the words “except as stated below”.  For the fourth category, ‘good vision for near and distant object… without the aid of glasses’, he does not strike out those four words, but nor he does he insert any information in the space below.

Many of the officers’ service records have been extensively weeded out, so one cannot say whether there were further investigations and there seem to be no papers indicating eye problems in what survives in Charles’s file.  This medical problem may seem to be exercising me rather too much, since it can hardly be a cause of his death, but significant eye problems usually ruled out active service. Without a budget for any of my war memorial projects, I cannot justify applying for his civilian death certificate and there is simply no clue to the cause of his death in what survives in his service record.

In November 1918, Charles was awarded the Military Cross, the citation reading:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and initiative while on daylight patrol. He left his lines in broad daylight, accompanied only by his orderly, and scouted right up through the enemy outpost line, a distance of some 700 yards. He showed great daring and enterprise and the information he brought back was of the utmost importance.”

Soon after the award of the Military Cross was gazetted, Charles Pittar was affected “moderately seriously” by the influenza epidemic.  He recovered, but was regarded as still unfit for duty, so the Board recommended two weeks’ sick leave in the U.K.  His return to the field was delayed until late January 1919, by his spraining his ankle in Oxford.  Within a few months, Charles Pittar had relinquished his commission, but was allowed to retain the rank of Lieutenant.  He was demobilised on 14 May 1919.  His service record, which was weeded as early as 1933, mentions the report of his death in The Times of 2 September 1921.  His death is likely have been connected in some way to his military service as his name appears on the CWGC database. After leaving the army, Charles followed his father and grandfathers into the Indian Civil Service.

He died on 28 August 1921 and is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery, where there are a number of CWGC graves, many of them of airmen, based at Wolvercote Aerodrome.

Further Reading

Churchill, A.J., Blood and Thunder: the boys of Eton College and the First World War, The History Press, 2014.

DNW Auction Catalogue, http://www.dnw.co.uk/auction-archive/special-collections/lot.php?specialcollection_id=295&specialcollectionpart_id=291&lot_id=37349 , accessed 29/3/2016.  This link is not currently arriving at the correct page.

Eton Roll of Honour, http://www.etonrollofhonour.cabanova.com/, accessed 22/5/2016.

The London Gazette, Supplement 29903, p.578, 12 January 1917.

The London Gazette, Supplement 30997, p. 13165, ‘2. Lieut. Charles Austin Pittar, C. Gds, Spec. Res.’, 5 November 1918.

 

The National Archives, WO 339/82737, ‘Lieutenant Charles Austin Pittar, Coldstream Guards’, 1916–1922.

2 thoughts on “Charles Austin Pittar, MC

  1. Good Morning,

    I have seen your article on the above man and I can fill in the mystery of his death for you. Unfortunately it’s not a happy story.
    Charles killed himself by gas poisoning when he attached a tube to a gas stove in his room. He had been suffering from shell shock and severe depression. He left a note on the study table to warn people to beware of explosion as there was gas in his room.

    I hope this helps your quest.

    Best Regards,

    Elliot Metcalfe

  2. Thank you, Elliot for this helpful response! I suspected it might be something like that, but there was no indication that Charles Pittar had been a patient at the hospitals that treated officers suffering from shell-shock, and the conditions associated with PTSD.
    Your contribution is much appreciated.

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