William Neville Pitt was born on 12 September 1880 in the Kirkee military cantonment at Poona, Bombay (now Mumbai), the son of Colonel William Pitt, C.M.G. and Mary Pitt née Brindley. A sister, Mary Winifred, and a brother, James Maxwell, followed in 1882 and 1888; both were born in England. William Pitt attended Haileybury School in Hertfordshire from 1894 to 1896, and then Sandhurst, passing out in the Senior Devision in June 1900.
He quickly went on active service, for he served with the Lincolnshire Regiment in the Second Boer War and received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with 5 clasps. He was commissioned second lieutenant on 11 August 1900, and lieutenant on 14 June 1902, and served in 3rd Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment. Ill-health forced him temporarily onto half-pay in August 1905, but he quickly recovered. He then retired in 1910 as a Captain on half pay in the Special Reserve, in order to follow a career in the Church. His service records are held at the National Archives in London.
In December 1911 he passed the non-graduates Central Entrance Examination for the Theology College, Salisbury, and he matriculated at Durham in the Epiphany term of 1913 as an unattached student. He completed there the first part of his Theology studies successfully, but did not complete his studies and so never gained his Licentiate – the war presumably intervened. Students at Theological Colleges associated with the university at this time were permitted to register as unattached students and be examined at Durham, and in this way could obtain University of Durham degrees. During this time he was resident first at Enham House, Knights Enham near Andover, with his parents, and then at Holmeside Elm Grove, Salisbury. William Pitt married Lucy Graham Walker (d.1959) in the summer of 1911, and a son named Neville Maxwell Francis Peter Pitt was born on 5 July 1916, only six weeks before his father’s death: he would go on to follow a career in medicine.
It is not yet known exactly when William Pitt returned to active service, but on 11 March 1916 he was gazetted Temporary Major, and was second in command of 2nd Battalion when he was killed. The battalion’s war diary (WO 95/1730 page 144) notes a lot of incoming and outgoing artillery and trench mortar fire over 16-19 August, during which period Major Pitt was wounded: he succumbed to his wounds on 20 August 1916. His unit was at the time occupying the Quarries Sector near Loos: a detailed account of the battalion’s movements at this time is available online. He is buried at Chocques Military Cemetery. William Pitt is commemorated, with his brother, in the church of St Mary the Virgin, Stansted, on a marble memorial: they had been the only surviving sons of Colonel William Pitt, R.E. (d. 1933) and his wife Mary James (d. 1949). William Pitt’s brother Lieutenant James Maxwell Pitt, an adjutant in 1st Battalion, Dorset Regiment, had been killed in France on 13 October 1914.