Lt Robert Courtenay Pitman (Bob)
Our Seeking Courage hero, Lieutenant Robert Courtenay Pitman was a real life figure who in 1915 left law school at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada to enlist for service in the ‘Great War’. Concurrent with Britain declaring war on Germany in August, 1914 all of her commonwealth countries were also deemed to have declared war: Canada, Newfoundland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Other countries declaring war on behalf of the British Empire were India, the Caribbean and East Africa.
Bob Pitman grew up in the London suburb of Walthamstow, where he attended school and competed in the local rugby and cricket matches. At the young age of 16, he was the sole male to accompany his mother, maternal grandmother and two younger sisters on a life changing voyage to meet up with his father who had settled in Saskatoon the year before. Traveling to Liverpool with all of one’s life belongings stashed in trunks, taking the eight day voyage to Montreal then entraining to Saskatoon was daunting. Being ‘focused on the task’ as described in the book, Bob attended school while apprenticing at the local law courts. At the time of enlistment at 23 years old, he was Deputy Register there, as well as a student at U of S. Like so many young men of the time, he gave up personal opportunity to defend ‘For King & Country’.
From the get-go, Bob was commissioned as an junior officer in the Canadian Expeditionary Force on the strength of his education, consistent with the practice across the entire British Army. One can only think that this was because of assumed reasoning skills, because it sure wasn’t based on military prowess.
Bob is engaged in a training process which takes about a year, covering Winnipeg, Montreal (McGill), London and Shorncliffe. He actively engages in war at the Battle of the Somme in September, 1916, only to be severely injured with shell shock (today’s PTSD) and hospitalized back in England. It is while convalescing that he meets the intelligent, industrious and beautiful Miss Cissy Ann Taylor. Their fast developing relationship is as gentle as it is intense, and full of drama as described in Seeking Courage!
With love blossoming and recovery from shell shock and disease subsiding, Bob continues his war ‘career’ in the Royal flying Corps. The unfolding events and the sorties (missions) flown are all historical fact. For those who are keen on following Bob’s war diary, see his full digital service record at the Library & Archives Canada.
The central tenet of the story Seeking Courage involves Bob’s struggle with conquering fear and, well, finding courage to not only see his war service through, but to face down the many life challenges that present themselves during the conflict.