IT must have been one helluva night!

In just a few hours five VCs were won, as the beleaguered defenders of Ladysmith fought off the last great assault by the Boers.

The exploits of Privates James Pitts from Blackburn and Robert Scott of Haslingden are well known, but there were many other East Lancashire lads in the middle of the carnage, including Sapper William Bland, whose parents farmed at Bull Hill, Darwen.

The South African War of 1899-1902 was the last great campaign before the Great War, which brought death and destruction on an industrial scale.

Pitts and Scott both survived the ferocious battle on the craggy ridge to the south of Ladysmith in Natal.

The two lads from the Manchester Regiment spent 15 hours pinned down at Caesar's Camp as they defended a trench, amid the rocks.

All around them, their pals from the Manchesters were being picked off.

With no food and little water and ammunition they had to crawl among their dead pals and retrieve their cartridge belts. Scott was shot in the chest.

Scott went to live in Ireland and Pitts worked for 34 years with Blackburn highways department. They met just two or three times after the Boer war but always thought of each other as good friends

Three other VCs were awarded for action that night, January 6, 1900.; Lt Edward Masterson of the Devonshires who survived, and Lt Robert Digby-Jones of the Royal Engineers and Trooper Herman Albrecht of the Imperial Light Horse.

Sapper Bland was alongside Digby-Jones and Albrecht as they raced to the top of Wagon Hill to halt the advancing Boers. All three were killed but the vital strategic position was secured.

Local history researcher Tony Foster has been piecing together the short life of Sapper Bland whose name appears on the town's Boer War memorial – the Lion in Belgrave Square – and in St Barnabas' Church.

The Bland family moved from West Bradford to Hall Moss Farm, Bull Hill, and William was educated at Culvert School. Soon after his marriage he joined the Royal Engineers.

Several of his letters home were published in local newspapers. "We have had a fearful time, here in Ladysmith," he wrote.

And later: "The place is in ruins. We can't hold out much longer. Fighting, famine and disease from drinking dirty water have done for us."

Sapper Bland was 25. He left a young widow and a little daughter.