William Duncan Wishart was born at 5:30 a.m. on 17 May 1890 in a terraced stone cottage at 58 Nelson Street, Largs. He was the seventh child of John Wishart, a stonemason from Kennoway, Fife and Marion Bruce Stewart. In 1891, before ‘Willie’ had reached his first birthday, the Wishart family had moved to 10 Hailie Brae Close, where they were still living ten years later in 1901. By 1911 William had left home and resided at 269 Parliamentary Road in the Townhead area of Glasgow. He was lodging in the home of a steel worker named Robert Hunter and working as a saddler.
On 14 November 1915, whilst living at 55 Springburn Road, William visited the recruiting office at 24 West Street, Glasgow and enlisted with the Scots Guards. At the time he was described in a medical examination as being 5 feet 10 ½ inches tall, 143 lbs in weight, of good physical development but with bad teeth, and a harness maker by profession.
Having been passed fit for service William was sent to the Guards Depot in Caterham, Surrey for training before being posted to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion at Wellington Barracks in London. On 17 April 1916 William was admitted to the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital and treated for dental problems, the medical officer in charge of William’s case recorded that:
The patient was admitted to hospital suffering from badly decayed teeth. There was not one tooth that could be repaired. On 19 April under a general anaesthetic, all the decayed septic stumps were removed except one root in the left lower wisdom region. He has been using a mouth wash and now fit to be discharged from hospital.
William returned to the barracks on 27 April and continued receiving orthodontic treatment until completion on 6 September. He was examined on 1 October and accepted for overseas service, subsequently embarking for France at Southampton four days later. On arrival, William was assigned to the 2nd Scots Guards and processed through the Guards Division Base Depot at Harfleur before being sent on to his unit in the field on 18 October. At that time, the battalion was based at Vergies, and engaged in an intensive period of field training and daily parades. William arrived with his new unit on a particularly wet day was about to discover the effects persistent rain had on trench life. On 11 November the battalion arrived in the line at Montauban on the Somme, with the War Diary recording a week later that the mud was ‘knee deep everywhere’.
On 2 December, having spent almost a fortnight in camps in the rear, William found himself back in the trenches. Conditions had deteriorated further with the trench walls frequently collapsing due to lack of revetting. Along with many of the men in his company, it seems probable William would have been engaged in the relentless task of reconstruction and fortification, using whatever materials were available.
William’s first Christmas on the front was spent in the line at Leuze Wood (known as ‘Lousy Wood’.) Snow had fallen several days earlier, yet the scene was far from peaceful. The war diary records that: ‘No friendliness exhibited either by Boche or ourselves. On the contrary, two sufficiently brisk bombardments by our guns in the morning and retaliation. 2 of our men killed.’
The following evening the battalion was relieved by the 1st Scots Guards and arrived back in camp at Bronfay Farm in the early hours of the next day, where they were treated to baths and a belated Christmas dinner. William spent New Year’s Eve in the line at Bouleaux Wood and marched to Mericourt on 3 January 1917 where he was sent to No 53 Field Ambulance on 9 January suffering from further dental problems. He eventually returned to the battalion in late February while they were based at Ville-sur-Ancre.
Having survived the privations of his first winter at the front, and the omnipresent dangers of enemy shelling, William’s first experience of a major attack came on 31 July when he was involved in the Battle of Pilkem, which became the opening attack in the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele.) The 3rd Guards Brigade were in the Boesinghe sector when ‘zero hour’ came at 3:50 a.m. with William eventually climbing out of the trenches behind a ‘creeping barrage’ (which the War Diary describes as being ‘marvellously successful’) shortly before five o’clock in the morning. Within two hours, and having met very little resistance, the guardsmen had reached Wood 15 and by 8:00 am, had reached an objective known as the Green Line. Prisoners and large quantities of other ‘booty’ were taken near Majors Farm, including two field guns, two minenwerfers, a machine gun, a listening set, a complete store of medical equipment and a large quantity of rifles and ammunition. Most of the enemy had fled, and the line consolidated, so the battalion marched back to bivouacs near Decouck Farm. Other units along the attack front were less lucky that day, with estimates putting the total number killed in excess of 6000 men.
William was in action again the following month at the Battle of the Menin Road and then the Battle of Poelcappelle – the last in a series of successful offensives that took place in September and early October 1917. Between 13 and 27 November he was given leave to return to the UK, and as a result, was not with the battalion when they engaged the enemy at the Battle of Cambrai (1917.)
By early December William rejoined the battalion and billeted with them in an Arras prison. It was cold with a hard frost on the 10th becoming a precursor to heavy snow, which hampered any training, but did not stop several football matches taking place!
The Guards returned to the line on New Year’s Day 1918. Arctic conditions continued until the second week of January when a sudden thaw caused two communication trenches, and the entire front line to disappear within a 24 hour period, and as a result, it was evacuated and the support trench heavily reinforced. Understandably scorn was poured upon the workers who had built such a long stretch of trenches without any fortification.
On the day the German Spring Offensive commenced on 21 March, the 2nd were parading in Berneville. They were on two hours notice to move, and at 1:15 pm the next day boarded buses to Mercatel before taking up positions in the trenches at Boyelle in the small hours of the following morning. On 31 March the battalion war diary noted that: ‘The nine days have been very strenuous; the men are very tired, but full of heart. We have been heavily shelled, and the Battalion has suffered about 160 casualties.’
William remained in the line for a further two weeks; his battalion eventually relieved on 15 April by the 2nd South Staffordshires. On 26 May 1918, the war diary recorded that a great many men had fallen sick during the month, with four officers and 105 other ranks admitted to hospital. In mid-summer, while based in Sombrin, William fell ill himself and was admitted on 5 July to No 12 General Hospital in Rouen suffering from severe influenza. Four days later he was transferred to No. 2 Convalescent Depot in Rouen before being moved on to No. 11 Convalescent Depot in Buchy on 10 July. He was eventually discharged on 7 August and sent to the Base Depot in Harfleur before returning to his unit almost three weeks later.
During August the Guards had engaged the enemy at St Leger in what would be known as the Second Battle of Bapaume and were based in trenches west of Ransart when William rejoined the battalion. In September he was in action at the Battle of the Canal du Nord and on 10 October, while at Stranvillers, was admitted to No. 4 Field Ambulance suffering from P U O (a fever of unknown cause) and transferred to hospital. William’s service papers did not record when he returned to the battalion; however, it seems likely he was involved in Second Battle of the Sambre on 4 November and was in Croix Mesnil at the time of the Armistice.
Between 13-27 November William was given leave back to the UK – returning to the Scots Guards on 30 November, when they were based in Faulx. From there the battalion marched towards Germany and reached the frontier just east of the village of Poteau on 13 December. Christmas Day was spent in Sulz, Cologne where the Rev. Harry Miller gave a Church of Scotland service at a School on Gyrhof Strasse. Christmas dinner was ‘put off’ until 31 December when the men sang Auld Lang Syne, and God Save the King at midnight. The battalion remained in Cologne until early March, with William voluntarily agreeing to be retained in the Army of Occupation for a further year though returning to the Scots Guards base in Wimbledon on 9 March. He was eventually demobilised from service on 20 March 1920 and returned to Scotland, where he took up residence at 91 Parson Street in the Townhead area of Glasgow. He went back to working as a saddler and a year later was living with his brother John at 32 North Albion Street. In this period he met Jessie McKendrick, who was the daughter of a local tailor and married her at 9 Broompark Terrace on 25 May 1921.
Within a year of the union, William and Jessie decided that their future lay across the Atlantic and embarked at Glasgow on the ‘Metagama’, sailing for Canada on 14 June 1922. William gave his occupation as a butler and Jessie a cook, with their intended destination as Toronto where they had been engaged to work in service for a Mr Ritchie of 620 Avenue Road.
Three years later the Wisharts returned to the UK on 6 September 1925, arriving at Liverpool aboard the White Star Line ship ‘Regina’. William gave his occupation as a harness maker and their proposed address in the UK as Duncan’s Hotel on Union Street in Glasgow. The trip home (which was to be their last) was brief, and twenty days later they returned to Canada aboard the ‘Doric’ from Greenock.
William and Jessie appear on Canadian voters rolls between 1935 and 1957, living first in the Toronto suburbs at Forest Hill before moving on to Peel Street in Oxford, Ontario in 1940. In the intervening years William left service and had returned to harness making – an occupation he would retain until retirement. By 1945 the couple were living on Queen Street East in Danforth, Toronto and remained there until at least 1957. In 1966 while living at 44 Westbourne Avenue in Scarborough, Toronto William died on 12 July at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Jessie died almost ten years later on 29 December 1975.