William Ferguson Wishart was born on 29 November 1894, in Hamilton, Lanarkshire. He was the youngest of six children of Major George Baillie Wishart, a career soldier, and his wife, Jessie Isabella Ferguson. In 1901 William was living with his family at Muirbank in Hamilton, his father George was overseas fighting the Boers in South Africa at the time. Before the war, William was employed as a civil engineer in Glasgow with the well-known firm of McCreaths & Stevenson. In his spare time, he was the Assistant Scoutmaster of the 1st Lanarkshire (Hamilton Academy) Troop.
Immediately upon the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, William applied for a commission in the army, but tiring of the inactivity that followed; he joined the Lanarkshire Yeomanry on 11 September 1914. However, after almost three months later he was granted a commission to the 1/6th Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) – a Territorial unit stationed in Hamilton that formed part of the Scottish Rifle Brigade in the Lowland Division. It is not known exactly when William joined his new unit, though it was likely to have been almost immediately before they left for France from Southampton in March 1915.
The battalion disembarked in Le Havre on the 21st and took over the line near Fleurbaix at La Boutillerie ten-days later. On 15 June the Cameronians led the divisional advance at the Battle of Festubert. The night before the attack the enemy were heard to shout from their trenches – “Come on, Jocks, we’re waiting for you”, and throughout much of the following day in the period leading up to zero-hour at 6 pm, continuous shelling of the Allied lines caused many casualties. As William’s company went ‘over the top’, German machine-guns swept the parapets and cut the men to pieces. Those who had not been instantly killed or injured pressed ahead and encountered the German wire, which was uncut, with reports of soldiers desperately plunging into the entanglement ‘tearing at it with their wire cutters, and lacerating their flesh on the barbs until they fell.’ Despite this, some Cameronians did make it into the German lines where they faced fierce hand-to-hand combat, and several objectives were taken, though overall the entire assault was deemed a failure. During the action, William was severely wounded, the battalion War Diary making a note of his condition in the early hours of the next morning: ‘While the men were passing along the fire trench towards the left, there came two stretcher bearers carrying 2/Lieut WISHART on a waterproof sheet. He was very pale from loss of blood, and although he took some water from a water bottle, it is doubtful if he recognised anyone.’
Later that morning barely half the battalion answered the roll call, William was not among them and had been taken to No.4 Casualty Clearing Station in Lillers, where he died on the 17th. In a newspaper obituary published later in the month, William was described as being ‘of a particularly bright and genial disposition, and a delightful companion and made friends everywhere.’
He is buried in Lillers Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais. (Grave II.D.3.) and recorded on the Hamilton War Memorial in Hamilton Town Hall (Panel Two.)