William Graham Wishart was born on 7 February 1891 in Valetta, Malta. He was the only son of Matthew Wishart, a career soldier who at the time of William’s birth was garrisoned in Malta with the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots, and his wife, Isabella Halley Graham.
In March 1892 William’s father was posted to Belgaum in India, and as was the custom, his family went with him. Six years later, and shortly after he turned seven, William set foot on British soil for the first time, and by 1901 was living with his mother and sister in a stone tenement building at 2 Dalgety Road in Edinburgh. After a brief spell back home, Matthew was sent back overseas in 1899 to fight the Boers in South Africa, where he remained until March 1903.
Between 1904 and 1905 the 1st Royal Scots were based at Inkerman Barracks in Woking. Matthew’s family had followed him south, and on 24 March 1905, William aged 14, enlisted as a boy soldier with his father’s regiment. At the time he was recorded as being 4 feet 11 5/8 inches in height, weighing 85 lbs with a freckled complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes.
Two years after enlisting William was awarded his first good conduct badge and was given the role of drummer. Drummers formed part of the rank and file but were paid better than privates, reflecting the skilled nature of their job. On 20 January 1909, shortly before turning eighteen, William was posted overseas to India and on arrival reverted to the rank of private. In 1911 he was enumerated in the census with his battalion at Allahabad, he had been appointed the rank of Lance Corporal (without pay) the year before and eventually promoted to full Corporal on 2 April 1913.
At the outbreak of war, the 1st Royal Scots were still in India and eventually left Bombay for England during October 1914. William had been promoted to Lance Corporal on 8 October, and following five weeks at sea, arrived at Devonport on 16 November when the battalion was swiftly mobilised for service. After almost a month of uncomfortable living under canvas near Winchester, the 1st Royal Scots (now part of the 81st Brigade of the 27th Division) marched to Southampton and sailed on the City of Dunkirk for Le Havre on 19 December.
William’s story, however, does not immediately follow that of his unit. Shortly after arriving in England he was promoted to sergeant but less than a month later granted a Combatant Commission and struck off the battalion strength on 11 December. Quite what occurred during the next three months is not recorded. Perhaps William felt compelled to rejoin his unit at the earliest opportunity, or it might have been that officer training was not for him. Whatever the situation, William arrived in France on 6 March 1915 and made his way to the trenches in Dicksbusch where the battalion had been based since 9 January. He had avoided the hard winter, which had caused a great deal of suffering amongst his comrades, and on 8 April he marched with the battalion through Ypres to occupy trenches near Hooge.
The following day, in the early hours of the morning, the battalion moved up to Sanctuary Wood although at dawn orders were received to fall back and occupy the line two miles to the west. This new position was within the range of enemy artillery, and several shells exploded in the British trenches – causing casualties of four killed, 26 wounded. William was among those who lost his life with the grisly reality of deaths from shellfire often meaning there was no corpse left to bury. Consequently, he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial and also his mother’s headstone in Edinburgh’s Piershill Cemetery.