William Smith Wishart was born in the small hours of 22 June 1890 at 10 Ibrox Place, a tenement building in Govan, Glasgow. He was the fifth son of George Wishart, a local Grain Merchant, and his wife, Williamina Charteris Smith. During 1893 the Wishart family moved up in the world to a handsome sandstone villa on Dargarvel Avenue and before long George had started his own company, allowing him to send William to the prestigious Bellahouston Academy, where his son was later described as ‘hard-working, intelligent and excelling at football and athletics’. After leaving school, William went to work as a Dispatch Clerk for the family business, which was situated across the Clyde at 61 Robertson Street. Before the war, William also played soccer for Greenock Morton until he was hit in the mouth, and had to have all his teeth removed as a result.
Between 1912 and 1914 William’s younger brother Andrew served with the Officer Training Corps at Glasgow University (followed by the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) and had been invalided home from France by the time William joined the University OTC on 26 September 1915. Having gained a ‘Very Good’ in the Certificate ‘A’ examination held during November, William decided on 2 December to enlist in the army before his training was complete. He was recorded in a medical examination as being 5 feet 8 1/2 inches tall, weighing 136 lbs and of good physical development. Having cut short his time with the OTC, the War Office assigned Private No.494 William Smith Wishart to the 5th Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) on 24 January 1916 and posted him for training at Ripon and then Catterick three months later. Perhaps it was his previous experiences with the OTC that put him in good stead, and William was quickly promoted to lance corporal on 10 May and assigned a new regimental number of 43332, however on 5 July he reverted to the rank of private when he left his unit and embarked for France.
On arrival, William made his way to No. 20 Infantry Base Depot in Etaples where he undertook further training and put on the roll of the 9th Cameronians (Scottish Rifles.) On 3 August he attained the rank of acting corporal and was sent to ‘B’ Company of the ‘9th’ on 16 September. The Battalion war diary records a draft of 100 men arriving at Camblain L’Abbe on the 17th and except for a raid on the 25th, the new recruit’s first weeks on the line were relatively quiet. On 28 September William was in training again at Givenchy-Le-Noble and would find himself back in the trenches at Mametz Wood on 11 October. The battalion was ordered to attack the following day; however, they remained in reserve until the 18th when they moved up to the support trenches, which as a result of the ‘unfavourable conditions’ were said to be in a bad way. On the 21st the weather cleared, and a fine, cold day greeted the Cameronians as they made their way into the front line east of Eucourt Le Abbaye – a small village captured earlier in the month. Over the next forty-eight hours enemy artillery caused over 100 casualties with William among those injured having received a gunshot wound to his left shoulder. William’s journey back to the UK followed the traditional evacuation route, starting at the nearest field ambulance before being conveyed to the casualty clearing station and then on to hospital (in this instance No. 8 General Hospital in Rouen), where he arrived on the 24th. The following day an ambulance train transported him to the hospital ship ‘Aberdonian’, which took him back to England, where he entrained for Scotland and admitted to the 3rd Scottish General Hospital in Stobhill, Glasgow two days later.
William’s stay in hospital lasted just over three months. He was discharged on 1 February 1917 and given eleven days leave before being posted to No. 8 Company of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Cameronians, which was a training unit based in Nigg.
Just before he was wounded, William made an application to be accepted to an Officer Cadet Unit. The decision passed in his favour the day before he brought back to the UK and consequently confirmation was received by William’s commanding officer while he was crossing the English Channel resulting in the cancellation of the application.
After he recovered from his injuries, William reapplied for admission to the OTC on 20 February 1917. In line with the application process the Minister of Sherbrook Church certified his moral character while Hugh Miller MA, the Rector of Bellahouston Academy, verified his educational credentials. A medical examination on 6th March at Camp Nigg confirmed William was a suitable candidate and he was sent to join the 12th Training Reserve Brigade a month later. Orders were subsequently received on 31 July for William to proceed to No. 12 Officer Cadet Battalion at The Hutments, Newmarket ten days later. Almost four months passed before William was given his commission and appointed the rank of second lieutenant on 27 November (gazetted on 10 December.) He rejoined his old battalion in Nigg on 16 December and remained there until early 1918, when they relocated to Invergordon.
On 23 March 1918, William returned to France and was posted to the 2nd Cameronians, who were holding the Somme Canal at Voyennes. The bridge across the canal had not been properly destroyed, and the enemy took advantage of this and attempted to cross the ruins the following morning. After initially being knocked back they made a second, more successful attempt at crossing, forcing the battalion to fall back and fight a rear-guard action east of Nesle. The situation became critical when the Cameronians became cut-off, causing the enemy to call upon those still alive to surrender. Many were captured, while others were killed and wounded by machine gun fire. Seven officers and 55 men made it back to the brigade that afternoon while more were picked up that evening on the outskirts of Roye. A counter-attack was subsequently performed on the 29th at Mezierres with varying success, however, by the month’s end the battalion was drastically under-strength with casualties since 21 March numbering 19 officers and 619 other ranks (leaving just four officers and 55 men.)
William joined the remnants of the battalion on 5 April with five other officers and nearly 400 men while they were billeted at Aumont. On 10 May the battalion moved into the Lens sector, fully expecting further enemy attacks and mounting rigorous patrols as a result of the impending threat. On the night of the 12th/13th, a small group of about twenty Germans fell upon an outpost but were driven back to their lines by a wiring party. Following this failed attack a considerable amount of gas shells were fired into the battalion lines shortly afterwards, a tactic that was repeated a week later on the 21st. Unfortunately, during the second attack, William was gassed along with three other officers. Its unknown how long he was out of action, however, he was almost certainly back with his unit by late summer when he took charge of a platoon from ‘A’ Company.
By the end of September, fires had been spotted all along the enemy lines, and day and night patrols increased in number, resulting in orders for the Cameronians to advance on the town of Mericourt. The following information was recorded in the War Diary:
3rd October. Owing to heavy machine gun fire from Mericourt, which the Bosch still held, the Battalion on our right was unable to advance and keep in touch with us. As result of this our right flank was in the air, and in order to clear up the situation one of the reserve companies was pushed forward to the outskirts of Mericourt so as to form a defensive flank, until the flank Battalion could come up. In the course of this operation 2 prisoners of the 164th Regt were taken. The Bosche men were evidently surprised by this move as our men found quantities of food and clothing in the dugouts along the Rly to which they had advanced.
4th and 5th October. Although the situation at Mericourt had been considerably improved, The Bosch still held a number of posts in the Village. During these two days our patrols were active in the right flank but were unable to gain touch with the flank Battalion, who had apparently been unable to leave their original front line.
6th October. During the morning two strong patrols were pushed out to route out the machine rests in Mericourt, which were hindering our advance. One patrol attained it’s objective and held on until ordered to withdraw but the other through no fault of their own was unable to support them. Frequent attempts to get orders out to the former patrol, which under the command of 2/Lt. W. B. Jack, were frustrated by heavy machine gun fire. Of the five Runners who attempted to reach the isolated patrol one was killed, one was wounded and the remaining three were unable to reach them owing to the intense fire which was opened as soon as anyone exposed themselves.
That night the 6th East Kent Regiment (‘The Buffs’) relieved the Cameronians, and they proceeded to billets in Berle. The following day William fell ill with diarrhoea which got progressively worse throughout the month, and he was hospitalised just as his unit left Berle for Cambrai. Again, exactly when William rejoined the battalion is unclear. It seems likely that he saw out the Armistice in a hospital or at the base depot in Rouen where he is known to have been located on 18 November. A medical board in Etaples reviewed William’s case and recommended he take three week’s leave to England to recover, however evidence in the War Diaries suggests he decided not take their advice, and returned to his unit.
On 27 January 1919, while based in Toutencourt, William left with 26 other ranks for dispersal in the UK. He was demobilised at No.1 Dispersal Unit in Georgetown, Paisley with effect from 3 February 1919 and subsequently required to relinquish his commission on 1 April 1920, notification of which appeared in the London Gazette of 20 October 1920.
After the war, William returned to Smithston, the family house on Dargarvel Avenue, and went back to work for his father. On 4 October 1919, he married Jane Alexander Stewart, the daughter of a local worsted coating manufacturer, at Marlborough House on Langside Avenue in Glasgow. Four children were born of the marriage, and in the 1920s the family lived at 14 Keir Street in Pollokshields before moving to Williamwood on the Renfrewshire border.
During World War 2, while living in Newton Mearns, William served as an officer in the LDV, later the Home Guard. On one occasion, in the early days of the war, William’s son Tam arose early one morning to find his mother up and worried as her husband had not come home after his normal hours of duty. He turned up much later and told the following story: Just as he had been about to leave for home the field telephone rang, and a voice had said “CROMWELL – STAND TO!” The people all looked at each other and with one voice said: “Who the hell is Cromwell?” Shortly they were given the clarification that had not previously been shared with the local units. ‘CROMWELL’ was the code word for the invasion of Britain by the Germans. So the local Home guard had been called out and had spent a miserable night on the moors to the south of Newton Mearns which were considered to be probable landing grounds for gliders and parachutists.
After the war, William lived at 31 Beach Avenue in Newton Mearns and worked as a flour merchant. On 9 June 1947, he boarded a Pan American Airways flight at London Airport with his wife and three daughters and flew to New York where they journeyed on to Calgary, Alberta and settled there. He worked for Gutta Percha and was also an elder in Calgary’s Knox United Church.
William died in Calgary on 26 March 1954 and cremated three days later.