Between 1878 and 1884, David Wishart, an outdoor labourer from Markinch, and his wife, Isabella Wilson, had four children in Coaltown of Balgonie – a small village in south central Fife. William, the third child, born on 17 October 1882, was to be the first and only son and named after his paternal grandfather. The family lived on Main Street in a terraced property called Rose Cottage, and by 1901 David had found work as a colliery labourer with young William following in his father’s footsteps as soon as he was old enough. Perhaps enticed by the mining opportunities in Australia, William left Scotland two years later and settled in Newcastle, New South Wales where he worked in one of the local mines.
By mid-1916, and with Australia’s involvement in the war now two-years-old, the number of men joining the army had slumped, and enlistment figures could not keep up with the demand for reinforcements. It appears that William’s job, which was crucial to the war effort, had kept him away from the military up until that point, however, on 4 April 1917 he visited the Newcastle recruitment office and joined the 11th Reinforcements, 1st Pioneer Battalion with whom his skills in mining would have been tremendously useful.
After two months training, William embarked in Sydney on board the HMAT Beltana on 16 June 1917 and arrived in Plymouth over two months later on 25 August. The new draft marched to the military camp in Fovant, Wiltshire and taken on strength of the Pioneer Training Battalion. William was stationed in England for the next seven months, during which time, other than an incident in January 1918 when he went AWOL from Sutton Veny for over twenty-four hours, he managed to keep out of trouble.
On 31 March 1918, William received orders to proceed overseas and left Southampton for Le Havre, where he disembarked the following day. He eventually joined the 1st Pioneer Battalion in the field with 148 other ranks at the end of April and would have been immediately set to work constructing and repairing trenches, wire entanglements and dugouts. Pioneer Battalions were essentially light military combat engineers organised like the infantry and located at the very forward edge of the battle area.
In early August 1918, the Allies launched what would later be known as the Hundred Days Offensive that finally brought an end to the war in November. In this, the pioneers took part in operations around Amiens and were in support of the capture of Lihons. Throughout September they moved through the Somme and were withdrawn from the line at the end of the month and did not see further action. Five days before the Armistice William was admitted to the 3rd Australian General Hospital in Abbeville suffering from bronchitis which was followed by three weeks at the Australian Convalescent Depot a week later.
On 5 December William got into trouble for absenting himself from the 09:30 physical training parade and awarded three days confined to the cells for his efforts. He rejoined his unit on 21 December and was given almost three weeks leave to the UK on 15 February 1919. William returned to England on 23 May and was based at Longbridge, Devon before sailing from Liverpool on 12 July aboard the Persic, which arrived at Woolloomooloo, New South Wales during a storm on 2 September. His war came to an end a month later when he was demobilised from service on 2 October.
William married Ruby Whigham in Sydney on 15 September 1923, and two sons were born of the marriage. By 1930 the couple were living in Hunter’s Hill, a suburb of Sydney and the 1950s at 93 Pittwater Road in Gladesville. He died aged 75 at the Concord Repatriation General Hospital on 14 June 1958.