William Taylor was likely born in 1879 in Aberdeen and was the fourth of eight children born to Francis and Isabella. William’s father Francis was born in Aberdeenshire in 1837, the son of a tailor. Francis married his first wife, Isabella Simpson, on the 19th June 1869, but tragically she died in childbirth less than five months later on the 9th November, she was 21 years old. William’s mother, Isabella Wilson, was ten years younger than his father; she was also born in Aberdeenshire, in 1847, and was the daughter of a ploughman. Before they were married Francis was working as a shoemaker and Isabella had been working as a domestic servant. Their wedding took place on the 15th June 1872 in Aberdeen and their first son, Francis George James Taylor, was born less than five months later, on the 3rd November 1872.
Francis and Isabella’s first daughter, Annabella, was born on the 10th January 1874 at 33 Charles Street, Aberdeen. Their next son, Alexander, was born in around 1877. William followed around two years later in 1879. Archibald Thompson was born the following year on the 19th May 1880 at 34 Kintore Place, Aberdeen.
The 1881 census lists the family as living at 42 Kintore Place in Old Machar, a coastal parish four miles north of Aberdeen. Francis is recorded as running his own business as a boot and shoemaker. However, the birth certificate for their next child, Sophia, lists his occupation as being a journeyman shoemaker, which would suggest that he was working for someone else. Sophia was born on the 17th July 1883, at 2 Powis Lane, Aberdeen. Another daughter, Mary, was born the following year, in 1884. Their last child, Williamina, was born in 1890. Isabella is recorded as having ten children born alive, but by 1911 only eight are recorded as still living, it could be that two children were born after Mary but died in infancy; this would explain the gap of six years between the births of Mary and Williamina.
By 1891 the family were still living in Old Machar, but now at 13 South Mount St. Francis’ occupation is listed as journeyman shoemaker; none of his sons had directly followed him in his trade, Francis was an apprentice baker and Alexander an apprentice tailor. Annabella worked as a packer at the Comb Works in Aberdeen. William was around twelve years old and attending school.
By 1901 William had left Scotland and was living in London. This is most likely where he met his future wife, Edith Kate Steward. William and Edith were boarding at the same house in 1901, in the civil registration district of St George Hanover Square (at the time, this included Knightsbridge, Mayfair, Westminster and Pimlico). William was working in a cloth factory and Edith was a school teacher. Edith was born between April and June 1877 in Ipswich to William and Harriet and was one of six children. Her father was a plumber, glazier and painter. By the age of 13 Edith was living with her grandparents, although it is unclear why.
William and Edith were married in the St George Hanover Square district on the 6th November 1904. It appears that they may have lived in Scotland for some time after their marriage, as their first child, Edith Annabella, was born in Edinburgh on the 9th June 1906. However their second child, William Thomas, was born in Bexleyheath on the 16th January 1911 and the family were living at 8 Gypsy Road, Welling. William was working as a mercantile clerk in the motor accessories industry. Their second son, Francis, was born just over two and a half years later, on the 18th August 1913.
William’s mother Isabella died at the age of 69 on the 31st January 1917, the causes of death were listed as gastro-intestinal and influenza. Interestingly, his sister Annabella registered the death and is recorded on the death certificate as daughter and inmate. She died at 27½ Mount Street, which is where Francis and Isabella are recording as living at in the 1911 census, along with their daughters Annabella, Mary and Williamina. It is possible that Mount Street was the site of a poorhouse, since until 1901 Mount Street was the location of the Aberdeen Industrial School and Reformatory School for Protestant Girls. However, the 1911 census contains no information which would suggest that it was a poorhouse.
William enlisted in the army in March 1917, less than two months after the death of his mother. His age is listed as 39 years and 9 months on his enrolment form, which would mean that he was born in July 1877, however, previous census records would suggest that the was born in around 1879. It is unclear why he would have changed his date of birth, as it made him two years older it could have been to avoid enlistment. His occupation is listed as military and naval clothing manufacturer. He weighed 143lbs and his physical development was described as good. William’s enrolment papers list an eye report and has the medical classification of BI, which suggests that he wore glasses. It was also recorded that he had an injury of the right knee from an accident and had a history of pneumonia.
William was in training at home from early March 1917 until June 1917. He left Southampton for France on the 9th June and landed at Le Havre the next day. He joined the 2nd battalion of the HAC (Honourable Artillery Co) Infantry. The battalion was initially raised in August 1914 and had been in France since October 1916, where it was placed under command of 22nd Brigade in 7th Division. After William joined the battalion it fought in the third Battle of Ypres, including the Battle of Polygon Wood (26th September to 3rd October 1917), the Battle of Poelcapelle (9th October 1917) and the Second Battle of Passchendaele (26th October to 10th November 1917).
In November 1917 the battalion (as part of the 7th Division) was moved to the Italian Front under the command of the then Lt Col Richard O’Connor. This was a strategic and political move agreed by the British Government at the request of the Allied Supreme War Council, as an effort to stiffen Italian resistance to enemy attack after a recent disaster at Caporetto. Many diaries at this time, by men who had witnessed slaughter in the floods of Passchendaele, talk of the move and Italy as being “like another world”.
On 4 December 1917, the XIth and XIVth British Corps relieved the Italians on the Montello sector of the Piave front, with the French on their left. The Montello sector acted as a hinge to the whole Italian line, joining that portion facing north from Mount Tomba to Lake Garda with the defensive line of the River Piave covering Venice, which was held by the Third Italian Army. In January 1918, an additional sector of the defence on the right was taken over by the Commonwealth troops. Between December and March the Royal Flying Corps carried out a large number of successful raids on enemy aerodromes, railway junctions, and other objectives. Sixty-four hostile aeroplanes and nine balloons were destroyed during this period against British losses of twelve machines and three balloons.
In March 1918, the 7th Division (along with the 48th and 23rd) took over the Asiago sector in the mountains north of Vicenza. William was appointed Lance Corporal on the 21st 1918. In October, the 7th and 23rd Divisions were withdrawn from the Asiago Plateau to take over the northern portion of the XIth Italian Corps front from Salletuol to Palazzon, on the River Piave. The Divisions took a prominent part in the Passage of the Piave (23rd October to 4th November 1918) during the final Battle of Vittorio-Veneto. The Battle led to the eventual defeat of Austria-Hungary. The Division led a force of Italians, Americans and British soldiers that compelled the garrison of the strategic island of Papadopoli (in the main channel of the River Piave) to surrender. However, William was not to take part in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, as he was diagnosed with influenza on the 14th October 1918 and died just over two weeks later on the 31st October 1918. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his age as 40 years old. Just four days after William’s death, on the 4th November, the Armistice came into effect, and active hostilities ceased.
William is buried in Italy at the Giavera British Cemetery, Arcade, in the province of Treviso, northern Italy. Men who died in defending the Piave from December 1917, to March 1918, and those who fell on the west of the river during the Passage of the Piave, are buried in this cemetery. Giavera contains 417 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. Within the cemetery stands the Giavera Memorial, which commemorates more than 150 members of the Commonwealth forces who died in Italy in 1917 and 1918 and whose places of burial are unknown.
At the time of William’s death, Edith and their three children were still living at 8 Gypsy Road. On the 14th April 1919 the family was awarded a pension of 29/7 a week, with effect from the 12th May 1919. However, it appears that they had moved out of the area by 1920. The St. Michael’s Parochial Church Council Minute Book from 1920 regarding the church war memorial lists a William Henry Taylor for inclusion on the memorial. No address is recorded, but the name of Mrs K Halfpenny is listed with the note: “did not reside in district. Cross off.” It is not clear exactly what William or Edith’s connection to Mrs K Halfpenny was. The 1911 census lists a widow, Katherine Jane Halfpenny, living at 20 Whitworth Road in Woolwich. She had two foster children in her care, one of whom was called William Henry, but he was only 15 years old and used the surname Halfpenny. However, William’s service record does suggest that Edith and their children had indeed moved out of the area. His record includes a letter to Edith dated the 25th August 1923 regarding a plaque and scroll for her husband that were awaiting verification. The letter is illegible in places, but it is care of another person, possibility a solicitor, and is asking her to verify her address.
It is not known exactly what happened to Edith or their children after this time. There is a death registered in Dartford in March 1952 for an Edith K Taylor, born around 1877, but it cannot be known for certain that this is the same person.
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Commemorated at Home
William Taylor will be added to the East Wickham and Welling War Memorial over the Centenary period.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/639651/TAYLOR,%20W
The Scottish War Memorials Project warmemscot.s4.bizhat.com/warmemscot-ftopic3263-0-asc-45.html