William Taylor, Sergeant 15/880, 1st Leeds Pals
William Taylor was born in the parish of St George in the East, Wapping, London, probably on 9th August 1881. His mother was Louisa Taylor, a name which occurs throughout his life, but I have not so far found his father. He had two brothers, Thomas and Robert, and a sister Louisa, all named on his first attestation form. Robert and Louisa were apparently twins, and the family lived at 5 Rygate Street, Wapping. No father was mentioned, so presumably he was dead, or had left them.
On 9th December 1896 William signed on, for twelve years, at Aldershot, and joined the Border Regiment, with the number 5250. His height was given as 4ft 8½ ins, his weight as 6st 3lbs, he had blue eyes, fair hair and a fresh complexion. Robert was already a member of the regiment, suggesting that William, at 15 years and 4 months, was the youngest of the family. Being that young he joined as a boy soldier, and was made a bandsman. Thereafter he gave his army trade as ‘musician’, instrument not specified. On 9th August 1899 he reached the age of 18 and became a fully fledged soldier, and clearly an efficient one. In September 1905 he was promoted to Lance Corporal, and two and a half years later to full Corporal. Nine months after that, in December 1908, he reached the end of his twelve years and was discharged. During his period of service he had served in the East Indies and South Africa.
On leaving the army William came to Leeds. What prompted him, a Londoner and quite possibly a cockney, to move to Yorkshire is not known, but the 1911 Census shows him as having a job as a tramway conductor for the city council, and living as a boarder with a young widow, Louisa Watson from Bristol, and her son Reginald Arthur, at 36 Tilbury Mount, Holbeck. Louisa was 27 so could not have been a widow for long. She may have been married to Arthur Watson, in Pontefract in 1904, and he may have died just four years later, the year Reginald was born, but we cannot be certain. What is certain is that in September of 1911 Louisa married William, thus becoming the third Louisa Taylor in his life. Taking Reginald with them, they went to live at 62 Spencer Place.
In 1914 when war broke out William was virtually 33, but he clearly knew where his duty lay and didn’t hesitate. On 15th September he volunteered for the Leeds Pals, the magistrate signing his attestation paper being Edward Brotherton, at that time also the Lord Mayor of Leeds, and main financial support of the battalion. As a trained soldier William had a lot to offer the new battalion, almost entirely composed of enthusiastic civilians. He was now 5ft 4ins, 8ins taller than when he first signed on. He once again gave his occupation as musician, despite his previous job, and what he subsequently became. He was immediately promoted to sergeant, and then made Sergeant Shoemaker, posted to Headquarters Company. It has been suggested that this title refers to making shoes for horses and mules, but I think it more likely that it was what it seems, responsibility for repairing and possibly making the boots, without which the men could do little else. Given the problems the army had with the newly provided footwear, much of which was so substandard that it fell apart on the first route march, this would have been quite a critical job. A member of the Pals, Arthur Pearson, wrote the following:
Our first issue of service boots turned out to be very poor stuff. They could not stand up to ordinary wear and tear let alone the rough country we worked over. The boots were not made by a Leeds firm or the heels would have stayed on once they were put on instead of falling off as happened scores of times. Many a chap has lost his heel miles away from camp and had to make his own way back…
William underwent training at Colsterdale, Ripon and Fovant, before sailing with the battalion to Egypt to guard the Suez Canal. He then sailed to France, where he spent the rest of the war. Whether being in the HQ company helped him to survive the various major battles the Pals went through is not known, but he must have done his bit in the final German Kaiserschlacht of Spring 1918, when the situation got so desperate that every man who could hold a rifle was pressed into service. Finally the war ended, but William was home on leave, from 1st to 15th November, when the armistice came. He was transferred to the reserve, Class Z, on 17th March 1919, and finally discharged on 31st March 1920. He could go home to his wife and stepson at their new address of 44 Gledhow Wood Avenue. He was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
William may have died in 1931. Certainly when the register was compiled in 1939 prior to the next war Louisa was once again a widow, living with her son Reginald, now managing a butcher’s shop, and his wife Lillian Violet, at 20 Queensway, Leeds.
Find My Past – service records, censuses
Ancestry – Medal Index Card
Leeds Pals (Milner p.49) – quote from Arthur Pearson
Free BDM – births and deaths
Researcher: Peter Taylor
- All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
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