William Wharram – Bradford Pals soldier, Leeds Pals officer

William Stephenson Wharram, MC DCM, 2nd Lieutenant, 1st Leeds Pals

William Stephenson Wharram

Picture from Susan Wharram (granddaughter)

William Stephenson Wharram, whose second name was sometimes given as Stephen, has little of his military history available, apart from his medal records and RAF service record. His Army service record has not yet been released by the Ministry of Defence as he again served in the Army during the Second World War.

He was born in Burgh le Marsh, Lincolnshire, on 15th February 1896, the son of Mathias Wharram and Mary Wharram née Tomlinson.  On the 1901 Census she was listed as a widow as his father had died on 6th September 1896. By 1911 William was living with his uncle and aunt, William and Ellen Brown, so perhaps his mother had also died. In that same year William became an agricultural student and attended a two year course at the Agriculture College at Royston.

William Wharram at Howden Hall

                                               William Wharram – the Riding Master

Picture from Susan Wharram (granddaughter)

In 1914 William volunteered for the West Yorkshire Regiment.  Initially he seems to have been in the 12th Battalion, a service battalion formed in York in September 1914, but before long he was posted to the 16th Battalion, the 1st Bradford Pals.  He was with the Bradford Pals when they went to Egypt in December 1915, along with the Leeds Pals, and remained with them before transferring to the 11th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. He was commissioned on 24th April 1917 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 15th Battalion (1st Leeds Pals) West Yorkshire Regiment, just prior to the Arras offensive of May 1917. In December 1917 the 15th Battalion merged with the 17th Battalion to form the 15/17th and this unit also absorbed men from the Bradford Pals prior to the disbanding of its two battalions in February 1918.

William first made his name towards the end of 1916, when, while still a private, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), second only to the Victoria Cross (VC), for conspicuous gallantry in action.  In the company of one officer he bombed down an enemy trench and assisted in the capture of over 100 prisoners.

As an officer he continued to distinguish himself, notably during the last German attack of the war, the Kaiserschlacht which began in March 1918.  By the end of March the Leeds Pals were withdrawing as fast as they could, but still in danger of being cut off.  Only four officers and about forty men finally escaped, and that they did was due largely to Sergeant Albert Mountain, who with ten men and a Lewis gun drove the Germans back, winning a VC in the process, and William Wharram, who led a flanking attack on the Germans Mountain had driven off.  The London Gazette reported:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. After our front line had retired he took out his platoon and enfiladed the advance of the enemy, directing a very effective fire against them. When the enemy took up fresh positions he again enfiladed them, enabling a frontal attack to be made which led to the capture of thirty-five prisoners. For this action he was awarded the Military Cross (MC).

Later he was attached to the 3rd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment and then to the RAF.  His RAF Service Record records that he attended an Aviation course on 28th September 1918 and on 7th November 1918 was serving in 1 S of A unit. William was promoted Lieutenant on 26th October 1918 although the London Gazette entry mistakenly listed his decorations as DCM MM. He appears to have been discharged on 5th February 1919 and his permanent residence was given as 10 Victoria Park, Shipley, Yorkshire.

After the war ended William was also awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  However, on 28th June 1940 he commissioned back in to the West Yorkshire Regiment as 139234 Lt William Stephenson Wharram MC, DCM, (MM?). He may therefore have been awarded additional medals for the Second World War, although he probably remained on ‘Home Service’. His son recalled William saying that he either guarded, or was an interrogator to, Rudolph Hess after his surrender.  Another interesting story to be told.

In 1922 he married Dorothy Constance Banks at Whitby, Yorkshire and they had two children, Matthias Stephen (known as Stephen) born 23rd January 1923 and Olive June born 2nd March 1925.  The Banks family owned Howden Hall and William ran the farm, including a riding stable, and organised hunts for the aristocracy. Matthias married Dorothy Varley Starbec on 9th November 1949 before moving to Canada, where both he and his wife eventually died.  The 1939 Register lists William S Wharram, a retired Riding School Proprietor living in Barrow-on-Soar, Lincolnshire, along with a Margaret N Wharram, and Dorothy his wife is listed separately as ‘Unpaid Domestic Duties’ living at 13 Chudleigh Road, Harrogate. They had separated before the Second World War although Dorothy would not grant him a divorce.

Mom & Dad Medals

                     Matthias (William’s son) and Dorothy wearing their war medals

Picture from Susan Wharram (granddaughter)

William died on 11th April 1964 at Belvedere Nursing Home, Scarborough.  His home was The Hollies, Wold Newton, Driffield, Yorkshire. Probate of £7,304 was granted to Margaret Newall Wharram, a spinster.  His wife Dorothy died on 11th November 1966 at Chester.


Ancestry & Findmypast – Birth, marriage, death, census, probate and 1939 registers.

The National Archives – RAF Service Record and Medal Rolls

London Gazette – Citations and promotions

Susan Wharram (granddaughter) – Family details and pictures

Researchers: Peter Taylor and David J Owen

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.

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