William, known as 'Will', was born in 1890 in Flimby, Cumberland. He was the son of John and Elizabeth Lawson and the youngest of ten children. His father was a miner who had been in the Royal Navy. His mother was known to be a wrestler and was said to have believed herself able to 'fell any man'.
The family moved to Boldon from Cumberland for work. They lived in an Aged Miners home in Boldon, which was one of the first examples of this type of housing in the country. The male family members, including Will, all worked in the mines. Will’s brother, John James “Jack” Lawson, was a Labour MP for Chester-le-Street, a Cabinet member and the First Baron of Beamish. Jack helped bring up Will as a child and helped educate him. In his autobiography, Jack described Will as a “straight, tall, good-looking lad”.
Will attended the University Officers' Training Corps whilst at Armstrong College.
Will was commissioned into the Durham Light Infantry, 8th Battalion, and later transferred to the 17th Battalion. Will was the first of his brothers to sign up. In one of letters home, Will wrote that “this is not war: this is a permanent industry for making death.”
Will was killed in action on 27th March 1916. According to his brother’s autobiography, he died whilst trying to help another soldier who was in the sights of a sniper and was shot in this effort. Jack further reported that this news had a devastating effect on their mother in losing her youngest son.