William James Shepherd was born in March 1893 at Village Farm Raskelf, a small village near Easingwold in North Yorkshire, where his family had farmed for several generations. He was the son of James and Mary Shepherd, and the eldest of three brothers. In 1911 he entered the teacher training course at Bede College in Durham. There, aged 18, he also joined the Territorials in November 1911, attending training camps in Scarborough each year with his contemporaries at the college. At Bede he was also on the Cricket Committee. He completed his training in July 1913, gaining qualifications as a primary school teacher.
William enlisted on 16 September 1914, and on 19 April 1915 he embarked with the 8th Battalion by train to Folkestone and then over to France, camping on the cliffs at Boulogne on arrival. Moving on to Cassel in Northern France they spent three pleasant days billeted in farms, trying out their French and swimming in the farmyard pools. The good spirits lasted as they were conveyed across the Belgian frontier in a convoy of London buses, until arriving at Vlamertinghe they saw refugees from Ypres pouring down the roads towards them and heard news of a gas attack. This was the first successful use of gas in the war, and they were soon to see its effects as they camped by the Canadian hospital where victims had been brought. The following day they moved up to the Front to relieve the Canadians, only 150 yards from the German lines, again seeing many lying dead from the effects of gas. The men they were relieving were shelled as they left, taking heavy casualties. In the dreadful fighting that followed, when 19 officers and 574 other ranks from the battalion were killed over the period, William escaped without serious injury. (Fuller descriptions of the Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge may be found above, in the biographies of those men of Bede Company, 8 D.L.I., who were killed.)
On May 24 William was hospitalised at Wimereux with severe influenza, being moved to the larger hospital at Rouen 3 days later. He returned there three times in August with gas poisoning, returning to G.H.Q. for duty on 28 May. The following year he was admitted again in March with German measles, returning to duty ten days later. In May that year he was promoted to acting corporal, but on 5 February 1917 he was in hospital again in Rouen suffering from ‘debility’, and was transferred to England 3 weeks later. He never recovered, and was discharged on 28 January 1918 on the grounds of total disablement due to ‘the exposure and strain of active service’ , with ‘100% incapacity’ for three months, and the recommendation of a surgical corset, with a review to follow six months later. William died, at home, of meningitis on 8 April 1918, and is buried in a civilian grave in the little churchyard of Raskelf, where his parents James and Mary subsequently joined him.