William Edgar Taylor, born 26 September 1894, was the eldest son of John and Elizabeth Taylor of Brampton, Cumberland (now part of Cumbria). John Taylor came from Blaydon, County Durham, and Edgar was the maiden name of Elizabeth, who was born in Gosforth, Northumberland. The family home was the School House, Brampton, where John, also a Bede College man (1890-1891), was headmaster of Brampton Elementary School.
William Taylor attended the County Secondary School in Brampton, and in November 1912, shortly after his eighteenth birthday, he joined up as a Volunteer in the Territorial Force with the 4th Battalion The Border Regiment. He was following in his father’s footsteps. John Taylor had served with the 1st Battalion as a reserve soldier since January 1890, and continued to attend training camps during his son’s school years. So when William Taylor went to train as a teacher at Bede College in the autumn of 1913, he transferred to the volunteers of 8 D.L.I., the “Bede Company”.
In his second year at College, in April 1915, William Taylor was one of 12 men from his year among the privates in the College contingent of current and past students who went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. (These included another W.E. Taylor, Bede 1906-1908, who survived the war). The Bede Magazine reports the men left England on 19 April, and 8 D.L.I. spent a night encamped on the cliffs at Boulogne and three days billeted at a French farm 12 miles from the front, where they could hear the guns and see the flashes of battle. On 23 April they and other units were taken in a convoy of London buses to Vlamertinghe, near Ypres, where they heard about the first German poison gas attacks. They met wounded Canadian troops in a military hospital in the local convent and saw columns of civilian refugees from Ypres pushing ancient carts, piled with what they could carry from home.
On Sunday 25 April, after marching through the half-ruined town - and less than a week away from Durham - the Bede men were in the thick of the Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge, part of the Second Battle of Ypres. They came under heavy attack by shells and machine-gun fire, and after extensive losses, they were forced to retire in the evening. Throughout the War, The Bede magazine, carried lists of its serving men, and the names of the fallen, wounded and missing, and those taken prisoner in Germany. The December 1915 edition has a photo of William Taylor with other Bede Company survivors. Their commanding officer, Captain (later Major) F. G. Harvey, gives an account of the April journey and conflict:
Probably the Church Training Colleges are the only Colleges which sent past and present students as organised bodies to the War. Possibly none sent a larger contingent than was sent by Bede, and certainly to none came a more sudden or more severe testing.
From the Foreword of A Record of the War Service of Bede Men, by Major F.G. Harvey (1921)
After Ypres, William Taylor was transferred to the 17th Wireless Signals Company of the Royal Engineers, promoted to Corporal, and saw action in Flanders. He died of wounds on 12 October 1917 after being hit by a shell-burst north of Langemarck. In a Carlisle Journal report, his (unnamed) Lieutenant is quoted:
He was in my wireless section, and a willing, cheerful and extremely capable worker, well-liked not only by the men of his own section, but by all the members of the Signal Company. His loss will be a double one to me, for in addition to his sterling qualities there was an excellent bond between us owing to the fact that he was in the same profession as myself. His party and mine were to meet at a certain advanced post, but when I arrived there I found he had been wounded by a shell. I do not think he was in pain, and his only request was to have something to cover him. He passed away peacefully about an hour later, and was buried by his comrades close by.
His Major also wrote:
He was performing a most gallant and noble piece of work. He was in charge of a party who were going forward after the attack to establish wireless communications with advanced H.Qrs. Taylor and his men behaved with magnificent courage, the men taking an example from him, and I feel that the Signal Service has lost much by his untimely end.
William Taylor’s grave is in Cement House Military Cemetery, Langemarck. The Bede magazine carries a tribute in the December 1917 issue. Taylor’s name is recorded on the Bede College 1914-1918 cross and plaque, and roll of honour, and also on the war memorial in St Martin’s Church, Brampton.
William Taylor’s father also served in the war as a Company Quarter Master Sergeant at the Border Regiment’s Carlisle depot. As a volunteer reservist in the 1st Battalion The Border Regiment from 1890, he remained attached in 1908 when it was reorganised as part of the new Territorial Force (precursor of the Territorial Army), and he enlisted, aged 47, on 5 September 1914 at Carlisle in the 6th Battalion of The Border Regiment. Within days he transferred to 7th Battalion as C.Q.M.S. The war service of father and son overlapped for some 2 years and 6 months, until John was given a medical discharge in December 1917, two months after his son’s death, when he resumed his teaching career. The Army recorded that he was granted a discharge on account of asthma, considered to have been aggravated by war service. William Taylor’s brother, George Weatherhead Taylor, was too young to have served during the war, and died in 1950.