Being a member of the Quaker Society, William was educated at Ackworth School. He became a student of University College, London in 1904, and took a large share in the founding of University College Hall, Ealing, maintaining his interest in it until his death - living there and taking a leading part in its social life. Before qualifying he served in the first Balkans War as a dresser in the British Red Cross Unit with the Greek army, for which he was awarded the Balkans Medal. He returned to London and qualified M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., then joined the Royal Mail Packet Ship ‘Cobequid’ as temporary surgeon. The ship was wrecked in an ice blizzard in the Bay of Lundy on the voyage - the captain stated that William behaved with distinction. At the time of the outbreak of war William was holding appointments at University College, however he at once resigned and joined up. He entered the war in France serving with the 16th Field Ambulance, under the rank of temporary Lieutenant. On 23rd October 1914, William, along with Lt O’Driscoll R.A.M.C. and 3 R.A.M.C. privates, were wounded by shell and rifle fire. The two officers were wounded while out collecting casualties and William was awarded the Military Cross for an act of gallantry. His right elbow was injured and became permanently anky-losed, but in spite of this, and after serving in the Mediterranean with the No 30 General Hospital from 1915-1916, he returned to France and served with the 55th Field Ambulance throughout the battles of the Somme of 1916. He was awarded a Bar to the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations. For thirty hours he supervised the work of his stretcher-bearers in the open under heavy shell fire. On another occasion he searched a wood for wounded under very heavy shell fire.” and a second Bar “ For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led his stretcher-bearers under intense fire, dressing and evacuation the wounded. He displayed great determination and an utter disregard for his personal safety throughout the operations.” He was invalided home around December 1916 but the following year saw him again on the Western front, and in the autumn he took part in the Third Battle of Ypres, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty as bearer officer, taking parties to the regimental aid posts, though they suffered heavy casualties on the way. When a regimental medical officer was wounded he attended to the wounded of this battalion, searching our lines and “No Man’s Land” from mid-day to dark for wounded, and then returned to his field ambulance for another twelve hours’ work until relieved.” He was gassed and slightly wounded during this campaign. In 1918, William was elected a Fellow of University College for “Distinction in public life.” In the spring of 1918 he served as Medical Officer to a Guard’s battalion, returning to England with an injury to his wounded elbow. In June 1918 he went to join the 21st Field Ambulance in Italy. He had gone forward in the discharge of his duty, and after being lightly wounded by a bullet was shortly afterwards killed by the concussion of a 15-inch mortar bomb.
A personal testimony from a friend states “Honesty, patriotism, friendship, and love of duty were some of the simple ideals which largely made up his character, and he had a dominant but most lovable personality, which won for him a number of very devoted friends. Cool in action, he always displayed the greatest gallantry and unselfishness. Twice he was recommended for the highest decoration of all. Though several times offered staff appointments which would have carried with them promotion and comparative safety, both of which he had well earned, he preferred to remain in the line, where he seemed to bear a charmed life. In many hearts his death leaves a blank which time can never fill.” William was the son of William John and Louisa Lister of 3 Penryn Terrace, Corbar Road, Buxton.