William Harding Dyson 1896 – 1917 – one young man’s story

William Dyson 1

William (Willie) Dyson


William Dyson, Willie to his family, was born at the back end of the 19th Century into a reasonably comfortable family in Linton, in Cambridgeshire. He had two brothers, Allen and Edward and three sisters Mabel (Mabs), Gladys (Glad) and Vera. I know little about him  beyond those bare facts. Was he destined to farm, to work in a bank, or a shop or the post office, as his brother in law did? Did he have a sweetheart? Indeed I know little of the brothers. His sisters have painted on a bigger canvas. Glad married her sweetheart and moved to Northamptonshire when he set up a tailoring business while Mabs was postmistress and, with Vee, stayed in Linton. He doted on them as this card to Gladys in 1910 shows.

Entry in Nana's scrapbook (date1916)

Willie to Gladys

Like so many young men, he volunteered in 1914 to join the masses going to France and Belgium to stop the ‘Hun’. In Willie’s case, however, it wasn’t as part of the bellicose fighting forces but in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a stretcher bearer and ambulance driver. This probably stemmed from his convictions as  a staunch member of chapel – at least that’s how Gladys told it.

Here she is, as a nurse.

Nana as VAD Nurse

Glad the Vad!

He was no poet, no great philosopher but a kind, probably gentle man who wrote to his baby sister Vera while in training and in France. Here are a couple of his letters.

William Dyson letter undated page 1

William Dyson letter undated page 2William Dyson letter 11-3-17 page 1William Dyson letter 11-3-17 page 2On 29th May 1917 Willie was involved in the Battle of Arras. Under heavy fire he rescued a number of his comrades and for his conspicuous bravery was awarded the Military Medal.

William Dyson medal certificate

His award

The next day, Willie died in Base Hospital of a cerebral haemorrhage, probably as a result of some injury sustained during the battle.

2014-07-17 17.12.40

Willie’s parents

The story is told that his parents received news of both is death and his bravery in the same post. I can’t begin to imagine the impact that might have had. A young life, he was 21, snuffed out like so many.

He is buried here

War grave 1918

Private William Dyson’s grave

The war graves commission still tends the grave to this day.

War grave today

and today… with smart new headstone

The village, like so many, raised the funds for a memorial and his name was inscribed with two other Dysons, relatives I surmise.

War memorial Linton1

Linton War Memorial

Gladys, as with her sisters, adored their Willie and spoke about him with deep affection. She wore a sweetheart broach he gave her through her long life.

Sweetheart broach

Glad’s broach

On the 27th September, as part of the remembrance of that ghastly war, William Harding Dyson’s  name was read out in the moat of the Tower of London where a ceramic poppy is being planted for every commonwealth victim of that conflict; the ceremony takes place each evening at sunset and will continue until 11th November 2014 when the moat will be filled with the poppies. It is a moving tribute to all who died during that war.

2014-09-27 18.59.45

just before the ceremony

2014-09-27 19.24.45

the names being read

2014-09-27 19.49.20

like blood flowing out of the veins of the castle

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it is so moving

And when the last post played it was difficult to keep  in check emotions I didn’t realise I had for someone I never knew and only heard about while  playing games with my grandma, Gladys Le Pard, nee Dyson. Willie Dyson was my great uncle and I’m proud he was.

This video doesn’t exist

This post is a family collaboration. My brother, the Archaeologist of these pages, provided me with the source material. The errors and omissions however are all mine. If you have the chance to watch the Antiques Roadshow in November he will appear to talk about my maternal Grandfather and a small Joan of Arc statuette. Perhaps I will be able to persuade him to guest post on that.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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56 Responses to William Harding Dyson 1896 – 1917 – one young man’s story

  1. Norah says:

    What a sad part of your family’s history, but a moving ceremony to commemorate the sacrifices made by many.


  2. Jenni says:

    Such time and effort, it’s wonderful to see people embracing family, their past as it gives us a sense of who we are and where we stand in this world. Examples to emulate or to learn from their mistakes, understanding how anothers life impacted on all the surrounding lives – this is an amazing tribute to the whole idea of knowing and learning from our past.


  3. jennilepard says:

    Really moving Dad. Bet the service was breathtaking. Willie would be proud!


    • TanGental says:

      Thanks lovely. I wish the Archaeologist had been there given all he’s done to collate Willie’s story. Still he and the Maternity Nurse are coming in November to see the moat when full and maybe we can catch another reading then.


  4. Archaeologist says:

    Well done brother, I will take up your challenge and try and write something of the remarkable wartime career of our grandfather.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. willowdot21 says:

    A Beautiful and kindly written post congrats to you and your brother the Archaeologist. I am always moved by your posts of people in your family and this piece no less than any other. We have bought a poppy and intend to go up to the tower to see them in situ , even more so after your description of the sun set ceremony. I just wanted to share what I feel is a poignant scene from Blackadder goes forth… sadly a lot of truth in this last scene.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Cindi says:

    Such an honest, emotional, and moving tribute. The photos of the poppies that I’ve seen online pale in comparison to yours mixed with your words. Thank you, Geoff.


  7. Charli Mills says:

    Glad I saved this post to savor it. An elegant tribute to Willie. When I read the words in his award letter, “had he lived” I could just imagine the stabbing pain that brought his family. The taps (do you call it that in the UK, too?) among the ceramic poppies was breathtaking. A beautiful post to honor family. You write these stories well.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. trifflepudling says:

    I was led here from the page about your young family friend, which was very heartening in terms of the future. Dreadful for all of you, though, and I hope his family is doing ok.
    My immediate rellies survived the Great War and my father survived the next one. His cousin did not, though, and was killed aged 24 piloting a Lancaster during the Le Creusot raid in 1942. We had a chance to honour him publicly at the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in June 2012; I organised tickets to the ceremony for his 2 nieces and me. It was a hot, high summer day and there were many veterans there, wonderful to see and to chat to. It was a very British Ceremony, low-key, and for me the most moving part was when the Lancaster and its escort did a flypast and dropped thousands of poppy petals onto us in very stark symbolism. It’s incredibly gulp-inducing, seeing the Lancaster, so emotional. I had donated to buy a poppy in Duncan’s name, and afterwards we collected some for the family. I made a picture for my aunt using one of them, who was 12 when he was killed. He was a bit of a hell-raiser and led my poor dad astray a bit, but I’m glad he got a lot of living done before he went, including getting married! His photo is on my bookcase and, like you, I have shed some tears for this man I never knew but who gave everything.
    There isn’t anything half so good as Blackadder goes Forth for that generation, and the Bomber Command people have had a bad press. There’s a good sketch on YouTube, though, The Aftermyth of War, Beyond the Fringe. Go for the short one, 1m 03.
    Sorry, gone on a bit! Lovely post, though, thanks!


  9. Ritu says:

    An amazing story Geoffles! And to have these original letters and photos… Priceless! Thank you for sharing thus link with me!

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. A wonderful tribute Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Beautifully told, Geoff. So very pleased you shared this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Geoff Le Pard shares a post from 2014 which tells the story of his great uncle Willie Dyson who died in 1917 aged just 21…a hero.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Very moving post. My great-uncle also died (1918) and I have often cried for this man that I never knew.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What a sad story of your uncle Willie who died so young but still a hero. Your family must be very proud of him Geoff πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Such a poignant, respectful tribute to this young soldier, gone too soon. Lovely to include some of his writing. And that poppy ceremony is perfect. I’d never heard of it before today. Just a beautiful post, Geoff. Thanks for bringing it back, so apt for this day. πŸ’˜

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      It was a splendid and moving event. Sometimes this things feel forced but this just worked beautifully. Though you do stand there thinking I’d love my grandmother, his brother to have seen that. She’d have been so touched.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. dgkaye says:

    What a moving tribute to your uncle. It’s amazing that you managed to get these letters and photos. πŸ™‚


  19. Tina Frisco says:

    Bless all those who serve. May they be cared for all of their lives ❀

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Rowena says:

    Thank you for sharing your Uncle’s story, Geoff. Unfortunately, it is a story that is all too familiar for too many. Geoff’s Great Uncle was Killed in Action in France in September or October 1918. He had been a school teacher in a Tasmanian town before he went. I’ve heard stories about when the letter arrived and their grief.
    I hope our present world has learned from the past. I am concerned it has not.
    xx Ro

    Liked by 1 person

  21. So poignant and pertinent

    Liked by 1 person

  22. James Baker says:

    Hello Geoff

    I have recently acquired the medals awarded to Willie along with a fair amount of correspondence and have also carried out a fair amount of research myself into his short life acquiring a copy of his birth certificate, census forms, army service papers etc.
    Are you a direct descendant / relative to him as it would be nice to know anything more about him that you could provide? Do you know what happened to the plaque/ scroll that would have been presented to his parents
    I usually acquire a couple of sets of medals a year that I can research and then I make a trip to France / Belgium usually in September each year by motorcycle and visit the graves although I shall be visiting Willie’s in St Pol cemetery this year over the Armistice weekend in November where I will lay a poppy along with the others I visit.
    While I buy the medals for my own private collection I often think it sad that they don’t remain with the family as the history of these people should be passed down for future generations to remember sacrificies made.
    I have become the unofficial custodian of my family’s history and have my maternal Grandfather’s WW1 medal trio, he survived and had 7 children after the war! I also have my paternal Grandfather and father’s WW2 Medals, all of which my son has promised to cherish after me.
    I did visit the tower to see teh poppy display but that was actually on Remembrance Sunday 2015 and I have actually taken part in the Cenotaph Parade on 3 occasions and hope to mark the centenary of the war ending next year where I will wear my maternal Grandfather’s medals.
    Fascinating to see the letters from Willie to his sisters. Lovely piece of history.
    Thank you


    • TanGental says:

      Hi James
      How fascinating. I’d love to talk to you about what you have found. I’m curious to know how you came to collect Willie’s medals.
      By background, yes I’m a direct descendant – he is my grandmother’s brother so I’m his great nephew. If it is easier to email, then my address is glepardsaqnetcouk. I can then let you have a phone number and we can have a word.
      And thank you for the poppy on the grave; I’ve not made it to St Pol but would love to go.
      As for other histories, here’s a post about my maternal grandfather, written by my brother. He appeared on Antiques Roadshow to talk about St Joan. https://geofflepard.com/2014/10/19/the-archaeologist-writes-st-joan-works-overtime/


  23. James Baker says:

    sorry, delete the word ‘not’ before ‘bad!’

    Liked by 1 person

  24. James Baker says:

    Hello again
    Interesting, I’ve Just noticed the letter bit from your dad to your mum from PALESTINE.
    My father, Royal Artillery,met my mother, ATS, in Egypt at the end of WW2 and then she came home while he was sent on to Palestine in 1946. He came back in 1947 and they were married in 1948. I have his WW2 medals, one of which was the General Service medal with the Palestine 1945 – 1948 clasp.


  25. Dear Geoff
    A belated response – A local paper reported on 21/2/1913 that a fire was extinguished at the Crown Inn, Linton by a W. Dison, Patrol Leader of the Linton Scout Troop. Allowing that a mishearing or mis-spelling is likely do you know if William Dyson was a member of the Scouts?
    I am currently engaged in gathering information on Scouts missing from the the Scouting Roll of Honour.
    Thank you for this post
    Jeremy Racher

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      HI Jeremy
      I don’t know, no and I don’t think anyone else would know any more now. The only link of which I’m aware to the Scouts is my mother’s mother, Grace Lillian Bolton who I remember being told was an early girl scout and met Baden-Powell. Her parents ran a bakery and grocers on Brixton Hill in the pre WW1 years so that would have been around 1910/1 I think. If that is of interest – it’s a v different link, I know – I can ask my bother. He might know.


    • gordon759 says:

      I am Geoff’s brother. I don’t know if Willie was in the scouts, but I wouldn’t be surprised. His father was the local grocer and was very keen on supporting local charities and community events, so if there had been a local scout group he would have supported them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Gordon
        Thank you. If, and it is most unlikely, I do find records of the Troop I will let you know. As the Cambridgeshire Collection opens up again I will also check the local newspaper reports.

        Liked by 1 person

  26. If you do find out I would be grateful if you let me know. One more small piece…
    As you say there are few records left from that time and the only hope is remnant family memories or keepsakes. They used to meet in the Crown Inn courtyard. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

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