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Remembering the First World War fallen - Willie Scott

On the 29th April 1915, the commanding officer of the 1/6th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) recorded the following in the unit’s war diary: “10.45 pm. No.2476 Pte W. Scott, “A” Coy. Wounded in neck by rifle fire whilst in the Trench. “


3 days later Willie Scott, aged just 19, was dead – Embsay’s first soldier to die in the First World War.

Willie had been sent with a working party to dig forward trenches – he was on sentry duty when sniper fire hit him. The bullet entered his neck and down into his spinal cord, leaving him paralysed.

He had been born in June 1895, James William, son of Henry and Sarah Ann (nee Elliott) Scott, and lived with his parents at Centenary Place. (Some of the records record their address as Elm Tree Cottages). By all accounts Willie, as he was usually known, who worked for the Skipton Rock Company (Haw-Bank) was a happy kind of chap, and very popular. A small man – less than 5ft 4in tall - he had nevertheless been a useful member of Embsay’s Cricket Team, particularly known as an “aggressive batsman”.

He had been swept up in the first wave of enlistments, joining the Duke of Wellington’s on 2nd September 1914. New recruits received a lengthy training in the UK – it wasn’t until the 14th May 1915 that he and his pals left Folkestone, arriving in France the following day. He been in France just 19 days when he died at the Merville casualty clearing station.

His platoon commander wrote to Willie’s parents what seems to be a genuine tribute rather than a merely routine letter of sympathy:

“… he was taken away on a stretcher, as cheerful as anything… Scott was always a good and keen soldier; always willing to do anything I ordered him. He was more than this, he was always cheerful and happy, and many a joke and good game of football have we enjoyed together. I feel the loss most keenly, and so do all my men. … You son was a good sportsman and a brave man, and he died as he had lived, honourably and gloriously; a good patriot serving his King and country.”
In another letter, the same officer wrote: “The poor fellow was cheery as anything while we were bandaging him up… He was a splendid fellow, an excellent worker, and he died as he had lived – a fine Englishman.”

Willie’s parents had already suffered the loss of 3 young daughters in the years leading up to the war – 2 teenagers and a 5 year old – and the news of their youngest child’s death was a heart-wrenching blow. 5 years later, the pain was still raw, as shown by their memorial to him published in the Craven Herald on 7th May, 1920:

Five years have passed and still we miss you,
Never shall your memory fade;
Sweetest thoughts shall ever linger
On the unknown grave where you are laid.
From Father, Mother, Sisters and Brother, Elm Tree Cottage, Embsay.

The following year, his mother paid 5s 6d for the inscription “Gone but not forgotten” to be carved on his new headstone erected at the Merville Military Cemetery in France. 

If anyone has more information on Willie Scott we would love to hear from you.
Jane Lunnon, Embsay Research group (part of Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group)

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