William's parents, Richard Harper and Ann Sixton, married in the early months of 1890 in a civil ceremony at Stockport. William is thought to have been their only child and, when he was born in about 1893, they were living in the Heaton Norris area of Stockport. William would live all his life in the district until he enlisted into the army.
In 1901, when a national census was taken, the family was living at 49 All Saints Road. In 1917, they had moved to 44 Sandy Lane, but had returned to All Saints Road by the early 1920s. William worked at the Co-operative store in Heaviley. When he joined the army, he was assigned to the King's (Liverpool) Regiment. His record at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission notes this was the "15th Labour Company" of the Regiment, but it has not been able to find any corroborative information to confirm this unit existed. There was, however, a 15th Battalion which was a reserve training unit. In due course, William went overseas on active service with the King's and the reference to him being in a "Labour Company" is perhaps significant in view of his subsequent transfer to the Labour Corps. The Corps was formed in 1917 of men who were not deemed fit enough for the rigours of fighting in the front line trenches but who could still perform very useful manual work in the rear areas. They would undertake such tasks as road-building, grave digging, unloading ships, etc.
William was in a military hospital when he died of pneumonia. The hospital chaplain later wrote to his family saying he had been visited him on three occasions on the day he died. He had been buried, on 3 July, with full military honours and a bugler had sounded the Last Post over his grave.