Little is known about Willie's early life, except that that he was born in the Macclesfield area. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his age as 34 yet his birth was registered in 1885. It would also seem that his real name, as registered at birth, was Willie Rowbotham McCarthy and not the William recorded in military records. In 1904, he married Matilda Halliwell at St Thomas' Church, Norbury. The couple are thought to have lived in Stockport rather than the Hazel Grove area.
When he enlisted into the army, he was assigned to the Army Service Corps and given the service number S4/197004. The "S4" indicates that he was attached to a Supply Company (effectively labourers in uniform) which was part of 4th Army. This dates his enlistment to not before 1916. However, he never served abroad with the Corps and, on completion of his initial training, he was transferred to the Fusiliers.
On 20 November 1917, the British launched a large scale attack which would later be designated as the Battle of Cambrai. The first day was an overwhelming success and progress continued to be made over the following days. However, by the 30th of the month, the German army had reorganised and was ready to deliver a counter-attack.
Willie and his mates had spent the previous night in trenches south of the Gouzencourt - Cambrai road. At about 6.45am, the German artillery opened fire on the British front line and, about an hour later, its infantry attacked. The units on the right of the Fusiliers were bearing the brunt of the assault in this sector and were quickly overpowered. "C" Company - the Fusilier's right hand company - was also forced into retreat. As the Germans came on, "B" Company in turn delivered its own counter-attack, forcing the Germans back some 200 yards. They then took up a defensive position. Meanwhile, "D" Company's position had been surrounded and most of the men became casualties or prisoners. Only one officer and thirteen men were able to fight their way to a relatively safe position. All of the Battalion's men who had been able to retire now joined up with the men of the 8th Battalion and were able to hold off further attacks during the day. 221 men had become casualties - dead, wounded or missing. William's body was never recovered and identified.
In 1919, his widow married Herbert Smith in a civil ceremony registered at Stockport.