First World War Poetry Digital Archive

William Binning's Early Life

William was born on the 24th of September 1896 in Park Place, Cowdenbeath. He was the second child of Sydney and Jane Binning. He had an older sister, Annie, and would have a younger sister. Isabella, and a younger brother, John. Sydney owned and ran a plumbing business in the High Street of Cowdenbeath, a town which at the turn of the century had only been in existence for fifty years as dozens of coal mines were opened in the area. Sydney’s business prospered and the family moved first to the High Street and then to a newly built house in Stenhouse Street called Lochview with room for Sydney’s business to operate from the basement. William was educated at Foulford Public school in Hill St Cowdenbeath and then when he was eleven he had to travel into the nearby town of Dunfermline to attend Dunfermline High School for his first two years of secondary education there being no Higher grade school in Cowdenbeath. Travelling with him to Dunfermline was his friend, Adam Fulton, who lived on a farm just outside Cowdenbeath.

In 1910 Cowdenbeath’s first Higher Grade school was opened. Sydney had won the contract to supply the plumbing for the school and every cistern in the toilets bore the Binning name. William no longer had to travel to school. His new school – Beath High school – was immediately across the road from the Binning house. William was a clever pupil and in 1912 he won the Dux prize at the end of what was his fourth year of secondary education. Very few boys stayed on after the fourth year of secondary education with jobs in the coal mines awaiting them. But William precisely because he was clever did stay on to take his Higher grade exams which would gain him entrance to the University of Edinburgh. His father might have expected his elder son to follow him into the business but both parents recognised William’s ability and encouraged him to go to University.

So in October 1914 William began to study Medicine at Edinburgh. He also joined the OTC. He had digs in Buccleuch Place and he had a girlfriend called Margaret MacDuff whom he took to the pictures. But William was destined to spend only one term at university. With the call going out for young men to join up he applied in December 1914 for a commission in the army. On the strength of his being at University and a member of the OTC he was accepted and in January 1915 began training. He had a year and four months to live. William was, like his dad, a keen cricketer and the family were all regular attenders at the West Parish church where Sydney was Session Clerk. Isabella would follow William as Dux of Beath High school in 1915 while Johnnie would go into the family business. His mother went into mourning black on hearing of the death of her son and wore black every day for the rest of her life. It is not known whether Adam Fulton, his school chum, joined the forces. He went on to qualify as a vet and in 1928 married Jane Kelso. Jane and William were engaged to be married when William was killed. Jane, whom William called Jean, was also Dux at Beath High in 1914 and would go on to qualify and work as a school teacher before marrying Adam. They had no children. John Binning, William’s brother, married and had two sons, Sydney and John, who also went on to be pupils at Beath High school and today are the keepers of all the artefacts and documents from William’s life. As young boys they remember playing with William’s service revolver.

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