Corporal William Vannah Taylor

This is part of a series of three essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Tennessee.

The grave of Corporal William Vannah Taylor
The grave of Corporal William Vannah Taylor

William Vannah Taylor IV was born on 4 December 1875 in Louisiana, the eldest of the six children of William Vannah Taylor III, a doctor (later the first mayor of the newly incorporated town of Olla, Louisiana) and Sarah Francis Davis.[1] Although he came from a long line of physicians—the previous four generations had produced doctors; his grandfather had served with the United States Navy as an Assistant Surgeon in the War of 1812—William V.Taylor IV entered the real estate business.

He married Allburto Burton[2] on 3 October 1909 in Chicago, Illinois. The family home was on York Avenue, Memphis, in Tennessee but he was living in Billings, Montana working as a real estate broker when he enlisted on 3 May 1918. He enlisted in Minneapolis, Minnesota for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. A few days later he joined the Canadian Engineers Training Depot at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec and was allocated the regimental number 2009768.

Taylor arrived in England on 22 July 1918 on board the SS Saturnia and joined the 2nd Canadian Engineer Reserve Battalion at the Canadian Engineer Training Centre at Seaford in Sussex.[3] The following month he was posted to the 3rd Reserve Battalion and in September he was promoted to Corporal. On 15 October 1918, Taylor was admitted to No. 14 Canadian General Hospital at Eastbourne suffering from influenza and pneumonia. He recovered and was discharged but was re-admitted to the hospital in mid-November and diagnosed with splenic anaemia. He was evacuated to Canada in April 1919, described as ‘seriously ill’ and admitted to St. Anne de Bellevue Hospital, Quebec. Having been discharged from the Army on 28 May he returned to Memphis, where he was admitted to the Baptist Hospital. He died there on 25 August 1919 and was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery Midtown in Section B, Lot 1182.[4]

Baptist Hospital, Memphis, 1912
Baptist Hospital, Memphis, 1912

Corporal William Vannah Taylor is commemorated on page 544 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 18 November. For his war service he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20; his medal and the memorial plaque and scroll were sent to his wife and both his wife and mother received the Memorial Cross. His wife continued to live in Memphis until her death in 1944.

The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private William Vannah Taylor
The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private William Vannah Taylor

His nephew, born the year after he died, Staff Sergeant William Vannah Taylor V, served with the United States Army Air Force during the Second World War. While serving with 338th Bombardment Squadron, 8th Air Force he was shot down and captured. He was held in the notorious Stalag Luft IV at Tychowo, Pomerania (now in Poland). He was awarded the Air Medal and the Purple Heart.

Neil Loftuss for the photograph of the grave of William Vannah Taylor.

1. (Back) William Vannah Taylor III (22 May 1850- 31 October 1931) married Sarah Francis Davis (11 March 1853- 23 December 1927) in 1873. Allen Davis (c1877-8 May 1962); Arthur Jarratt (18 August 1879-11 April 1952); Lois (later Crawford) (19 April 1883-26 December 1942); Frances Eva (later Prestridge) (3 February 1886-15 August 1952) and Leonard Henderson (21 September 1888-20 September 1976).
2. (Back) Allburto Burton was born in Ohio on 27 October 1888 and died on 4 December 1944 in St Joseph’s Hospital, Memphis. She was cremated in Memphis.
3. (Back) The Canadian Engineers Training Centre comprised the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Engineers Reserve Battalions (the abbreviation ‘CERB’ is sometime shown, incorrectly, as ‘Canadian Engineers Railway Battalion’). The Training Centre also trained men for the Corps and Divisional Signal Companies and for the Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Company.
4. (Back) This cemetery was opened in 1888; it became famous in 1977 as the original burial site of Elvis Presley. Also buried here is the infamous, fraudulent ‘doctor’ John Romulus Brinkley, and the adventurer and author Richard Halliburton.

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