Captain William Howard LISTER, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., D.S.O., MC**

Royal Army Medical Corps
21st Field Ambumance
Service Number:
Date of Death:
9th August 1918 - Killed in Action
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Number:
I. D. 3.
M.C. and 2 Bars

Personal History:

William was born on 5th May 1887 at Norris Bank, Stockport, Cheshire, the son of William John and Louisa (née Faulder) Lister, later of 3 Penryn Terrace, Corbar Road, Buxton (1911 Census RG 14/21236). William Lister Snr. was managing director of H. Faulder & Co., a firm of cocoa and confectionary manufactures with several premises around Stockport.

William was educated at boarding school; at first he attended Merton House School, in Penmaenmawr. The family were members of the Society of Friends and, for six months in 1900/01, he attended the Quakers' Ackworth School at Pontefract (1901 Census RG 13/4308), before going to Buxton College, where he remained until 1905

In 1907, after finishing school, he started a medical degree
at University College, London and became in what was to
become known as the "Brown Dog Affair". The dog had
been used in experiments three years earlier and anti-
vivisectionists erected a bronze statue of it as a protest.
On 20th November 1907 a group of University College
students, led by undergraduate William Howard Lister,
crossed the Thames to Battersea with a crowbar and
a sledgehammer, and tried to attack the statue with the
intent of vandalising or destroying it as medical students
were of the opinion that vivisection furthered the course
of medical research. The police arrived and arrested him
and nine others. They appeared in court the next day and
were each fined £5.00.

In 1909 William joined the University's Officer Training Corps and, in 1912, he and a number of other students went with the Red Cross to assist the Greek Army as orderlies during the Balkan War. In October 1913, he qualified as a physician and a surgeon (M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., London; elected Fellow of London University College in 1918).

After qualification he was employed as a ship's doctor aboard the Royal Mail Packet Ship "Cobequid", which sailed between the UK, Canada and the West Indies. It sank in January 1914, but all aboard, including William, were saved. In July of the same year he gained a position as a house physician at University College Hospital but had not started yet work when War was declared on 4th August 1914. He immediately volunteered and was attached to 16th Field Ambulance. He was in France on active service by the end of the month.  John Hartley (see below) explains: "The Field Ambulance had a much wider role than we might understand today. It did, indeed, operate fleets of ambulances to evacuate casualties, but it also provided Advanced Dressing Stations (ADS), staffed by doctors, just behind the front line. Another major task was the provision of stretcher bearer parties which carried the men from their own Regimental Aid Posts to the ADS. For most of his service, William was in charge of the bearer section of the Ambulance."

Military History:
William was among the first twelve to receive a temporary commission (Lieutenant) in the R.A.M.C. on the 7th August 1914 (London Gazette 18th August). On 23rd or 24th October 1914, probably at the Marne or the Aisne; he was near the front line when he heard that Captain Mervyn Keats Sandys, of the 2nd Battalion, York & Lancaster Regiment, was badly wounded in No Man's Land. William went out to help him but found him dead. While out in the open, he was shot in the right arm, losing a large portion of his elbow joint. It was recommended that he have it amputated but refused and, in due course,  recovered almost all movement, although it pained him for the rest of his life. For this act of courage he was amongst the first to receive the new award of the Military Cross and (London Gazette, 23 June 1915). He received the medal from the King, on 24th August 1915, at Buckingham Palace whilst he was still on sick leave. One of his friends, Captain Cleminson, later wrote of him: "His arm was almost useless but he was persistent in his refusal to accept any assistance in such things as cutting up food, yet appreciated keenly unobtrusive attentiveness which might make things easier for him."

William was passed fit for duty by a medical board on the 30th December 1915 was posted to 30th General Hospital in Sicily but after only a few weeks, returned to France where he was assigned to 55th Field Ambulance. He wrote home on 14th May "I don't like war and I like it less than ever now as I find I get in a great old funk if any gun goes off near me. I do hope and trust I shall behave myself when the real testing time comes, as soon it will, I suppose."

In preparation for the opening of the Battle of the Somme, William would be in charge of the evacuation of the wounded from the front line to the Advanced Dressing Station. He wrote home after the first day, on 1st July 1916, "I insisted in having carte blanche as to the plans…..and got my way. Everything went like clockwork and everyone is very bucked up. We had the whole battlefield cleared in twenty hours." For his work in these actions he was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross.

The London Gazette, on 20th October 1916, recorded the citation, which reads:
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations. For thirty hours,
he supervised the work of his stretcher bearers in the open under heavy shell fire.
On another occasion, he searched a wood for wounded under very heavy shell fire." 

Another of William's friends also wrote of the incident of searching the wood.
"His individual acts of bravery were very numerous to my knowledge. On one occasion, for instance, he searched Trones Wood, which was being subjected to an extraordinarily heavy artillery barrage, from end to end, in search of an officer who, he believed, was lying wounded in it. The very idea that a man might be lying out wounded was a terrible thought to Lister." (Quoted from "William Howard Lister" written in 1919 by his friend Walter Seton)

Only a month later, in the London Gazette edition of 24th November, there was announcement that he had been awarded a second Bar. "He led his stretcher bearers under intense fire, dressing and evacuating the wounded.
He displayed great determination and utter disregard for his personal safety throughout
the operations."

William had also described the events that led to this second Bar "In the second show,
another Field Ambulance took its turn in being first up and I did not get up till the second
day…..When I got there, the other Field Ambulance M.O. told me he had cleared one
wood and the other was impossible. I never thought much of him and didn't believe him.
First went forward into the wood he said he had cleared. Dressed twenty. Perfectly bloody
place. Then went back for my bearers and we cleared forty to fifty lying-down cases.
Didn't think much of his ideas of clearing!......Went forward into the next wood. You cannot
imagine a more hellish place. Dead men, battle debris, trees split and fallen, shells falling
everywhere. You had to crawl over the dead. Men's arms and brains stuck on branches
and on the ground. We found very few wounded. Dressed those and decided bearers
should not do a real beat of the woods until there is a lull….as it would be simply killing them."
William was invalided home again around Christmas 1916, returning to duty in March 1917. During the summer and early autumn he took part in the Third Battle of Ypres and another friend, Major H M Heyland wrote of this period "He was always cheery. I always think of him walking very slowly, with one hand in his pocket, down the most damnable duck boards over the Steenbeck, shells flying all over the place and everybody else running like blazes." Around this time, he was gassed and, also, wounded in the leg "I got a knock on the calf from a big shell splinter. It only grazed, luckily, but enough to cut into the muscle layer and badly bruise the lower part of the leg."
A fourth award, this time of the Distinguished Service Order, was announced in the Gazette on 14th December 1917.  For his bravery around Ypres. The citation, published on 19th April 1918, reads "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty as bearer officer taking parties to the Regimental Aid Post, though they suffered heavy casualties on the way. When the regimental medical officer was wounded, he attended to the wounded of this battalion, searching our lines and No Man's Land from midday to dark for wounded and then returned to his field ambulance for another 12 hours until relieved."

By Christmas 1917, he was again home sick suffering from the effects of the gas and bronchitis and he was admitted to an officers' hospital at Watermouth Castle, near Ilfracombe. He received his DSO from the King on 16th January 1918 and, at the time, is thought to have been the only man with a DSO, MC and 2 Bars. On 9th February he returned to France and, in the same month, received another honour when he was made a Fellow of University College. In the late spring, he fell on his still weak arm and had to return to the UK for a further period at Watermouth Castle. 

On 16th June 1918, once again pronounced fit and returned to active service this back time to Italy. He was killed by the explosion of an enemy trench mortar shell which fell near to him. It's understood that he was buried, with full military honours, at the cemetery at Tresche-Conca (now Cesuna).

Footnotes: A book entitled "William Howard Lister" was written in 1919 by his friend Walter Seton and is source of the quotes found above - as researched by John Hartley. The book contains a foreword by Lieutenant-General Sir Ivor Maxse. "He was a real human being and he had acquired war experience of priceless value. He was learning and teaching all the time and his reliant temperament spread confidence around him….Then his reputation spread further and after the great fights on the Somme in July 1916, Lister's character became notorious in the Division and were considerably advanced after the assault and capture of Thiepval in September….His eager temperament and standard of duty made him indispensable to the troops."

I can only agree with John's sentiments on his website: William Howard Lister was, without doubt, one of the bravest men commemorated on this website. His courage was recognised by the award of gallantry medals on four separate occasions.


· I am grateful to John Hartley for allowing me to use material from his excellent website MORE THAN A NAME - the stories of Stockport's fallen
· Photo of Capt. Lister's Grave kindly supplied by British War Graves
· I am also grateful to the Wellcome Foundation for providing copies of the photos and quotations used above from the book in their collection:
   "William Howard Lister", written in 1919 by his friend Walter Seton. (Copies of this book are available for sale at about £35.00 from a number
   of suppliers)

Link to CWGC Record
Capt. Lister's grave at Magnoboschi
Capt. W H Lister DSO, MC
The original 'Brown Dog' Memorial
Capt. Lister's citation for 2nd M.C.
Capt. Lister's citation for his second Bar to his MC
The new 'Brown Dog' Memorial
Capt. Lister photographed by Capt Cleminson
On 12th December 1985 a new memorial to the "Brown Dog" was erected just behind the Pump House in Battersea Park (in 1992 it was taken in storage by Wandsworth Borough Council!).
about the "Brown Dog"