Question: What two songs do we sing today that were written by William Willes?
Answer: William Willes was born July 5, 1814 in Woolwich, London, England to Thomas Willes and Sarah Hawkes. His father was a plumber, painter, and glazier. William entered school at age three and continued until the age of twelve when his father died. It was planned that William would became a seaman on a whaler. However, these plans were altered by the death of his brother, which necessitated William’s carrying on his father’s business.
William later attended a normal school, and at the age of 22 was placed in charge of a boys’ school in Cardiff, Wales. William married Ann Kibbey, and they had five children. William continued to teach in different parts of Britain until he was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1848 in the Thames River.
William traveled to the Salt Lake Valley with the Milo Andrus Company in 1855. In 1853, his wife, Ann Kibbey, and their five children had traveled to Utah with the Appleton M. Harmon Company, while William served a mission to India. Four years and two months after their parting, they were reunited when William arrived in Salt Lake on October 20, 1855, on the seventh anniversary of his baptism.
In 1865, at the end of another mission, William traveled back to Utah with the D. J. McCann Freight Train, according to his journal. As a missionary, he filled two missions to far off India, sometimes on foot and alone. He also served two missions in his native land of England.
In Utah, William taught school in a small room with coal-oil lamps to many unruly children. His pay was $3 a quarter per student, paid by the parents. Times were hard, and the parents did not always pay, but it mattered not to him. He felt the children needed an education, so he did his best to help them. He is well remembered by his students for his method of teaching the multiplication tables to the tune of “Yankee Doodle.”
William was a prolific writer. There are more than a hundred of his poems and writings. Among the best known are the lyrics to two Sunday School songs that are still in the hymn books, namely, “Thanks for the Sabbath School,” and “Come Along, Come Along.”
One of the crowning labors of his career was his work in the Sunday Schools with Brother George Goddard. Of the labors of these good men, George D. Pyper General Superintendent of the Deseret Sunday School Union had this to say about them: “During the 1870’s the two men who came into conspicuous public notice in the Sunday School work, were Brothers George Goddard and William Willes…It was always a gala-day when these two men visited a Sunday School. They were good singers and sang “Who’s on the Lord’s Side Who?,” “The Mormon Boy,” and “Take Away the Whiskey, the Coffee and the Tea, Cold Water is the Drink for Me”. They usually asked all who were on the Lord’s side and who kept the word of wisdom to stand up. . . . They taught the Gospel through the common things of life.”
In Salt Lake City, William became known for his teaching, singing, and song writing. In 1882 he completed a seven-year Sunday School Mission. William died on November 2, 1890 in Salt Lake City the age of 76, and is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Source: Excerpts from William Willes, Brief Biography, written by Joseph S. Willes, William Willes’ grandson, FamilySearch.org.; Stories of Our Mormon Hymns by J. Spencer Cornwall, p. 26-27; FindAGrave.com; FamilySearch.org