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William MacDonald was born in 1904, the eldest child of Alexander MacDonald and Ann MacKay. Presumably he was born in Flodabay, where his parents had been married, though the family later settled at Ludag on the island of Berneray. William started attending Berneray School in 1909, later becoming a merchant seaman.
In 1942 he married Sarah Johnstone, with whom he had a son. They lived in Glasgow, emigrating to Melbourne, Australia in 1956.