He was born in Mayfield, Sussex, England on 20 August 1897.
He was the second son of Edward Ford (b. 1858), a farm worker originally from Fletching, Sussex, and Margaret Ann Watson (b. 1857), who hailed from Bracadale on the Isle of Skye in the inner Hebrides in northern Scotland. His parents were married in Hadlow Down, Wealden, Sussex, England on 17 June 1890 and besides Edward had four other children: Dollina Margaret (b. 1891), Frances Mary (b. 1893), Edward Watson (b. 1895), and Robina Maggie (b. 1904).
William first appears on the 1901 census living in the hamlet of Mark Cross in Rotherfield, Sussex. He was enrolled at Rotherfield Council School on 30 May 1904 aged 6 and continued at the school until December 1910 when he took his exemption exam enabling him to leave early to begin full time work. His name appears on the school register as 'Neil Ford'. His family are still in the same locale by the time of the 1911 census but William is listed elsewhere as a telegraph messenger at the Post Office in the hamlet of Mark Cross, Sussex.
William's father Edward later reportedly deserted the family leaving his mother to eke out an existence as a poultry farmer. His sister Frances had emigrated to the USA in 1911 and worked as a domestic servant with a wealthy Long Island family, and so impressed her family back home with tales of a better life that the family decided to leave their home in Rotherfield and settle in America. Travelling with them was his aunt Elizabeth Johnston and her family and a family friend, Phoebe Alice Harknett. The Fords bought ticket W./C. 6608 (which cost £34 7s 6d) and they boarded the Titanic at Southampton as Third Class passengers and were destined for New London, Connecticut, where his uncle Thomas Watson lived.
The entire party of ten were lost in the sinking. None of their bodies were identified amongst those recovered after the sinking. The same thing happened to the Goodwin family: only Sidney's body was recovered.
William's father Edward later filed a claim for the loss of his family and was awarded five shillings per week. What became of his father is not known, but it is possible he remained in Rotherfield and died in 1933 at the age of seventy-five.