Willes was born in England. He was well-educated and by the age of 22 became head of a boys' college in Cardiff, Wales. He lost his position as a result of joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1848. In 1851 he and Findlay traveled to India, where they met limited success. He sailed for the United States in 1855.
Willes has the following hymns to his credit in the current LDS hymnal:
- Come Along, Come Along, 244
- Thanks for the Sabbath School, 278
Willes is no relation to early Mormon figure William S. S. Willes.
- Willes, William (15 July 1882). "Ornaments and Dress in India". Juvenile Instructor. 17: 221.
- Davidson, Karen Lynn. Our Latter-day Hymns. Deseret Book, 1988, p. 459. ISBN 0-87579-137-9.
- Eliza R. Snow: Poems for July. Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History. smithinstitute.byu.edu. . Accessed 19 August 2007.
- Deseret News (10 July 1861), p. 148-50.
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