Bernard King was born on 12 March 1893 in the Whalley Range district of Manchester. His parents were Frank Arthur King and Ellen King. He is known to have had an older brother, George Sidney, who would also serve in the War with the London Regiment.
When he left school, Bernard finished his education in Germany and spoke the language well. He became a commercial traveller for George Wall Ltd, a local wholesale provision merchant. He was an active member of Heaton Moor Conservative Club and was the tennis secretary at the Social Club on Derby Road. In the winter, he played lacrosse for Heaton Mersey and had represented Lancashire at the sport.
He had also spent four years as a member of the Territorial Force, serving with the 6th Battalion, Manchester Regiment. However, it would seem that he must have left the Manchesters before the War as he was not mobilised with them in August 1914. He enlisted, on 11 September, into the 20th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers - one of the so-called "Public Schools" Battalions of the Regiment - and was given 5169 as his service number. Two weeks later, he was promoted to Corporal.
His enlistment papers still exist at the National Archives and these show him to have been just short of 6' tall and weighing 174 pounds, with a 39" chest. He had a fresh complexion, brown eyes and light hair. Bernard had given his religious denomination as Church of England and, locally, the family had worshipped at St Thomas ‘ Church.
The Royal Fusiliers seems to have been quickly recognised by young middle class men that it could serve as a "fast track" for them to complete their army basic training and then become officers. Bernard was no exception and, on 19 November, whilst with "A" Company, training at Leatherhead, he applied for a commission. He started his officer training on 9 January 1915 and had completed it by late March. He left Britain on the 22nd, joining the Battalion in France the next day.
The Battle of the Somme had opened on 1 July and many Manchester battalions had their baptism of fire that day. The 12th Battalion was held in reserve during the first week but, on the 7th, they would also go into action.
There had been successes around the village of Mametz on 1 July and a German stronghold known as the Quadrilateral had been subsequently captured. The next objective was a trench known as Quadrilateral Support. This ran between Mametz Wood and the nearby village of Contalmaison.
There seems to have been a chaotic attempt to capture the position during the night of the 6/7th but this had failed. A renewed attempt by the 12th Battalion was ordered for 8am. In the 1920s, Major Thompson described the attack for the Battalion's History (recently republished by the Regimental Archives):
"The route to the assembly point was under constant shell fire and we lost some men but eventually the Battalion formed up in good order. At 8.00am our barrage ceased, "D" and "B" Companies moved forward, followed by "C" Company. "A" Company was held back until the others got well forward. The steadiness of the men was wonderful and they went over in as good a line as if on parade, although as soon as the advance started, they were subjected to very heavy shelling and machine gun fire. As our barrage had ceased, they had no shelter whatsoever and had a distance of 700 yards to cross. As soon as the first three Companies showed themselves on the ridge overlooking the trench, they were met by a withering fire and were mown down in great numbers. The same fate awaited "A" Company. In a few seconds, hardly any of us were on our feet. The casualties were very numerous."
200 men were dead, including Bernard, Arthur Gaskell and Harry Hill.