Humphrey Stuart King M.C. was the younger son of Reverend John King, M.A., Rector of Crook, Co. Durham, and Louise Maude King née Sadgrove of Stockton-on-Tees, and the nephew of the Rev. James King of St Mary’s, Berwick. Both his father and uncle were graduates of Durham University. Humphrey King was born at Crook in 1892. His siblings were Monica, Frederick William (d. 1903), Maude Sadgrove, Reginald John L’Ecuyer, Isobel Eleonie, Millicent Louise and Helena.
In the 1911 census King is recorded as a student and resident at Darlington Grammar School, known as the Philip Wood Grammar School in recognition of its then inspirational headmaster. (The School became known as the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and is now a Sixth Form College.) Following his father and his elder brother Reginald (B.A., 1910) he became a student at Durham University, matriculating in the Epiphany term of 1912. Like his brother he was a member of Hatfield Hall and features in a photograph of Hatfield Hall Trial Fours crew, rowing on the River Wear near Baths Bridge in 1913 (MIA 1/211: centre figure). He graduated with a B.A. (in litteris antiquis) in June 1914, and intended to go on to obtain a Licentiate in Theology in order to pursue a career in the church, like his father, uncle and brother, but the war intervened.
King joined the Army in September the same year, joining the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. He was commissioned a temporary second lieutenant in May 1915, serving then with the same battalion before being posted in March 1916 to join the 2nd Battalion in France but which was then immediately deployed to Salonika as part of the 84th Brigade, 28th Division, XVI Corps of British Salonika Force. In June 1917, while in Salonika, the publication of his award of military cross in the London Gazette states that he still then held the rank of temporary second lieutenant. He had been appointed temporary lieutenant in July 1916, and was promoted to captain after winning his medal.
Humphrey Stuart King remained with the 2nd Battalion for the remainder of his military career. Initially on arrival in Greece, King, alongside the remainder of the battalion, spent two and a half months engaged in building access roads from Salonika (now Thessaloniki) to Likovan (now Xylopoli). The battalion moved to the Dojran front before becoming part of the Divisional Reserve in August 1916. The 2nd Battalion’s records do not provide any detail as to how King won his military cross, and so by the timing of the award we can only surmise that King was involved in the action on the Struma front in September and October 1916 when the 2nd Battalion was involved in a serious engagement against the Bulgarian Army. As Brigadier H. R. Sandilands notes in his preface to The Fifth in the Great War (1938), “There are to be found in the London Gazette many notable actions by members of the Fifth during the period 1914-18 of which, owing to no indication being given of the exact occasions on which they were performed, I have been unable to include in a general narrative.”
The 2nd Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, sailed from the port of Itea, on board the French Transport Ship “Odessa” bound for Taranto, Italy, on 26 June 1918. This ended King’s tour of duty with the Salonika Force. The battalion travelled via Ancona, Bologna, and the Gulf of Genoa to Ventimiglia before crossing the border into France. The train travelled along the French Riviera to Marseilles, through the Rhone valley to Lyons, Nevers and the outskirts of Paris before reaching its final destination at Forge-les-Eaux, just fifteen miles south of Dieppe. The Battalion there became part of the 50th Northumbrian Division.
For the first time since 1916, Captain King was able to enjoy a brief spell of home leave. Whilst on leave, Humphrey Stuart King and Josephine Wheatley were married at St Mary’s Church, Willington-on-Tyne, on 11 July 1918. The best man at the wedding was the Rev. Ernest Thompson, a graduate from St John’s College, Durham University, and a contemporary of Humphrey King. After a brief honeymoon visit to Ilkley in Yorkshire they set up home at “The View” in Marsden, South Shields. Josephine’s father was a clerk at Whitburn Colliery, which was owned by the Harton Coal Company Limited.
The 2nd Battalion’s war diary records that King re-joined his unit in France on 27 July 1918 (TNA WO 95/2836/1). Captain King was killed in action at Le Catelet on 3 October 1918. He was commanding “B” Company in what would be a successful attack on Prospect Hill, east of Gouy and Le Catelet, part of an operation in the Battle of St Quentin Canal (one of the battles of the Hindenburg Line). He is buried at Bellicourt British Cemetery, Aisne, in France.
In November 1918, a memorial service was held in the Parish Church of Crook, at which the Bishop of Durham delivered a striking tribute (Newcastle Chronicle report of 7 November 1918). A memorial window was installed to his memory by the family in Saint Andrew’s Church, Marsden, in 1921 (demolished in 1961). Captain King’s sacrifice is also commemorated in the Northumberland Fusiliers’ book of remembrance (formerly in Newcastle Cathedral and now at the regimental museum in Alnwick), on a plaque and in a book of remembrance at St Peter’s Church, Wallsend, on a plaque in the chapel of Hatfield College, on a plaque at the former Darlington Grammar School (now the Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College), and in the Durham University Roll of Service (1920). King’s brother the Rev. Reginald John L’Ecuyer King served during the war and survived.