Harry George King was born in Somerset in December 1894, one of nine children to John and Sarah King. John worked as a cabinet maker in Wells, and Harry followed in a similar vein to his father, becoming an upholsterer.
When war broke out, Harry – who stood at 5’3″ (1.6m) tall – enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Cook’s Mate. He trained on HMS Victory I in Portsmouth, before transferring to the HMV Vernon, a land-based ship, also in Portsmouth.
While on leave in 1917, Harry married Alice Trickey, who had also been born in Wells.
Harry’s first sea-going assignment was on the HMS Hermione, which was a guard ship off the Southampton coast. After two years on board, Cook’s Mate King was transferred to another vessel.
The HMS Glatton was a monitor vessel requisitioned by the Royal Navy from the Norwegian fleet at the outbreak of the First World War. After a lengthy refit, she was finally ready for service in the autumn of 1918, and positioned in Dover in preparation for a future offensive across the Channel.
At 6:15 on the evening of 16 September, there was a small explosion in a 6-inch magazine below decks, which then ignited the cordite stored there. Flames shot through the roof of one of the turrets and started to spread. The fire was not able to be brought under control, and there were concerns that, if the ship’s rear magazine exploded, the presence of the ammunition ship Gransha only 150 yards (140 m) away risked a massive explosion that would devastate Dover itself. The decision was taken to torpedo the Glatton, in the hope that the incoming flood water would quash the fire.
In the event, sixty men aboard the Glatton were killed outright, with another 124 men injured, of whom 19 died later of their injuries. This included Cook’s Mate King.
While the incident wasn’t reported in the media of the time, Harry’s funeral was; it gives a little more insight into the tragedy.
News reached Wells… that 1st Class Cook’s Mate Harry George King… was lying in a hospital at Dover suffering from severe burns caused through an internal explosion on the ship on which he was serving. His wife (…to whom he was married 12 months ago) and his sister at once proceeded to the hospital, where they arrived only a few minutes before he died.
The unfortunate young man had sustained shocking injuries and was conscious for only two hours on Friday. He lost all his belongings in the explosion.Wells Journal: Friday 27th September 1918.
Harry George King was only 27 years old when he died. He lies at rest in Wells Cemetery, Somerset.
Harry’s widow, Alice, did not remarry; the couple had not had any children, and she passed away in their home town of Wells, in January 1974.