This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Massachusetts.
William Joseph King was born in late 1892/early 1893 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Little is known about his family or his early life. On 4 January 1916, he married Josephine Freeman at the Borough Hall in Brooklyn, New York. His wife was a professional singer, who performed under the name ‘Dolly Grey’. King worked as a car salesman in New York, while his wife pursued her stage career in the United States and in South America.
King enlisted into the Royal Flying Corps as a cadet in Toronto on 24 September 1917. After his ground training at No.4 School of Military Aeronautics at the University of Toronto, he travelled to Texas where he learned to fly.
While King was in Texas, in early 1918, his wife sailed for Panama on a six-month theatrical contract—she would not see her husband again.
At Hicks Field (Camp Taliaferro Field No. 1), on the afternoon of 28 January 1918, King was flying with an instructor, Second Lieutenant William Sutherland MacDonald, in a Curtis JN4 of No. 1 Air Gunnery Squadron undertaking gunnery practice. At 3.00pm the aircraft collided in cloud with another JN4, piloted by Cadet R W Simpson, whose instructor was Second Lieutenant John James Hickey. Both aircraft crashed. King and MacDonald were killed instantly and Hickey and Simpson were injured—the former seriously. King’s remains were returned home and he was buried in Saint Paul’s Cemetery, Arlington; his grave is alongside Luke Path, which runs along the north-west side of the cemetery, in Grave 68. Second Lieutenant MacDonald was buried in Hamilton Cemetery, Ontario.
King’s wife returned to the United States in February 1918. After his death, she continued to perform, most notably in a short stage show, ‘A Girl’s Weight’, with her partner Bert Byron. They were described as ‘bright talkers and clever dancers’ in ‘…an act that enabled them to win instant favor.’ The couple married in 1918.
Cadet King is commemorated on page 589 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 20 December. Both Cadet King and Second Lieutenant MacDonald are commemorated on the Royal Flying Corps & Royal Air Force memorial in Greenwood Cemetery, Fort Worth.
1. (Back) Josephine R. Freeman, aka ‘Dolly Grey’ (also widely shown as ‘Gray’) (29 June 1895-NK) was born in San Francisco, California.
2. (Back) There is no indication of the relationship between King and the grave’s owner and other occupant, Elizabeth J. Smith, who died in 1933. Inexplicably, his grave shows his date of death as 27 January 1918.