Son of Charles James Smith of family owning business William Smith & Sons, Barnard Castle. Had brother Billy who was turned down for military service on grounds of ill-health. His sister Molly was studying music in Brussels at the outbreak of war and had to be hastily evacuated to England where she was involved in helping Belgian refugee families in Barnard Castle. His future brother-in-law Billy Peacock had served in France with the army and returned with a badly-wounded leg that affected his mobility or the rest of his life. His aunt Mary Alice Smith organised local Girl Guides to prepare swabs for hospitals and also organised collection of sphagnum moss from Bowes Moor for possible use on war wounds. Bernard was related through the Smith family with William Errington of Brignall.
Had studied at Ushaw College near Durham to be Roman Catholic priest but found he did not have vocation. Worked on farm in Canada but had returned home by 1912 and worked for family business. In Territorials at outbreak of war. Rejected for service overseas because of poor eyesight. As Sergeant, was stationed at Bishop Auckland for the duration of the war. Married daughter of Captain Shearwood, a recruiting officer, with whom he worked in Bishop Auckland.