Rolls of honour during the First World War

Banks wanted to remember staff who were away on active service, or who had been killed.

Pride and remembrance

By 1915 it was clear that the Great War was not going to be over quickly. Thousands of bank workers were already away on military service, and more were joining up each week. Many were young men who, until recently, had been looked upon by older colleagues as mere lads. Now they were risking their lives for their country, and the banks were tremendously proud of them.

When news of colleagues' deaths began to arrive, banks wanted to honour them. At Parr's Bank, for example, the first staff death was reported in November 1914. The board adopted a formal resolution: 'The directors have learned with great regret that Lieutenant Robert Horridge, 4th Battalion Manchester Regiment, a member of the staff of the bank, has been killed in action, and they desire to record their appreciation of his devotion to his Country and their sincere sympathy with his relatives.'

At first, reports came one by one. Eleven men from our banks were killed in 1914, and a similar number in the first 3 months of 1915. Soon, however, the numbers began mounting rapidly. Banks wanted a public way to remember the men they had lost, and started producing rolls of honour.

Rolls of honour took a variety of forms. Some appeared in staff magazines. The Journal of the Institute of Bankers and the Bankers' Magazine also published lists, but the information they gathered was patchy at best. Notification of deaths usually came from family members. It was often delayed, and details of rank and regiment could be out of date, so the wartime rolls of honour contained many errors.

Some banks placed their rolls of honour in newspaper notices or printed annual reports. Lists were displayed, and sometimes read out, at bank annual general meetings.  

As time went by, most banks came to focus on the Fallen in their wartime rolls of honour, but Ulster Bank continued to place a strong emphasis on all its men who were serving. This difference may arise from the fact that conscription was never put into effect in Ireland, meaning that all the Ulster Bank men who served were truly volunteers, whereas in the rest of the British Isles many of the men who 'volunteered' would otherwise have been conscripted.

Whatever the reason, in 1917 Ulster Bank commissioned a roll of honour to be displayed in the general office of its building in Waring Street, Belfast. It took the form of an elaborately carved oak frame with three brass panels displaying the names of all staff on active service, in order of joining up. The names of those who had fallen were annotated with their death dates. From the outset, the roll was intended for permanent display, and indeed it is the only one of our banks' displayed wartime rolls of honour (as opposed to memorials, which came later) to have survived to this day. It is still on display in the foyer of Ulster Bank's Belfast head office.

Whatever form the banks' wartime rolls of honour took, their compilers did their best with limited information. After the end of the war they reviewed, corrected and completed the details, and used them to create more lasting memorials. In so doing they took rolls of honour, which the wartime generation had created for itself, and turned them into war memorials, which they created for generations yet to come.