Ernest Corkish

Ernest wanted to marry his fiancée before he went to the Front, but needed his employer's permission to do so.

Ernest Corkish was born in Douglas, Isle of Man, on 11 July 1889, the son of Edward Corkish, a policeman, and his wife Eleanor. He had two brothers and three sisters.

On 4 October 1905 he started work at Isle of Man Bank. After four years as an apprentice he became a clerk at Peel branch. He later moved to head office, where he was described as ‘a capable bank clerk, steady, reliable and quite trustworthy, very willing and industrious.’

The First World War broke out in August 1914. The following February the bank granted Ernest permission to join the army, and he left to begin his training. He continued to receive half-pay from the bank in addition to his army wage.

In May 1916, while Ernest was still training in England, he received news that his brother Edward, four years his junior, had been wounded in France. Ernest himself was due to be posted overseas within weeks, and this news must have brought home to him the dangers he would face. He became anxious to marry his fiancée Dorothy Haben before he went.

Dorothy was 21 years old. She had been born and raised on the Isle of Man, where her mother ran a boarding house, but the outbreak of war in 1914 had stopped the usual flow of tourists and other visitors to the Island, and Mrs Haben’s boarding house – like many others – had closed. By 1916, Dorothy and her mother were living in Birkenhead.

The difficulty for Ernest and Dorothy was that most banks – including Isle of Man Bank – required clerks on lower salaries to obtain permission before marrying. The banks wanted to prevent clerks from having families before they could afford to support them. In Isle of Man Bank, the threshold was £120 a year. Ernest’s salary was only £90.

Ernest wanted to visit the bank to make his case in person, but his application for army leave was refused. Instead he wrote to the bank, explaining that in addition to his half-salary from the bank, his wife would receive 12s 6d a week from the army, and between them he and his fiancée had about £110 savings. Thanks to her mother’s former boarding house, Dorothy already had all the furniture they’d need to set up house together.

Unsure how to respond, Isle of Man Bank sought advice from the general manager of a bigger bank, Bank of Liverpool. He replied that permission should certainly be denied, and that if Corkish proceeded regardless, he should be made to resign. ‘On the surface this may seem harsh,’ the manager wrote, ‘but it would be the truest kindness both to the man and his fiancée.’ Acting on this advice, the bank wrote to Ernest Corkish, refusing him permission to marry.

Ernest and Dorothy discussed the likely consequence of their defiance, and decided they could manage without this ‘truest kindness’. They were married on Saturday 1 July 1916 at St Catherine’s Church in Birkenhead. Even as they were celebrating, across the Channel the British Army was suffering the most shocking, and bloodiest, day in its history. Nearly 20,000 of its men were killed on this, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Some days later, the bank heard of Ernest’s marriage, and wrote to him demanding an explanation. Ernest tried several times to get leave to go to the bank and explain his actions in person, but his requests continued to be denied. On 27 July he wrote to the bank acknowledging that he had knowingly broken the rules, and tendering his resignation. He asked the bank to debit from his account all the half-salary he had received since joining the army, ‘as under the circumstances I am not entitled to it.’ He concluded, ‘I…feel sure that had I been granted leave to speak to you personally, things would have been different.’

Ernest Corkish went on to serve on the Western Front, and was awarded the Military Medal and the Croix de Guerre for his conduct. The bank retained a high opinion of him – in December 1918 the manager wrote him a reference, emphasising that ‘If we had a position to offer him just now, I would have no hesitation in recommending the directors to take him back into the service.’

His name does not appear again in the bank’s archives.