War memorials in later decades

The significance of war memorials has changed for each succeeding generation.

The people who built war memorials after the First and Second World Wars envisaged them standing for all time. They believed they were building them at least as much for future generations as for their own. At one unveiling ceremony in 1920, the speaker remarked, ‘We have placed their names on this tablet so that those who come after may read, but we ourselves, we who knew them, need no scroll, no monument, to keep their deeds fresh in our memories.’

Across the generations since the first of those memorials was unveiled, however, the public relationship with Remembrance has shifted and altered. During the second half of the twentieth century in particular, the banking sector saw major changes. There were numerous mergers, growing staff numbers and a reshaping of the dynamic between workers and their colleagues and employers. On a more tangible level, bank branches all over the country closed, moved or underwent major remodelling. In that process, many memorial plaques were taken down and sent to head office for safe keeping. Others were lost or destroyed.

Even very large, prominent memorials were sometimes affected by these changes. One of our predecessors, Williams Deacon’s Bank, built a new head office in the 1960s. Rather than transfer its existing memorials to the new building, it decided to create a new combined memorial in a modern style, more sympathetic with the new surroundings. The old memorials were put into storage and, over time, forgotten. 

The original First World War memorial was rediscovered in 2011. To a new generation’s eyes, what had seemed dated in the 1960s now showed extraordinary beauty and authenticity. Its sister-memorial from the Second World War was rediscovered five years later and, following conservation work to reverse the effects of decades in storage, they were reunited on display in our Manchester office in 2017.  

By the 2010s, the bank was storing a substantial number of branch war memorials that had been taken down from their original locations when branches closed or moved over the past 50 years. In the latter part of that timespan, however, attitudes to Remembrance had shifted again, and there was a growing awareness, both in the bank and in society at large, of the importance of commemoration. The bank adopted a war memorials policy, to ensure that memorials would be treated with proper care throughout premises changes, moving them with us wherever possible. 

In addition, although good care had been taken of the memorials in storage, it was now recognised that it was much better for them to be on display, where they could be seen by relatives, colleagues and the local community. Since 2013 the bank has worked to put memorials back on public display in its buildings, whenever it was practicable to do so in or near the community where the memorial was originally placed. In addition, since 2020, all 300+ of our memorials, including the small number that are held in the bank’s archives, have been accessible digitally on this site.