Our First World War memorials
For their staff, banks were communities, and needed to commemorate members who had been lost in the war.
In the immediate aftermath of the First World War, communities throughout Britain were united by the impulse to erect memorials to those they had lost. Each soldier who died had belonged to multiple communities of different kinds, so as well as town and village memorials, there were memorials in schools, churches, clubs and workplaces, including most banks.
The first memorials: London County Westminster & Parr's Bank
Among our constituent banks, London County Westminster & Parr's Bank's memorial plans were the first to be unveiled, and the most ambitious. This bank had only been formed in 1918, from the merger of two of England's biggest banks: London County & Westminster Bank and Parr’s Bank. Between them they had lost nearly 550 men, about 60% coming from London County & Westminster and 40% from Parr's. The bank wanted to commemorate them all, but had to accept that the emotional connections of the Fallen, and of their surviving colleagues, were with the former banks, not the new one.
In this difficult situation, London County Westminster & Parr's became the only one of our large constituents not to have a head office memorial honouring all of its Fallen. Instead, it set out to commemorate each man in the branch or office where he had last worked.
By November 1919 template bronze plaques had been designed. They had standard wording – 'In memory of the following members of the staff of this branch who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-1918' – followed by space to insert individual name panels, as required. In the ensuing months these plaques were prepared and distributed to each branch from which men had died.
In larger offices, where the bronze plaque template was not suitable because there were too many names, marble panels were installed. Like the branch plaques, they did not mention the bank's name, referring only to 'the staff of this office'. This made it possible to use the same designs in former offices of both merged banks. The panel in London Bartholomew Lane office, formerly Parr's Bank's head office, was unveiled in September 1920. The speaker told those present that although they were now part of a new, bigger bank, 'for this afternoon, we are Parr's wholly and solely. All the men whose names cover this scroll which I am about to unveil went out as Parr's men, and as Parr’s men they died.'
The biggest memorial: National Provincial & Union Bank of England
Of all our constituent banks' memorials, the one bearing the most names was erected by National Provincial & Union Bank of England. This bank had been formed from a 1918 merger between National Provincial Bank of England and Union of London & Smiths Bank. Several smaller banks had also been acquired in 1918, making the merged bank one of Britain's so-called 'Big Five'.
National Provincial's memorial was unveiled in its London head office in 1921, and brought together the names of 415 men from its pre-merger banks who had died in the war. The bank also erected generic memorials in branches, bearing no names but worded as ‘A tribute to the 2681 members of the staff of this Bank who served in The Great War 1914-1918 and in honoured memory of the 415 who gave their lives for their country.’ In larger towns and cities, a more elaborate version of the memorial featured a panel containing the locality’s coat of arms.
Despite creating a unified memorial in its head office, National Provincial & Union Bank of England did recognise that 145 of its Fallen had worked for Union of London & Smiths Bank, and would have seen National Provincial as a competitor, not an employer. For them, it erected an additional memorial in its London Princes Street branch, formerly Union Bank’s head office. Their names also appeared on the head office memorial, but here they were listed alongside men they had known, in a place where they had worked. The name Union of London & Smiths Bank no longer officially existed, but was used one last time on this memorial.
Williams Deacon’s Bank
This Manchester bank’s memorial, unveiled in March 1921, is perhaps the most ornate of all our banks' memorials. Set within an elaborately carved oak frame, the names of the Fallen are inscribed on richly painted tiles, along with the bank branch they came from, their military rank and regiment, and brief details of cause of death. Unusually for a bank war memorial, it was originally located not in a public lobby, but in the bank’s board room.
The bank sent photographs of the memorial to each of its branches, and to the parents or wife of each of the Fallen. Our archives include letters of thanks from dozens of them; one mother wrote 'I shall count it among my treasures.'
Later memorials: Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank
The Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank were the last of our large constituents to complete their memorials. They were unveiled in 1923 and 1925 respectively, and their comparative lateness may explain why they incorporate more of the words and symbols we still associate with remembrance today. These traditions formed very rapidly in the years after the end of the First World War, and were much more familiar by 1923 than they had been just three years earlier.
Both memorials use the phrase 'Their name liveth for evermore', the inscription chosen by Rudyard Kipling for the Stones of Remembrance in Commonwealth War Grave sites. Ulster Bank's memorial also quotes Laurence Binyon’s 1914 poem 'For the Fallen', which became an established part of Remembrance ceremonies in the 1920s. The Royal Bank's memorial is the only one from among our constituents to make prominent use of poppies. This was particularly fitting, since the memorial was unveiled by Earl Haig – a director of the bank – whose Poppy Appeal for war veterans was at the forefront of establishing the flower as a symbol of remembrance.