Most of the men from our banks who died in the war were in their mid-20s or younger, and unmarried. Some, however, left wives and children. Caring for them became a concern of the men’s former employers and colleagues.
The Bank Clerks’ Orphanage was founded in 1883 to care for children of bankers who died or became unable to work through illness or injury. Despite its name, it was never an actual orphanage; instead, it gave grants to pay for beneficiaries’ education. It was paid for through subscriptions from bank workers, as well as donations from the banks. In addition, staff sports days and theatrical shows were often held to raise extra funds.
The war brought a huge increase in demand for the Orphanage’s services, while simultaneously causing a reduction in income. There was less time available for charity fundraising events, and subscriptions tailed off as clerks went overseas with the army. By 1917 the Orphanage was desperate for funds, and in that year (and the next) all the banks agreed to double their donations.
The Orphanage remained severely stretched, not least because the cost of education – like so many things – rose sharply in the period. At Christmas 1920 the staff magazine of London County Westminster & Parr’s Bank implored staff to donate: ‘Surely this would be a very practical way of honouring the memory of our fallen colleagues, many of whose children are today receiving the benefits of the Orphanage.’
Ernest Buckeridge of The National Bank was one of those colleagues. He was killed in France in 1917, leaving a 4-year-old son, Anthony. Anthony Buckeridge received a scholarship from the Bank Clerks’ Orphanage which paid for his education at Seaford College. He grew up to become a popular writer, and drew on his time as a boarder at Seaford in his much-loved series of books for children about the adventures of schoolboy Jennings.
Some banks made benevolent arrangements of their own. London County Westminster & Parr’s Bank established a War Memorial Fund in January 1919, in memory of employees who died in the war. Its capital of £100,000 provided an annual income of £5,000, which was disbursed in grants to former clerks whose war injuries prevented them from working, and to the children of clerks who had been killed or incapacitated.
Throughout the 1920s demand was high. Each year, payments were made to around 80 children and 7-10 former clerks. Payments were larger for older children, which meant that as the cohort grew up, the costs increased. Children left the scheme when they started work or turned 17, but new children continued to be admitted as late as 1929, because their fathers had died of illnesses attributable to their war service.
In the 1930s the number of eligible cases began to subside. It was not until 1936, however – 18 years after the war had ended – that the fund’s resources finally exceeded demand.