Our war memorials | RBS Remembers

RBS remembers 1914-1918


Our war memorials

Unveiling of Ulster Bank's First World War memorial, 1925. The memorial is visible in the background, surrounded with laurel leaves. © RBS

 

In the immediate aftermath of the 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. 

Almost all our British constituent banks erected memorials as a way of expressing remembrance of – and pride in – lost colleagues. They became symbols of the banks' bonds with their own staff, with local communities and with the families of colleagues who had died.

 

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 was keen 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 worked.

By November 1919, just one year after the signing of the Armistice, 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 one or more name panels, as required. In the ensuing months these plaques were prepared and distributed to each branch from which a man (or 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 spouse 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: The 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.

Nearly all our banks’ head office war memorials were placed in public lobbies, where the remembrance of those who had been lost was publicly and proudly shared with the wider community, including relatives who came to view the memorial. These busy places were the heart of each bank – the shared space that staff, customers and visitors all passed through. The Royal Bank of Scotland took this principal one step further, by building its memorial above and around a fireplace, traditionally the heart of a home. A few doors away at 42 St Andrew Square, National Bank of Scotland did the same.

Above the fireplace, the Royal Bank’s memorial has a stone panel giving the names of the Fallen. Above that, a figure in bas relief representing Sacrifice stands in front of a war-torn landscape. Finally, at the top, a garland of poppies and laurel leaves arches over the whole memorial.

 

Comments

 

Roger July 23 2014 3:14PM

There was one of these plaques held in the safe at Spring Gardens Branch in the 1990's, and upon the branches original closure, it was dispatched to archives. It's a shame so many of these are no longer in place, it was certainly a reminder of what the men of The Great War had gone through to preserve our way of life.


 

Adam Brown July 24 2014 1:26PM

I'm surprised the striking Commercial Bank of Scotland Memorial, now in 36 St Andrew Square, doesn't get a mention with it's decoration of the flags of the Allies at the top. The Highlander in the middle of the Ulster Bank memorial unveiling photograph is Drum Major Walter Ritchie VC of 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. He had no Belfast connection as far as I'm aware but his battalion was stationed in Belfast at the time this photograph was taken


 

RBS Remembers team July 24 2014 5:51PM

The war memorials from Spring Gardens branch were moved to the chapel at NatWest's former conference centre and later to the bank's archives. During 2013 a project was undertaken to return some 50 war memorial plaques we then held in safe storage to display in appropriate branches, in the communities where the staff they commemorate once lived and worked. We believe the plaque you recall is now back on display in Manchester City Centre branch in Spring Gardens, just where it should be.


 

RBS Remembers team July 24 2014 5:53PM

We were interested to learn the identity of one of the uniformed people in the photograph of the unveiling of the Ulster Bank war memorial and an explanation of why he might have been there. Thank you.


 

Gavin Bamford July 24 2014 7:37PM

It is important that all War Memorials and / or Rolls of Honour are displayed in places that are accessible and known to the public. As the centenary approaches, we must be certain that none are in storage.


 

jo shubrook September 09 2014 11:25AM

the National War Memorial Arbouretum in Alrewas has a section to hold memorials that can no longer be displayed due to the company closing / building been taken down etc


 

Will Jensen October 27 2014 3:25PM

To reply to Roger. I am a member of branch staff at Manchester City Centre and can confirm the plaques have now been restored in our banking hall. We also now have some pictures and information about the staff who served at our predecessor.


 

Jim November 11 2014 11:44AM

In Princes Street in London we have beautiful Smiths Bank memorials both in our lobby, and also in our main reception area. However there is one memorial on our first floor i.e. not on display to the general public. With the Branch currently going/gone through a renovation perhaps it would be a good oportunity to relocate it to a place where it can be displayed proudly along with the others. Finally, congratulations and thanks to the RBS Remembers Team for the work to locate and re-instate these vital pieces of history.


 

RBS Remembers team November 12 2014 3:01PM

Hi Jim, that memorial was originally in Westminster Bank's Lombard Street office, and was moved to Princes Street when the Lombard Street building closed in the 1990s. If we were doing it today, we wouldn't choose the same location - as you say, it would be much better in a public area - but we have to weigh that against the risk (however careful you are) when you move a large marble memorial of this kind. It is a difficult judgement, and I can assure you that it has been considered, but that's why the memorial has so far stayed in its current location.


 

Stuart Nicholson February 01 2016 2:54PM

From the local newspapers I know there was a memorial to Harold Gardner at Parrs Bank, Whitehaven. I am compilling a list of all Whitehaven memorials for the Imperial War Museum War Memorials Register. Can you advise if this is in the RBS Archives, and are you able to provide me with an image of it, please. It was installed in November or December 1919. The same request applies to one for Fred Patman, from Whitehaven but working at the Warrington office when he enlisted so the memorial was apparently there.


 

RBS Remembers team February 02 2016 12:56PM

Stuart, thanks for your query. London County Westminster & Parr's made memorials for each of its Fallen, but unfortunately they haven't all survived; some were lost or destroyed when branches closed or moved in later decades, particularly the 1960s/70s. The former Parr's Bank in Whitehaven closed in 1974. We have no record of what happened to its memorial, so sadly have to conclude it’s one of the lost ones. Patman’s memorial was in Warrington Winwick St branch, which closed late last year. We're due to reinstall it nearby in Warrington Sankey St branch but first we're taking the opportunity to give it a good (conservationally correct) clean. We can let you know when it's back on show.


 

DOUG ROWE August 23 2016 8:38PM

I am seeking to trace a Bank Memorial, if one existed, for the London Branch of the Manchester and Liverpool District Banking Company. In 1924 this became the District Bank and then part of Nat Prov Bank in 1962. (Now part of RBS). The man I am seeking is Stanley Neville who died in 1918 as Captain in the Essex Regiment. Can you help me at all please?  

 


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