The war generation - later lives | RBS Remembers

RBS remembers

The war generation - later lives

Some of the men from our banks who fought in the First World War and retired in the late 1950s © RBS


Although the war affected everyone who lived through it, the most extreme impact fell upon the men who were in their 20s during those years. The vast majority of the Fallen from our banks were in that age range, and for those who survived and came home, the experiences of 1914-1918 remained deeply significant. The after-effects continued to shape the rest of their lives, marking these men out as a unique and extraordinary generation.

Some men decided not to come back to banking, having had their horizons broadened by war experiences. For those who did, the banks had promised to keep their pre-war jobs open, and prospects for further advancement were good. They were no longer competing against contemporaries who had left to pursue careers elsewhere or, more terribly, against the many who had not come back at all. Even among bank employees themselves, demographics had changed in these men’s favour. Some of the women who’d been taken on as wartime cover stayed after the war, but it would be many decades before they were considered on equal terms for career advancement. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was expected that most of them would stick to clerical work, leaving management opportunities to the men.

The banks were also expanding, and changing the way they did business. Some opened overseas branches. They were largely staffed by men who had served in the war, partly because they were young and had no dependants, and partly because the war had given them a glimpse of life abroad, or even an opportunity to learn a foreign language.

It could take years in a bank to demonstrate management potential, but many men came back from military service with indisputable records of leadership. This affected the way they were seen, by themselves and by others, and helped them to progress towards more senior roles.

Other benefits of war service were more unexpected. Westminster Bank’s chief accountant in the 1940s, who spearheaded the banks mechanisation initiatives, attributed the beginning of his interest in machines to his time as a Lewis gun instructor in the First World War.

There were, of course, terrible repercussions for this generation too. The lasting psychological effects of their wartime experiences are impossible to calculate, but many were left with permanent physical disabilities, such as missing limbs or impaired vision. Others had sustained wounds that had ostensibly healed, but caused them chronic pain or susceptibility to infection for the rest of their lives.

This generation was called upon once more to make a vital contribution between 1939 and 1945. Now in their 40s and 50s, men who had served as young soldiers in the First World War held positions of authority in all sectors, from politics and the military to industry and the press. Most bank managers during the Second World War had served as young men in the First World War. Now, too old for normal military service, they joined the Home Guard in their thousands, keen – like Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army – to help defend their country. Meanwhile, at work, they helped their banks to revive old wartime procedures first devised a generation earlier, including blackout practices, careful conservation of supplies and management of inexperienced temporary staff. On top of it all, this was the generation that saw their own sons go off to fight. Many men who had survived the First World War lost sons in the Second.

This generation retired, aged around 60, in the 1950s. For those who had risen to branch or department management, there was usually a retirement notice, complete with career summary, in the staff magazine. Page after page, almost every one includes a paragraph about what the man did 40 years earlier, in the First World War.




Sonia Sucu November 09 2014 3:38PM

Really interesting reading. Made me feel emotional, especially as my Great Grandfather was in the first world war, survived but lost his son in the second just as so many Natwest staff probably did.


S Burgess. November 08 2015 11:45AM

A very emotional yet inspiring story of the people who served in the war. I didn't realise that so many bank employees fought in the war. We tend to remember those who were called up for national service as being young boys from farms or cities, not bankers or from other professions. My grandad fought in the first world and my dad use to show us his medals he'd received. Precious memories. Thank you for sharing these memories with us.  


What's your view?

Please share your view or story on this subject for publication on this page.

You should ensure that you agree to our posting guidelines and then leave your comment, with What's your view as the email subject and the way you would like your name to appear with your message.

Please note that we review every comment before publishing it to make sure that it doesn't breach our posting guidelines so it sometimes takes a day or two for your comments to appear.

Leave your comment

Related topics

Wounded staff

Around 4,000 of our staff were wounded, either physically or mentally, by their wartime experiences.

Getting back to work

Much had changed in the banks to which the demobilised men returned.

Banking legacy

Many features of banking today can be traced back to the war years and their immediate aftermath.

Our First World War banks

In 1914 30 of the banks that were to come together to create today’s RBS were trading independently.

Case studies

John Gruchy

John was captured in 1914 and spent the rest the war imprisoned in Germany and, later, interned in Switzerland.

The Keeping brothers

Edwin, Herbert and John Keeping all worked for the same bank.

Set Tab for lightbox