When people erected war memorials in the 1920s, they hoped and believed they were commemorating the war to end all wars. A generation later, those hopes were dashed. The world was again ripped apart by conflict.
The return of peace in 1945 revived the need to commemorate countless thousands of lost lives. This time, there were precedents to follow, and most memorials either added to, or were designed in sympathy with, existing First World War memorials.
The Royal Bank of Scotland created a combined memorial. Its First World War memorial had been built over a fireplace. It now built a stone plinth at the base, covering over the grate. On top, horizontal panels recorded the names of its Fallen from the Second World War.
Other banks adapted their First World War memorials to suit contemporary tastes. In the mid-1940s National Bank of Scotland rebuilt its head office, creating a modern, mid-20th century working environment. Its First World War memorial had been built into the fabric of the building, making it hard to move, but its style was also incongruous with the new building. The bank decided to leave behind its elaborate surround and keep only the simple name panel at its heart. The panel was also remade, so that it would match exactly a new panel for the Second World War.
In London, Westminster Bank’s Lothbury building was one of the offices that had erected a marble panel after the First World War, naming over 40 men who had worked there and lost their lives. In 1950, the bank replaced it with a new memorial, engraved into the stone wall of the banking hall, naming all the Fallen of both World Wars who had worked in the building.
More recent decades
The people who built war memorials in the 1920s 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.’
As the decades passed, however, ‘we who knew them’ became fewer and fewer. The last bank men who’d worked side-by-side with the Fallen of the First World War retired in the mid-1960s. With them gone, it was inevitable that the memorials would come to be seen in a different light.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the banking sector underwent a series of mergers. Thousands of bank branches all over the country closed, were refurbished or moved to new premises. Many memorial plaques were taken down in this process and sent to head office for safe keeping. Others, almost certainly, were lost or destroyed.
More recently, public attitudes have shifted again. An awareness has grown of the importance of remembering, not because of a direct personal link, but because it is part of who we are. In recent years The Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest have worked hard to restore all surviving memorials to the communities in which they belong. Now, as we reach the landmark of 100 years since the First World War, the Bank is committed to maintaining and sharing with wider communities the more than 300 war memorials in its care.