Wartime rolls of honour | RBS Remembers

RBS remembers 1914-1918


Wartime rolls of honour

Detail of Ulster Bank's wartime roll of honour, still on display today in the bank's head office in Waring Street, Belfast

 

By 1915 it was clear that the war was not going to be over quickly. Thousands of bank workers were already away on military service, and more were joining up each week. Many were young men who, until recently, had been looked upon by older colleagues as mere lads. Now they were risking their lives for their country, and the banks were tremendously proud of them. One or two published lists of those who were away in uniform, but such lists went out of date before they could be printed.

When news of colleagues' deaths began to arrive, banks were keen to honour them. At Parr's Bank, for example, the first staff death was reported in November 1914. The board adopted a formal resolution: 'The directors have learned with great regret that Lieutenant Robert Horridge, 4th Battalion Manchester Regiment, a member of the staff of the bank, has been killed in action, and they desire to record their appreciation of his devotion to his Country and their sincere sympathy with his relatives.'

At first, reports came one by one. Eleven men from our banks were killed in 1914, and a similar number in the first 3 months of 1915. Soon, however, the numbers were mounting rapidly. For a while, Parr's Bank continued to adopt a board resolution in honour of each man, but they began to take up ever-larger sections of the minutes. In 1916 the directors adopted a shorter form of words for the tribute.

 

Our roll of honour has grown sadly long, and the memorial behind me to those who have fallen is no longer large enough to hold the full list of names. No less than 112 have given their lives to their country

Walter Leaf, London County & Westminster Bank's AGM, January 1917

 

Board minutes were a way to record a tribute for posterity, but few staff and no customers ever saw them. Banks wanted a more public way to remember the men they had lost, and started producing rolls of honour.

Rolls of honour took a variety of forms. Some appeared in internal staff magazines. The Journal of the Institute of Bankers and the Bankers' Magazine also published lists, but the information they gathered was patchy at best. Notification of deaths usually came from family members. It was often delayed, and details of rank and regiment could be out of date, so the wartime rolls of honour contained many errors.

Some banks placed their rolls of honour in newspaper notices or printed annual reports. Lists were displayed, and sometimes read out, at bank annual general meetings.  

As the numbers mounted, most of our constituent banks came to focus on the Fallen in their wartime rolls of honour, but Ulster Bank continued to place a strong emphasis on all its men who were serving. This difference may arise from the fact that conscription was never put into effect in Ireland, meaning that all the Ulster Bank men who served were truly volunteers, whereas in the rest of the British Isles many of the men who 'volunteered' would otherwise have been conscripted.

Whatever the reason, in 1917 Ulster Bank commissioned a roll of honour to be displayed in the general office of its building in Waring Street, Belfast, where it would be seen by both staff and customers. It took the form of an elaborately carved oak frame with three brass panels displaying the names of all staff on active service, in order of joining up. The names of those who had fallen were annotated with their death dates. From the outset, the roll was intended for permanent display, and indeed it is the only one of our banks' displayed wartime rolls of honour (as opposed to memorials, which came later) to have survived to this day. It is still on display in the foyer of Ulster Bank's Belfast head office.

Intriguingly, the Ulster Bank roll, created in 1917, was carved with the words 'Roll of Honour 1914-1919'. No records survive to explain why the designers chose this date span. We can only speculate that they foresaw the war potentially stretching on far into the future. Calculating that this first roll of honour would run out of space in 1919, perhaps they simply accepted that by 1920 they might have to commission a new one.

Whatever form the banks' wartime rolls of honour took, their compilers did their best with limited information. After the end of the war they reviewed, corrected and completed the details, and used them to create more lasting memorials. In so doing they took rolls of honour, which the wartime generation had created for itself, and turned them into war memorials, which they created for generations yet to come. 

 

 

Comments

 

Adam Brown July 24 2014 1:16PM

Are you sure the dates 1914-1919 were carved in 1917? I suggest they were carved at a later date. There's not a clear photograph of the memorial to show where it is dated though.


 

Gavin Bamford July 24 2014 4:26PM

Please advise where this memorial is situated now that the Waring Street branch has closed?


 

RBS Remembers team July 24 2014 5:26PM

We thought this was odd too, which is why we included the story here. But we do have a document in the archive dating from August 1917 that describes the memorial being commissioned with a 'carved ribbon scroll with the words ‘Roll of honour 1914-19’.' We'd be interested to know if any other organisations commissioned rolls of honour during the war that were dated in this way.


 

RBS Remembers team July 24 2014 5:28PM

The memorial that was once at Ulster Bank's Waring Street branch is now on display in the foyer of the bank's offices in Donegall Square East, Belfast.


 

Mary Howells November 11 2014 4:35PM

I think you memorial stories to those who fell are excellent. My following comment in no way detracts from what you have done, but are you able to publish a list of names of all those bank staff who joined the armed forces for the 1914-18 war, including those who survived? The latter often seem to be forgotten. My own father worked originally for the Union Bank, which eventually became part of the National Provincial Bank, and he returned to the bank after the war. He was called up in 1916 and fortunately survived the war, but his experience affected him for the rest of his life. It would be nice to see a list honouring all staff for the contributions they made.


 

RBS Remembers team November 12 2014 8:32AM

Hi Mary, thank you for your comment. I wholeheartedly agree - in preparing the site, we were struck by exactly the point you make, and that's why we included information about 'The war generation - later lives'. Sadly, we simply don't have the information in our archives to name them all. A few of our banks published rolls of honour that named all their men who served, but unfortunately not your father's bank. We don't even know for sure how many of our men served. We think it's around 10,000, and you're absolutely right that every one of them deserves to be remembered.


 

Elliott Porte November 12 2014 12:39PM

Given the interest in the First World War, the contribution made by Bank staff and genealogy, a site devoted to listing these names etc would be a wonderful contribution.


 

RBS Remembers team November 12 2014 2:34PM

Hi Elliott, we are hoping to expand this site by adding transcriptions and facsimiles of some original documents. We only have full rolls of honour for a few banks - generally relatively small ones - but they're definitely on the list of documents we want to include. Watch this space.


 

Michael Stewart November 20 2014 3:30PM

While it is good to see so much on this site regarding the Ulster Bank Roll of Honour it is extremely disappointing to see that in this very important anniversary year the Roll remains almost distinctly out of sight. As these articles refer, the Roll is placed high on an inward looking wall of the foyer of our Head Office and receives no accolade that I am aware of. Surely during this time a much more prominent position can be found.


 

Brian Mckay November 11 2016 12:12PM

Regarding the memorial dates 1914 to 1919 , this is quite common on WW1 memorials .It reflects the fact that although the war officially ended in 1918 the men continued to serve on into 1919 . It also reflects the fact that casulties were also incurred after the armistice during the clearing up operations .

 


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