Upon joining the army, men were thrown into a wholly new environment, serving alongside strangers from very different backgrounds, with unfamiliar habits and strange accents. Although they quickly got to know their immediate comrades, army life meant moving around, working with men from many different units. It was a big change from life in a bank, where clerks would see the same faces and perform the same routines every day.
I took a burial service the night before last over one of our people who was hit by a shell. I could not help thinking that this was a somewhat strange thing for an essentially peaceful bank clerk to be doing, 'mais c'est la guerre'.
Second Lieutenant DM Greig, writing to his bank colleagues at Norwood branch, summer 1915
In such circumstances, men were often delighted to bump into a pre-war colleague, whether they knew each other personally or not. One clerk from London County & Westminster Bank’s Shoreditch branch remarked: ‘when one comes across a County & Westminster man there is a kind of masonic friendship at once. Quite by chance I found one of our men from Cranbrook in the next mess to me…’ Another clerk from Aldershot described his recent transfer to the Machine Gun Section, and the news that he had met ‘one of our men from Catford branch.’
The comfort of familiar faces was never more important than when a man was injured. Ulster Bank's staff magazine in June 1917 carried the story of three such encounters in the experience of Bob Gilmour, a bank man who'd been wounded in France. First, the Serjeant who helped him off the battlefield after his wounding was an Ulster Bank colleague. Next, the doctor who saw him at the field hospital was a customer of the branch where he'd worked, and recognised him from behind the counter. Finally, the nursing home to which he was sent in Dublin was very close to that branch, Dublin Pembroke.
Such chance meetings were less likely for Victor Jacon, of the same bank’s London Foreign branch. He was a Frenchman, and returned to his home country to join the army at the outbreak of war. He seems to have missed England, and his English friends. In one letter to his former colleagues, he wrote ‘the next few days I will have occasion to see some of your Tommies, and you may think that it will afford me great pleasure to have a talk about old England with them. All my colleagues only call me the ‘English friend’, and you may be sure I am one of them.’