Getting back to work | RBS Remembers

RBS remembers 1914-1918


Getting back to work

Much had changed in the banks to which the demobilised men returned; Manchester & County Bank's Bolton Deansgate branch, c.1920 © RBS

 

Even after demobilisation, the process of returning to work was not straightforward. Men had been transformed by the war, but so had the workplaces they’d left behind. For one thing, men and women were now working side-by-side in banks. For those who’d stayed behind, this momentous change had happened gradually, and in extreme circumstances. It must have been a much stranger experience for men who had been expecting to return to a familiar old environment. Nevertheless, this particular change brought benefits. These men were the first generation of bank clerks who could potentially find a wife at work, and quite a number of them did.

The nature of the work had changed, too. Some traditional procedures had been abandoned, while new regulations had increased paperwork in other areas. For bank clerks, whose professional expertise was built upon the ability to follow procedures by the book, the changes must have been alarming.

In June 1919 one staff magazine carried a tongue-in-cheek account of a returning soldier’s shock. On being shown around his old office, William is astonished to learn that his colleagues no longer complete ‘Daily Return of Cash on Hand, Returned Transactions, Summary of Return, Summary of Deposits, and twenty more – old friends.’ He declares that he understood it when the enemy wounded him on the battlefield, ‘but I did not know he was playing the devil with my old job.’

‘I wish I had stopped in the army’, he says, ‘they had beautiful forms in the army, with all sorts of numbers on them, and however many you used you never got any forrarder…’

Then, however, his colleague takes him to look in the drawer containing all the new forms. His eyes light up: ‘what a delightful lot of new forms, and what nice numbers, and all different colours – shall I be allowed to use them?’

The article is, of course, a joke at the expense of bank clerks’ love of procedure, and the added bureaucracy of war conditions, but it also makes a serious point. The jobs these men came back to were not the jobs they’d left behind.

For the colleagues welcoming them back, the joy was tinged with sadness. The same staff magazine noted that the return of familiar faces served as a reminder of those who had been lost: ‘never, probably, so clearly as now, have memories come to us of those who will never brighten our sportsground and our offices again.’

For all that, however, demobilisation was a cause for celebration. In 1920 the staff of London County Westminster & Parr’s Bank’s large Lombard Street office held a celebration dinner, which was intended to mark the anniversary, not of peace, but of their demobilisation – their ‘return to civil life’. On that occasion they resolved to make it an annual event for as long as any of them lived, although the archives don’t reveal how long the tradition actually continued. 

 


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