Many men who went to the war from our banks received decorations for gallantry in the course of their military service. London County Westminster & Parr’s Bank, the largest of our constituent banks, saw nearly 300 awards granted to around 250 men, including 44 Military Medals and 11 Distinguished Conduct Medals awarded to men in the ranks; 94 Military Crosses and 9 Distinguished Service Orders to officers; and 15 Meritorious Service Medals to non-commissioned officers.
Some received medals from the governments of foreign allies, so the lists of staff medals include French, Belgian, Italian, Russian and Serbian decorations. In the case of the French medals, some were awarded to men serving in the French army itself. The rest were for actions performed in the course of service in the British army. Most were granted for gallant conduct, but Belgium’s Médaille du Roi Albert, awarded to TL Barry, was for those who gave humanitarian support to Belgians during the war.
I think every man who comes through this deserves a decoration
Jack Best of London County & Westminster Bank’s Worthing branch, letter, 1916
Some men who went from our banks found in the army the beginning of a career path that suited them better than anything the bank could have offered. One was Frederick Prickett. Before the war he was a boy-messenger at London County & Westminster Bank’s Foreign branch. He volunteered at the outbreak of war, initially as a Private in the London Regiment. He quickly distinguished himself on active service, earning a commission in the Durham Light Infantry and rising to the rank of Captain by 1916. After the war he went as a Major on the British military mission to Russia in 1919, serving as a gun instructor. By 1920 he held an OBE, a Military Cross, and was an officer of the Russian Orders of Saint Stanislaus and St Anne. That year, he returned to his former bank, not as a messenger, but to deliver a lecture on his recent military experiences.
One of our men was among the 627 who received the highest British honour for valour, the Victoria Cross, during the First World War. David Stuart McGregor of our constituent Commercial Bank of Scotland was a tailor’s son, who started work for the bank as an apprentice in 1911. During the war he rose to the rank of Lieutenant in the Royal Scots. On 22 October 1918, amid the chaotic fighting that characterised the last few weeks of the war, Lieutenant McGregor exposed himself to fierce enemy fire in order to move a gun into a position where it could fire on the enemy. According to his Victoria Cross citation, ‘his great gallantry and supreme devotion to duty were the admiration of all ranks.’ Like a quarter of wartime Victoria Cross recipients, McGregor was killed performing the act for which the medal was granted. He died on 22 October 1918, aged 23.
Bank workers were immensely proud of their colleagues’ achievements, and staff magazines often reported the latest awards. Bank chairmen also remarked upon them at shareholders’ annual general meetings.