The phenomenon of Pals’ Battalions began as early as August 1914, when 1,600 men volunteered in a single week for a ‘Stockbrokers’ Battalion’ of the Royal Fusiliers. In the next two years, over 600 Pals’ Battalions were formed, many from among the men of individual towns, but others from specific trades or professions.
We have worked side by side in the counting house, let us now work side by side in training for the field of battle
London County & Westminster Bank's chairman Viscount Goschen, encouraging bank men to join the Buffs (East Kent Regiment), in which he was an officer, December 1915. His son Joss died while serving in the Regiment a month later.
The 26th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers – the Bankers’ Battalion – was announced in July 1915. It was launched on the initiative of the Lord Mayor of London, to be raised from men working in the City’s banks and insurance offices.
London’s bankers had a sense of themselves as a community. Joining the Bankers’ Battalion was a way for them to ‘do their bit’, not only for king and country, but for the professional community to which they belonged. It also gave them an opportunity to serve beside men like themselves – if not existing friends, then at least people with similar education, background and experience to their own. In such alien conditions, this thread of familiarity must have been comforting.
In fact, the Bankers’ Battalion struggled to recruit its intended complement of 1,000 men. In the first two months of recruitment, only 300 signed up. The war was nearly a year old, and a large proportion of the banks’ young men had already joined up. In addition, staff shortages were making banks increasingly reluctant to grant permission for more to go. Men could leave without their employers’ permission, but if they did, they would lose their entitlement to part-pay while away and their guaranteed jobs after the war.
By November 1915 the Battalion had reached its full complement. It transferred to Aldershot for more extensive training, becoming part of 124th Brigade, 41st Division. On 15 April 1916 the Battalion marched through London on parade. The Evening News described how older bank workers, who had stayed behind to keep the banks running, came out of their offices to cheer their younger colleagues as they passed. Soon afterwards, in early May, the Bankers’ Battalion shipped out to France.
The Battalion’s first experience of battle came on 15 September 1916, at Flers-Courcelette. This battle, part of the Somme campaign, is remembered today for the debut of tanks in combat. The battle lasted a week, and the Bankers’ Battalion suffered heavily, with over 260 men killed, wounded or missing. Eight of the dead were from our constituent banks.
The Battalion also took part in the Battle of Transloy, towards the end of the Somme campaign of 1916. During 1917 it participated in the battles of Messines, Pilckem Ridge and Menin Road, before being transferred to Italy in November. It returned to Belgium in February 1918, and remained there until the end of the war. The Battalion was demobilised in early 1919, and formally disbanded in April 1920.
In the course of the war, 2,700 men served in the Bankers’ Battalion. Of them, 700 were killed and 1,700 wounded.