English and Welsh banks
There was no consistency between the banks on arrangements for paying staff on active service. In the first weeks of the war, some declared that all clerks would continue on their full salaries, at least for the time being. One of our constituents, Williams Deacon’s Bank, stated that this arrangement would continue for the duration of the war. By June 1915 it was forced to introduce less generous terms for any future recruits, but those who were already serving did indeed receive full pay for the rest of the war.
As the war went on, it became necessary for all the banks to revise their payments to staff on active service. As well as allowances to these men, they were paying wages to the women, boys and older men who were keeping the banks running in their absence, so in effect they were paying twice for every worker.
Banks were keen that staff should not be left worse off by undertaking war service. One popular approach was to pay the difference between the man’s army wage and his bank salary. For example, a 19-year-old junior clerk in one of our English constituent banks, fresh from his 3-year apprenticeship, would have been paid about £80 in 1914. If he joined the army as a private, his army pay would be around £18 a year, so the bank would pay him £62. After army pay was increased in 1917, becoming around £27 a year for a private, his bank pay would have fallen to £53. On the other hand, if he was singled out for promotion, he would be paid much more by the army. As a second lieutenant, the most junior rank of commissioned officer, he’d be paid around £140 a year, rising to £190 or more by the end of the war. In these cases, most of the English banks imposed a half-pay minimum, so he would still receive £40 from the bank, in addition to his army pay.
It is worth noting, however, that in at least one of our largest English banks, men who joined the bank after the outbreak of war were not eligible for any pay at all. By late 1916, this covered one in five of the nearly 1,700 men on active service from London County & Westminster Bank.
Scottish bankers were traditionally paid less than their English counterparts, particularly at the junior end of the scale. In The Royal Bank of Scotland in 1914, apprentices were typically paid between £10 and £20 a year. Even a junior clerk, with 3 years’ banking experience, could earn as little as £30. Scottish banks generally arranged to pay half salary to men on military service, albeit with extra provision for the lowest-paid in some cases. The junior clerk on £30, for example, would receive £15 a year from The Royal Bank of Scotland while he was on active service; in Commercial Bank of Scotland or National Bank of Scotland he’d have received a little more, in recognition of his low wage.
The Irish banks' terms were even less favourable. The National Bank, which was headquartered in London but operated a branch network in Ireland, announced a succession of pay reductions as 1915 went on. In May, it declared that officers would receive half salary minus military pay. Two months later this provision was extended to men in the ranks, and officers were told they would receive nothing. By October, the bank declared that no staff would receive any pay at all while on active service. Perhaps this last announcement finally went to far, and prompted objections, because the bank subsequently retreated from this policy, and settled on paying all staff, regardless of rank, half-salary minus army pay.