At the time of the Great War, Martins Bank has still to evolve fully into the combination of Banks that will define it as the institution we know from the late 1920s to 1970. By 1918, the Bank of Liverpool, (founded in 1831) has already begun to absorb a number of smaller banks, and a month after the end of World War I, it amalgamates with Martin’s Private Bank, which can trace its own roots back to 1563 in the City of London. The Bank of Liverpool and Martins have lost many good men in the War, but they are also fortunate to welcome back many who will go on to fulfil important roles in the next stage of the Bank’s History. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank, which will join the Bank of Liverpool and Martins in 1928 to create Martins Bank Limited, documented the experiences of some of its own staff in World War I in its staff magazine. The following extract from FOUR CENTURIES OF BANKING, shows us the effects of the conflict both on those who took part, and those who had to stay behind…
The experiences of some of the staff of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank during the First World War are documented in its magazine, which was successful, in spite of all the difficulties caused by the war, in continuing publication for a time. The magazine published a number of letters from overseas. Some members of the staff contributed articles on their experiences. An editorial in 1917 expressed the mood of the editor: 'we are now entering upon the momentous year 1917 . . . In spite of the heavy drain upon our energies which the year will bring, we ask our readers and contributors to support us more than ever . . . our small craft has successfully weathered the storms of the last three years: so many larger and more famous vessels have been driven on the rocks. It is exactly sixteen years ago that our first number was issued.' Some of the staff who remained at home were encouraged to pay tribute to their comrades in arms. The following poem was published in October 1917:
Our men have joined the V.T.C.
In this great town of cotton,
And we are quite unanimous
That it is rather rotten,
The drills at night and the parades
May seem quite patriotic,
But those who see us forming fours
Describe it as 'chaotic'.
Ah me! this bag for V.T.C.
Means harder work than banking.
One day (when we are good enough)
We'll march with bayonets, swanking
But sometime England may be proud
Of our bank clerk's battalions,
And recognise our doughty deeds
With leatherette medallions.
The L and Y Club Magazine published a considerable number of letters from the staff who had been called up. A few quotations from some of these have been selected to illustrate the campaigns in Europe and the Middle East. One member of the staff who died from wounds a few days later wrote from the trenches in 1915:
“The danger in the trenches is not considered as great as that run when out of them, but the work is much harder. We have heard today that Austria has signed peace terms. Everybody hopes that it is true. We longed to come out here but now that we are doing all that can be asked of us, our desire is for peace, though I don't think one would like to come home before a final victory has been won over the enemy.”
Another member of the staff wrote:
“I have had rheumatic fever and was a fortnight in different hospitals in France ... Our regiment has had it hot, and there won't be many who will live to get back here ... it has been murder up here. They gave us a taste of gas but we had our pads ready and we didn't have a casualty ... It is cruel to see our chaps dying through it, foaming at the mouth and struggling for breath ... I think that the war will last a long time yet.”
In December 1914 an editorial wrote the following of R. W. Buckley, who was subsequently reported missing: 'Several of our men (Territorials) are stationed at Mustapha Barracks, Alexandria, and we think the view which accompanies this issue cannot fail to be of interest. The photograph has been sent by Sergeant W. Buckley who, as a civilian, does office duty at Pendleton branch. Mr Buckley is one of those people whom fate has blessed with a facile knack of seeing the comic side of things. Our best wish to him is that he will preserve it in this time of trial. Given a universal sense of humour, wars would cease forever.' In his letter Buckley wrote:
“Having completed the barrack square portion of training we have been going out on to the Libyan desert about four miles away, where we have got glimpses of the Bedouin Arab and his mode of life. About once every two days a mosquito sails in and has a feed on me, sometimes bringing a friend or two . . . and now I propose to form a League of Help for Starving Mosquitoes and give practical assistance by going to bed.' On 26 June 1915 another member of the staff, F. Hay, wrote: 'I am sorry to say that Buckley is still missing . . . We lost very heavily on 4 June, in fact we were practically wiped out... we captured and held three lines of Turkish trenches, and in the bayonet charge our losses were naturally very large. The Battalion which left Manchester 1,000 strong, now numbers 270 ... I was lucky—got a shrapnel bullet through the top of my right arm, a bullet through right elbow, and one which lodged in the first finger of my right hand . . . The following extract from our Orders may interest you: "Company Sergeant Major F. Hay has been granted the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry in the field on 4 June." I have also been offered a Commission in my own battalion and have accepted.”
One letter of February 1917 describes a terrible forced march in the Turkish campaign:
“After some difficulty we obtained a supply of water, and then commenced a march which lasted from 6.20 till 18.0, a feat of wonderful endurance. Men fell out in the last stage of exhaustion; even officers fainted. Some men wept as they wandered on. The sun's rays were even more fierce than on the previous day. We pressed on at all costs, past a captured Turkish battery, past dead Turks—always onward. A halt was called, and after snatching what rest was possible, it was decided to carry on the march with volunteers only . . . After about two miles we struck the first of the wells and obtained our first water since setting out in the morning . . . For about six miles we marched through the wilderness ... I should have said staggered. Men fell down and were left; others walked on cursing. The column diminished ... at last a small oasis came in view, and, though water was thick and dirty, it tasted better than any we had previously drunk. Animals, even, went mad, men nearly so.”
One final communication in October 1917 may be quoted:
“We left England on the 23 July and arrived at Salonika on the 7 August ... as we had 800 horses and mules on board you can imagine that life below decks was reminiscent of the Black Hole of Calcutta . . . Five minutes down below and you were literally bathed in perspiration, which ran in rivulets from all parts of the body . . . However, we eventually arrived in Salonika harbour . . . We remained here for four days and then we started on our march to business. All our travelling had to be done in the night time, on account of the extreme heat of the day, and as our journey lay through a very mountainous country this night march was quite weird . . . The country through which we had to pass now was awful—a mixture of the Alps and the Sahara desert... if we came to a bit of level ground the dust lay about six or eight inches deep ... At the end of the third day I had had only 12 hours' sleep and for the next 40 hours I neither slept, ate or drank—worked and walked on through two scorching days and a night.”
The world-wide experience which many clerks and customers of banks acquired during the First World War widened their horizons and made purely regional loyalties lose much of their force.
Adapted from FOUR CENTURIES OF BANKING Vol II © Martins Bank Limited 1968
As the World reflects on the one-hundredth anniversary of World War One, we have two exhibits from the period that illustrate both the pointless waste of life, and the spirit of hope that existed in the later years of this devastating conflict. From 1916 we have a letter from the Bank of Liverpool to one of its staff serving in His Majesty the King’s Military Forces, wishing him a safe return and an early end to the war. From 1917 a letter expressing sympathy from the staff and management of Martin’s Private Bank to the family of a customer whose son has been killed in action. Please click on the image of the letters, above right, to read these exhibits for yourself.
Martins Bank Archive is one of a number of collections to have been asked to share information with LIVES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR, which is run under the auspices of the Imperial War Museum. The aims of this project are simple, but far reaching – slowly but surely they are piecing together the lives of those who fought for their country in the First World War. These are lives, some of which were lived long and full, others cut short by the dreadful theatre of war and the futile loss of so many young men with hopes dreams and talents that went to waste.
For our very small part in this mammoth collection of information, we are providing details of some members of Martins Staff who served in the Great War, and came back to civilian life to resume their jobs with the Bank. This is thanks to the forward thinking of Martins Bank Magazine who celebrated the careers of hundreds of the Bank’s employees by printing retirement tributes and photographs. When added to the timeline information on the Lives of the First World War site, these tributes provide valuable information about the character, colleagues friends and relatives of Staff Members, and in many cases this information will be seen for the first time by their descendants researching their family tree, or looking into the part their loved one played in serving their country.