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The role of the staff of Martins Bank in World War II is an honourable one, with many paying the ultimate price for the freedom of their country.  We lose branches too, but those can be replaced unlike the lives of our brave staff who fight at home and abroad.  Banking is a vital industry, and some unusual steps are taken to ensure that it can run smoothly through such troubled times. Women are put incharge of some Branches, Head Office departments are moved in case of bombing, and staff news is propagated round the World via the forerunner of Martins Bank Magazine.  This page and our special Wartime feature sections offers a glimpse into the world our staff find themselves in between 1939 and 1945…

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Special Features

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AMBLESIDE BRANCH GIVES RESPITE TO STAFF FROM THE BOMBING OF THEIR TOWNS AND CITIES…

EXETER IS ONE OF A NUMBER OF MARTINS BANK’S BRANCHES TO BE DESTROYED BY ENEMY ACTION…

FEMALE BANK MANAGERS? IN THE 1940S? EXPECT NOTHING LESS FROM MARTINS BANK!

HOW DOES ONE OF OUR STAFF COUNT BOTH CHURCHILL AND STALIN AMONG HIS FRIENDS?

WE OPEN THE FILES TO BRING YOU  SOME UNUSUAL “SECRET” WARTIME OPERATIONS

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Esprit de Corps…

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1939 Sandbagging at outbreak of WW2 MBM-Au64P41.jpgMAW Up Banner.jpgThe harsh reality of the Second World War is felt to some extent by every person, organisation and industry in the land.  The Ministry of Labour makes regular decisions on the removal from various occupations of able bodied men and women who can be sent to fight for their country or to take part in the war effort by producing weapons and equipment.  Banks are regularly called upon to release staff in this way, and in order that trading can continue, temporary staff from the ranks of those NOT called to duty, are taken on.  The call up of staff continues apace, and by September 1942, 1500 men and 160 women have gone from Martins alone. Many will never return.

 

The Kennet Committee, meeting in late 1942, decides on just how many more will go. By 1941 the danger from air raids is such that the staff at Martins Head Office in Water Street are dispersed to locations at branches all over Liverpool, so that the work of running the Bank can continue as safely as possible.  Martins Bank Archive holds copies of five of the special duplicated newsletters issued half-yearly to Martins colleagues in the forces by the Staff Manager’s Department, based during the dispersal of Head office Staff at Martins Bank Ainsdale, and from 1943 back at Head Office in Water Street.   Martins Bank Magazine had yet to be born, but these letters are the spark and they provide a fascinating and poignant insight into the lives of so many Martins staff in wartime, and the way in which the Bank cares about its staff.   The letters are now too frail to be viewed well enough by scan, but we have reproduced the text of each as faithfully as we can, and you can read them here:-

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The duplicated letters, and their immense value to the staff of Martins Bank are described in FOUR CENTURIES OF BANKING  © Martins Bank Limited 1964, from which the following text is abridged:

 

Four Centuries Cover.jpg{During the second world war, seven of the 570 branches of Martins Bank were destroyed and 153 were damaged. 82 branches were closed during the war to release man­power. Of the pre-war staff of 3,510, 1,596 men and 75 women joined the Forces or were engaged on work of national importance; 88 men lost their lives. The Head Office escaped serious bombing, although many of its important neighbours were destroyed or seriously damag­ed. One bomb fell in the street outside the staff entrance and tunnelled underneath the building before exploding, partially wrecking one of the rotundas. On another occa­sion, incendiary bombs fell on the building but were extinguished by the fire-watchers before serious damage could be done.  Details of the experiences of some of the staff are con­tained in a series of duplicated letters which the staff manager sent to members of the staff serving in the Forces. These letters met a real need for a staff magazine, and at the end of the war they were continued by the elegantly printed Martins Bank Magazine, which has played an important part in developing the esprit de corps of the Bank.  The duplicated letters recorded that Brown Brothers, Harriman and Company arranged to send parcels to the Bank's staff, who were prisoners of war. This arrangement continued until America entered the war, when the American Red Cross decided that all prisoners of war should have standard food packages. Furniss offered the staff of Brown Brothers, Harriman and Company, who were on active service, hospitality at the Bank's rest centre at Ambleside.

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1946 Ambleside Exterior from Drawing MBM-Wi46P06.jpgThe experiences of some of the members of the staff of Martins Bank who lost their lives give some idea of the services rendered by them—killed while fire-watching, drowned on leave, direct hit by bombing, crashed in the Shetland Isles, killed during an air raid on Bremen, died from wounds in Egypt, died in prisoner of war camp, killed in an air raid on Kiel, killed on active service in North Africa, died of diphtheria in North Africa, killed in a flying accident in the Middle East, killed in action in Palestine, killed whilst driving a staff car in Sicily, killed in action in the Central Mediterranean, killed at sea whilst serving with the Fleet Air Arm, killed in action in Burma, killed as the result of an accident in Normandy, killed in action in Italy, died from wounds received in Holland whilst serving with an airborne unit, killed in a flying accident in Southern Rhodesia, wounded in the shoulder whilst serving with Wingate's Chindits, wounded on D-Day whilst serving with a paratroop division in Normandy, died of wounds received in Aachen, died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Many of the staff came through unusual or varied experiences, which included minesweeping, invading Crete whilst serving with the Royal Artillery, broadcasting in the Middle East, escaping from Crete to Egypt, meeting a colleague in a Cairo cinema, shooting down a Heinkel, being commissioned in the field, singing in the choir of Calcutta Cathedral. Looking after naval stores in North Russia, undertaking aggressive and courageous action in the flanks of enemy armoured columns, spending several days in an open boat after being torpedoed off the West African Coast. Arthur Birse, a manager of the Bank's overseas business, acted as Russian interpreter for Winston Churchill and others, at the Moscow, Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam Conferences.}

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A reign of fire…

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The bombing of the towns and cities of England in World War Two takes its toll on Martins Bank, with more than a hundred and fifty Branches damaged, and seven written off altogether – six by complete destruction, and one gradually, through a number of separate bomb attacks.   Writing in the Annual Report and Accounts at the end of the War, the Bank’s Chairman Mr F A Bates optimistically notes the following:

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“We were fortunate during the war period in regard to our premises. Out of a total of 570 Branches, only seven were completely destroyed, although 153 sustained damage in varying degrees.  As soon as conditions permit, substantial expenditure will be necessary to provide for extensions and renewals of our premises and for repairs and renovations to restore them to pre-war standards.”

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You can read more on the individual pages for the branches that were destroyed by enemy action –

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Out of the Ashes…

Many people remember Martins’ role as the bank run by George Mainwaring, along with Chief Clerk Arthur Wilson, and Cashier Frank Pike in Dad’s Army.  After a number of episodes had been transmitted, the BBC requested that the name of the Bank should be changed to “avoid confusion” – hence the sudden arrival of “Swallow’s Bank”, but in the 1971 film Mr Mainwaring’s Bank is once more Martins. In the film, the town that doubles as WALMINGTON ON SEA is Chalfont St Giles (which doesn’t actually have a branch of Martins!). The set was dressed with Martins Bank signage and a golden grasshopper on the outside of the building.  One episode of Dad’s Army highlights the very real danger of an unexploded bombin the Bank vault, and another looks at the nightmare of counting all the money after a direct hit!   Behind this much loved comedy, and its loyal homage to Martins, is the real story that many branches of the bank suffer terrible devastation and the carnage of bombing in World War II.

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© 1971 COLUMBIA/UNITED ARTISTS

AND NORCON PRODUCTIONS

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After the war is over…

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Post War Manuals.jpgGentlemen the ladiesIn 1945 two manuals are printed – ‘SECURITIES’ and ‘ROUTINE’ -  aimed at reminding those back from active service, both of daily routine and special measures in place at the time which affected banking. Naturally the Second World War will change lives, some forever, and for the hundreds of Martins colleagues who come back to the UK, banking life will be different too. 

 

The Bank owes a huge debt to the many women who have taken on temporary roles to enable the business of the bank to function during the war, and despite the inequality of the sexes in the workplace, the Bank is able to foster the kind of upward mobility that allows some women to go on to achieve more responsible and higher paid roles.  Martins Bank Magazine arrives in 1946, and its very first illustration features a member of the female staff showing a returning male how to perform the very basics of high street banking…

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