In RBS we care for more than 300 memorials, many of them erected by our constituent banks to commemorate the men we lost in the First World War. They are a precious reminder of the sacrifice of a lost generation, but there’s so much more we can discover about who those men were, what they believed in and what they experienced. We can find that in letters, photographs and other documents in the bank’s extensive archives.
This was the starting-point for the website RBS Remembers 1914-1918, which we launched earlier this year. We explored thousands of documents to learn as much as we could about how the war affected our staff, our customers and the communities in which we operated. Then, as our contribution to national centenary commemorations, we created the website as a way of sharing the stories we’d discovered.
Some of those stories will stay with me for a long time, such as the fate of Freund Beaumont, a clerk from one of our London branches, who joined the navy as a paymaster. In 1917 he escaped into a lifeboat when his ship was sunk, but froze to death in the cold night that followed, having given his warm coat to a fellow survivor.
We also found out about the Keeping brothers, John and Herbert, who died together in Greece on the very same day in 1916, and their older brother Edwin, who stayed behind to help run the bank for which all three had worked before the war.
A number of the surviving archival records were particularly thought provoking, such as sepia-tinged photograph of the Union of London & Smiths Bank staff 1912-13 football team. All 13 of the young men in the picture went on to serve in the war, half of them did not return.
It is memories such as these that make us who we are.