One of the few good things to come out of this most difficult of years, for me, was finally getting around to researching my family history. There's just something enthralling about searching through century old census documents and looking at how and where my relatives lived. Maybe somewhat unsurprisingly, I quickly discovered I had relatives who’d served in the forces during both the Great War and the Second World War. And this is the basis for this blog.
My great-Grandfather was 21 and a railway porter when he first joined the Royal Marine Artillery (RMA) in 1901. He bought himself out of that service to get married in 1906, and later moved to Wales, where he became a miner in the Rhondda. When war broke out in 1914, he was back in the RMA and almost immediately saw action at Ostend and Dunkirk. This experience, even as someone who'd spent 5 years in service previously, must have had a profound effect on him. Unfortunately, according to his military records, he spent a part of 1915 recovering from ‘Neurasthenia’ – shell-shock, to you and me – at a naval hospital in Portsmouth.
My great-uncle, I also found out, joined the Welsh Guards in 1939, but was captured at Boulogne - along with some 5,000 other Allied troops, mostly French - in June 1940 and spent the rest of the war in the Nazi prison camp ‘Stalag 8C’, in present-day Poland. I also found another relative who joined the Welsh Regiment at Cardiff Barracks (coincidentally still situated across the road from the Insolvency Service office) in 1897 and was stationed in South Africa, during the Boer War, between December 1899 and July 1902. In fact, I do recall we have an elaborately framed photograph of Private Williams in the family, hand-decorated with dates of the action he’d been involved in.
The Board of Trade and the Great War
My mind then turned to the upcoming Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day commemorations, and what I could do to mark this annual event. Several years ago, while seconded to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), I was involved in a project run by the Board of Trade War Memorial Research Group which researches all the names of the 300 or so men listed on the Board of Trade War Memorial. The memorial itself is now situated in the foyer of the Department of International Trade.
The IPO has its own large plaque in its office foyer, commemorating the men who’d fought and died during the Great War, who were listed as Patent Office staff. It was a real honour for me to briefly associated with the research into those men, but times moves on, and as does life.
Now employed at the Insolvency Service, I thought I’d investigate the men listed on the Board of Trade War Memorial who would have been listed as Insolvency Service staff at the time. In all, I’ve found 12 men on the Board of Trade memorial who were employed in what would have been the equivalent of the Insolvency Service.
The men of the Bankruptcy Department
The majority were employed at the Bankruptcy Department, while a couple of the men worked at either the Official Receiver’s Office or the Companies Department (now known as the Insolvency and Companies List and administered by the Courts and Tribunals Service).
The men of the Bankruptcy Department were:
Walter Seabrook, a personal clerk for the Official Receiver in the Strand, killed in action in May 1915 in France while serving with the London Regiment, aged 25; Edward Ground, of the Finsbury Rifles, classed as missing presumed killed at Kiretch Tepe Ridge, Gallipoli, on 15 August 1915, aged 29; Herbert Reeves, killed in action in February 1916 while serving in France with the Royal Sussex Regiment, aged 25; David Leveson, of the Queen Victoria’s Rifles, killed in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916, aged 27; William Higton, of the East Surrey Regiment, who died of his wounds in July 1917, age 20; Henry Stembridge of the London Rifles, killed in action in France in August 1917, aged 40; Percy Henley of the Post Office Rifles, killed in action in France in March 1918, aged 27; George Grace of the London Rifle Brigade, killed in action in France in March 1918, aged 22; and Charles Russell of the London Regiment’s Cyclist Battalion, who was killed in action at the Somme in July 1918, aged 22.
Employed by the Official Receiver’s Office was Norman Derwent of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, who died while on active service in June 1917 in Belgium, aged 23; and Thomas Wilson, a Sergeant with the London Regiment who died while still on active duty after the war in March 1919, aged 31. Finally, Bertram Affleck was working at the Companies Department as a personal clerk when he joined the Artists’ Rifles. He was killed in action in August 1917 and is commemorated at the Arras Memorial.
How the Civil Service adapted to the Great War
In 1918, a report was produced showing the number of people employed in the various government departments as a comparison between August 1914 and June 1918. The report showed there were around 230,000 men and women employed in the Civil Service at the outbreak of the war in August 1914, but this had increased to 280,000 by June 1918. The number of men in the Civil Service had fallen from 193,000 to 136,000, while the number of women employed had shot up from 36,000 to around 144,000.
By June 1918, the number of women in the Civil Service was therefore larger than that of men. Even more startling was the figure that just 2% of the male Civil Servants were under 31 years of age and 'fit for general service'. During 1918, a Royal Proclamation also meant any men up to the age of 23 in Grades I or II (Categories A, B, and C1) and in Category B2 would be eligible for military service.
Although our men are commemorated on the War Memorial in the Department of international Trade office in Whitehall, I thought I would make our own small act of remembrance by telling a small part of their story, here, as we mark Remembrance Sunday (Sunday 9 November) and Armistice Day (Wednesday 11 November).
The research into the names and the lives of the 305 Board of Trade men continues, and if you’d like to find out more please do contact the Board of Trade War Memorial or follow them on Twitter @TradeMemorial.