Insurance Clerks at War
04 Aug 2014
To mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War we have put up a display in the Marble Hall, which focuses on the involvement of staff from our constituent companies who fought in the conflict. This blog features some of the content and stories highlighted in the exhibition.
Norwich Union, Commemorative booklet (1918)
On 4th August 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany. Francis Norie-Miller, the General Manager at General Accident, who had already been privately warned "that war was absolutely certain between Germany and this country" recounted his immediate response to the situation in the staff magazine.
General Accident, Staff magazine extract (1914)
On 25th August he also wrote to Nathaniel Forte, Manager of the London branch, urging him to encourage his staff to enlist.
Letter from F Norie-Miller to N Forte (1914)
The success of this encouragement is evident in the number of names in this General Accident list of those "with the colours", from 1914.
General Accident, Poster with names of enlisted staff (1914)
Across the world members of staff from Aviva's historical companies answered similar calls to arms. Over 6,000 members of our staff went to fight for their country, some of them left jobs not very different from those we do today and some from offices we still occupy. In this blog I want to share the experiences of just a few of these men as they left their desks for the battlefield.
General Accident, Festive letterhead (1914)
In December 1914 Christmas boxes were sent to each member of serving staff with money donated by their colleagues on the home front, as described by Francis Norie-Miller in the April 1915 newsletter:
General Accident, Staff magazine extracts (1915)
Also in the April 1915 staff magazine was the notice of the death of Daniel Malloch, who had worked as a life clerk in General Accident's Perth Head Office.
Daniel Malloch, General Accident
General Accident, Staff magazine extract reporting Malloch's death (1915)
Meanwhile, in the Foreign Reinsurance Department at Norwich Union Fire, John Browne received these letters...
Norwich Union, Letters published in staff magazine (1914)
... from his son, Hedley, who, in peacetime, had worked for Norwich Union Life as a junior clerk.
Hedley Browne, Norwich Union
Also writing home from the trenches in 1915 was Captain Richard Cole who in civilian life had been Assistant Company Secretary at Norwich Union.
Captain Richard Cole, Norwich Union
His experiences of the fighting in France were reproduced in the staff magazine under the title "My Baptism of Fire".
Norwich Union, Staff magazine extract (1915)
By the summer of 1916 General Accident's Perth Office had received numerous letters from staff who had been wounded in battle. In July that year George Blakeley, the corporation's Birmingham Manager, ...
George Blakeley, General Accident
... wrote a description of the action which had led to his arrival at a hospital in London.
General Accident, Letter from Blakeley published in staff magazine (1916)
Another letter received in Perth, July 1916, described the injuries received by Robert Fitch...
Robert Fitch, General Accident
... who had been head of General Accident's Burglary department prior to enlisting.
General Accident, Letter from Fitch published in staff magazine (1916)
The following month the Sub-Manager at Norwich Union wrote this letter...
Letter to George Harvey (1916)
... to George Harvey, who worked in the Accident Renewal Issue section. (His reply is preserved in the archive.)
George Harvey, Norwich Union
Finally, towards the end of 1916, came some news to celebrate. Alexander Rose, a cashier in the General Accident Johannesburg Office, had been awarded the Military Cross.
Alexander Rose, General Accident
He described the action for which he was decorated in a letter, which later appeared in the staff magazine.
General Accident, Letter from Rose published in staff magazine (1916)
Another recipient of the Military Cross was Robert Craig who had worked as an inspector in the Portsmouth branch of Northern Assurance. He was decorated in October 1917: "for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He was wounded during an advance, but continued in command, and, under heavy machine gun fire, went from one position to another and saw that his guns were placed in their positions. His coolness under heavy fire set a splendid example to all."
Robert Craig, Northern Assurance Company
The records of Norwich Union for 1917 also contain numerous letters of condolence from the management and board to families of staff who had been killed. This letter...
Letter from General Manager to Mr Read (1917)
... was sent to Mr Read of Norwich on the death of his nephew, Terry, who had represented Norwich Union in Shanghai since 1912.
Terry Read, Norwich Union
Also preserved in the archive are letters from the families of those killed, expressing the loss they felt. The father of Edward Chalker wrote referring to the dashing of all their hopes for the future.
Edward Chalker, Norwich Union, died 1917
While the father of Richard Lee referred to the sacrifice that had been made.
Richard Lee, Norwich Union, died 1917
In total 852 of our staff made the ultimate sacrifice. They came from all levels, leaving empty chairs at the board table and in the messengers' room alike. When hostilities ended Commercial Union recorded in the board minutes the great debt owed to its staff.
Tribute to Commercial Union staff (1918)
A similar resolution was enshrined in the minutes at Norwich Union.
Tribute to Norwich Union staff (1918)
At General Accident, Francis Norie-Miller, whose own eldest son, Claud, had been killed, wrote: "we hail the mighty dead, and we pray for blessings on their souls. We shall never think of them without feelings of the deepest gratitude." He also quoted the evocative words of an Army Chaplain, William Menzies:
Daniel Malloch had worked for General Accident for 7 years before he enlisted in October 1914. He served with the Army Service Corps and the 4th Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders and had only been in France for a month when he was killed on 11 March 1915.
Daniel Malloch, General Accident, died 1915
Hedley Browne served in France for three years, first as a motorcycle dispatch rider and then as a member of the Royal Engineers. He came safely through the fighting at Mons, the Marne and the Somme. In January 1918 he joined the Royal Flying Corps and was killed in a flying accident in Gloucestershire on 8 April that year, aged 29.
Hedley Browne, Norwich Union, died 1918
Richard Cole was one of the lucky ones, invalided home later on in the war, he was demobilised with the rank of Major. On his return to civilian life he was appointed joint manager of the London branch, which he ran until 1939 when he retired and was appointed to the London Board. He retired from the board in 1964, a year before he died, having completed 53 years service with Norwich Union.
Richard Cole, Norwich Union, survived
A crack rifle shot, George Blakeley volunteered despite being over the age limit; the head wound he received in 1916 was severe and caused him to spend the rest of the war in and out of hospital. He left the army in March 1919 and was appointed divisional manager for the corporation. His injuries from 1916 were held responsible for his sudden death after his return to civilian life and his medal roll index card records the fact that he died of wounds, 15 December 1919. He was 52.
George Blakeley, General Accident, died 1919
Robert Fitch had worked for General Accident since leaving school and had completed 21 years service with the company before he enlisted, aged 38. Having recovered from the wounds described in his letter he was sent back to the front and was killed in action on 11 April 1917.
Richard Fitch, General Accident, died 1917
George Harvey had first come to work for Norwich Union in 1905, aged 17. He was wounded for a third time and was subsequently killed in action in France on 4th October 1917, aged 31.
George Harvey, Norwich Union, died 1917
Alexander Rose had been given special leave to return from Johannesburg to the UK to enlist. He was killed in action on 31st July 1917, aged 36.
Alexander Rose, General Accident, died 1917
Robert Craig had worked for Northern Assurance from March 1905. He saw action in Gallipoli and in Egypt. On 17 April 1918, while in charge of his gun in France, he was shot down by machine gun fire and killed instantaneously. He was 29 years old.
Robert Craig, Northern Assurance Company, died 1918
Terry Read had worked for Norwich Union in Norwich for 10 years, before being appointed to Shanghai, and had regularly played for the office football team. He died on 22nd April 1917 of wounds received on active service in Gaza. He was remembered in the staff magazine as an "absolutely reliable and unflinchingly loyal friend [..] killed in Gaza playing the game to the last."
Terry Read, Norwich Union, died 1917
Edward Chalker had worked in Norwich Union's Marine Department and enlisted in February 1917 as soon as he was old enough to fight. He was killed on 2 December 1917 at Cambrai, aged 19, and was remembered in his obituary as a "quiet lad, greatly respected".
Edward Chalker, Norwich Union, died 1917
Richard Lee had worked for Norwich Union since 1908. He was killed on 23 June 1917 in a flying accident at Mousehold, Norwich, when the plane he was testing crashed. He was 29. The sacrifice asked of his parents was particularly great as his elder brother, Frederick, was also killed in the war. His obituary appeared in the staff magazine when it recommenced at the end of the war.
Richard Lee, Norwich Union, died 1917
Obituary for R Lee published in staff magazine (1920)