We will remember them
07 Nov 2008
We have added new pages for the first time since the site was launched in June. In September, inspired by the forthcoming BBC Remembrance 90 campaign, I set out to see if Aviva could take part in the act of remembrance using records held in the archive relating to staff who served and died in the 1914-1918 war. I knew very little then about the numbers of men involved and the work it would take to put the new pages together but I am thrilled with the result.
For the first time we have a record of every known first-world-war casualty for every Aviva company. Using staff magazines, war memorials, board minute books, correspondence files and the contemporary insurance press I have been able to gather together information about the nearly 800 men who made the ultimate sacrifice. The pages allow relatives, current staff, and anyone who is interested, to either search for specific names or browse the entire list and find details of rank, regiment, date of death, company and branch of employment and even photographs.
There is also additional information including quotes from letters written at the front and details of how men were remembered by their managers and colleagues. For example Richard Lee of Norwich Union Fire, a test pilot who died when his plane crashed on Mousehold Heath, Norwich, is described as follows in the staff magazine "Lee was a real sport, may the earth rest lightly on him!" while Harrold Stephenson of Norwich Union Life was described by his captain as "quite the most gallant boy I have ever met".
Norwich Union Fire List of Men Serving 1914-1918
The new pages contain a similar list for those decorated in the war although this is unlikely to be so comprehensive as while some companies recorded staff war service in great detail the surviving records of others make barely passing reference to the conflict. Here the additional information gives details about the actions for which men received honours and includes the achievements of the flying ace Matthew "Bunty" Frew who worked for the City of Glasgow Life Assurance Company.
The research has unearthed many stories of bravery and of sacrifices made not only by the soldiers but also by those who stayed behind to run the offices, who took on the extra work while giving large percentages of their salaries to the various war charities and for Christmas boxes to send their colleagues in the forces.
There are many poignant descriptions of the individual soldiers like Graham Howells of the Welsh Insurance Corporation described in the Post Magazine of May 1916 as "one of the finest all round athletes in Swansea" or John Cox of British General Insurance Company who was killed by a bomb dropped from a plane and was described as "of splendid physique".
These and others, like George Stribling of Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation, who had been members of office sporting teams, and James Hodge Speedie of North British & Mercantile, a well-known amateur member of Heart of Midlothian Football Club, bring to mind the half remembered verse from The Call by R E Vernéde:
Lad, with the merry smile and the eyes
Quick as a hawk's and clear as the day,
You, who have counted the game the prize,
Here is the game of games to play.
Never a goal -- the captains say --
Matches the one that's needed now:
Put the old blazer and cap away --
England's colours await your brow.
Other than a liking for war poems I had no real interest in or connection with the 1914-1918 war before I undertook this research. No direct relatives of mine fought and, despite buying my poppy, I never really understood the act of remembrance. I now feel a link to those 795 men who worked for my company and walked every day in and out of buildings some of us still occupy. I look out for them in film footage of the trenches and follow the progress of their now familiar regiments in television programmes about the war. I remember them.
Ocean Accident Football team 1914, George Hubert Stribling middle row, second from left
BBC Remembrance 90
Commonwealth War Graves Commission