First World War
When war was declared, many Royal Bank employees immediately enlisted. At first they were granted a leave of absence with an allowance and the understanding that their services would be re-engaged on their return from war. After September 1915, staff members were required to resign with a guarantee of a job on their return if their services could be used.
Continued enlistments, coupled with continuously expanding business, caused progressively acute staffing issues and Royal Bank found it necessary to engage women as banking clerks – with the understanding that they would be replaced by returning soldiers. This was a fundamental change for the bank as women had previously only been engaged as stenographers and filing clerks.
Almost 1,500 Royal Bank employees enlisted for active service. Of these, more than 300 employees lost their lives. One staff member who elected to return to the bank was distinguished Canadian poet Francis Sherman, who enlisted in 1915 and returned to the bank in 1919.
In 1928 the bank honoured those employees who died or were missing in action by erecting large memorial tablets in the newly constructed head office building at 360 St. James Street, Montreal.
In Memoriam of John d’A.H. Arundell from Montreal Main branch. One hundred and twelve similar bronze tablets bearing the names of the 191 Royal Bank employees who gave their lives in the First World War were exhibited in branches across Canada as a tribute.
Second World War
Immediately after the outbreak of war, large numbers of bank employees enlisted in the Armed Forces and continued to enlist throughout the war. Seventy-four per cent of Royal Bank male staff members of military age in Canada and Newfoundland enlisted. Royal Bank granted all employees who enlisted leave of absence and a guarantee that their positions would be available upon their return.
Two hundred and two Royal Bank employees enlisted were killed or died on active service. Many staff members obtained high rank and a generous share of decorations for valour. In addition to those who enlisted, Royal Bank loaned several staff members to wartime organizations and government departments, including the bank’s president, Morris W. Wilson, Chairman of the British Supply Council in North America, and the bank’s assistant general manger, S.R. Noble, Vice-President of Commodity Prices Stabilization Corporation Limited and Special Advisor to the Wartime Prices and Trade Board.
The business of Royal Bank’s Paris, France office shrank to negligible figures during the war. The bank’s premises were occupied by German forces who installed a German bank on the ground floor. Staff in Royal Bank’s two branches in London, England won the admiration of their colleagues for the manner in which they carried out business throughout the war. London’s West End branch served as a meeting place not only for Royal Bank staff but also for Canadian servicemen posted overseas.
Most employees who returned from war re-entered the bank’s service, while some of the returning men were granted additional leave of absence to attend university. Some, like J.K. Finlayson, Royal Bank’s President, 1980 – 1983, and Rowland C. Frazee, Royal Bank’s Chairman, 1980 – 1986, went on to obtain senior positions in the bank.
A remarkable change took place in the composition of the bank’s staff between the war’s outbreak and end. At the outbreak of war, the number of men totalled 4,112 or 79 per cent of staff, while there were 1,094 women. By the end of the war, women totaled 4,639 or 70 per cent of staff, while men numbered 2,038. Not only had women filled the gap left by the enlisted men, but they had also supplied the bank’s requirements for additional personnel to cope with the expanded volume of business generated by the war.
Throughout the war years, Royal Bank published a Roll of Honour commemorating those who lost their lives during the war. Upon the war’s end, the bank erected framed certificates of war service in each branch, listing those members of staff who “volunteered for active service with Canada’s fighting forces.”
Royal Bank of Canada certificate of active war service, 1945
Sherbrooke & Hampton branch, Montreal, certificate. Similar certificates were exhibited in most branches to commemorate and honour those employees who volunteered for active service during the Second World War.
List of Royal Bank and Union Bank of Canada employees who enlisted for active service during the First and Second World War.