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06 Aug 2014

Untold stories from the frontline

Rachael Porter

by Rachael Porter

UK Archives Manager, HSBC

Untold stories from the frontline

More than 4,000 war cards from Midland Bank were transcribed by volunteers

At last we are off, or shall be at 11’clock tonight. My address henceforth will be Mediterranean Expeditionary Force,” wrote Frank Sykes on 28 July 1915 to his former colleagues at the Midland Bank branch in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire.

Four months later he died “whilst on active service in Gallipoli”, his staff index card recorded. A space on the back for ‘Remarks’ allowed colleagues to report in greater detail where soldiers had been sent and what they had endured.

One colleague of Sykes added: “By his death, the Bank lost the services of a splendid and faithful servant.”

Our aim is to uncover the life stories of more than eight million men and women who served Britain and the Commonwealth during the First World War

The card is one of more than 4,000 describing former Midland Bank employees that fought in the First World War. The collection is now available online as part of the Imperial War Museums’ Lives of the First World War.

The cards were filled in at the branches during the war and then gathered together at the bank’s head office when the conflict ended. They were forgotten until the 1970s when Edwin Green, Midland Bank’s first archivist, found them hidden away on “a high and grimy shelf” in what was the stationery department in Colindale, North London.

Midland Bank was bought by HSBC in 1992 and its archives have been carefully preserved. The HSBC Archives team wanted as many people as possible to access the cards but transferring them to a digital format has been difficult. The records had to be scanned and information transcribed because character recognition software could not read the handwriting. More than 250 HSBC staff helped with the process, viewing the cards and transcribing the information.

Untold stories from the frontline
Former Midland Bank employee John Parish shares his father's war story

Finally the Midland Bank information was uploaded to the Imperial War Museums’ website on 4 August to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the start of the conflict.

Anyone can now search online for further details of people who worked for Midland Bank before joining the forces during the First World War.

Luke Smith, who is leading the First World War Centenary Programme at the Imperial War Museums, said: “Our aim is to uncover the life stories of more than eight million men and women who served Britain and the Commonwealth during the First World War. We are delighted that HSBC has decided to share this wonderful archive material describing people from the Midland Bank who went off to serve in the war.”

The Lives of the First World War project is now available online at www.livesofthefirstworldwar.org.

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