[Originally published August 2015] Last week Roger Fisher of Artefacts fame (and so much more) got in touch to ask if the small memorial plaque in the Standard Bank, Commissioner St, Johannesburg, for Standard Bank employees killed during the First World War still existed. Letitia Myburgh, Head of the Standard Bank Heritage Centre confirmed that it still did and sent through some details. The email conversation inspired Kathy Munro to write a fascinating piece on the lesser known memorials located in corporate and institutional offices.
In gathering information about South African war memorials, one is reminded that many men from the mines, companies, banks and institutions enlisted in the military and volunteered for services to fight in both World Wars as patriotic South Africans. The South African record of service was impressive. Often the names of men who were killed or died on active service were commemorated in plaques prominently positioned in foyers of corporate head offices. Sometimes Rolls of Honour were inscribed in a special commemorative volume or even published in a book (e.g. see Barclays Bank: "Bank in Battledress"). Commemorative plaques offered a dual memorial, acknowledging that the person had been an employee or colleague of a specific firm and offering the comfort to families of a Memorial honour. The enormity of loss and sacrifice in war meant that memorialization was a way of assuaging grief and triumphing over the finality of death.
Standard Bank's archivist and Heritage Head Letitia Myburgh, has kindly sent us some information and photographs of their war memorials. These days the memorials have slipped into the category of heritage survivals and history. Such memorials deserve attention to ensure their preservation, if alterations and changes happen to the buildings containing these memorials. Or if there are demolitions.
Often these lists look like a roster of endless names, but there is a story behind each name and the details of the person can be researched and connected via the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Online Resource where all information about individuals killed in wars involving Britain, the Empire and The Commonwealth have been digitized. One can trace the records and recover information about rank, date of death, where the person was buried, cemetery, tombstone inscriptions etc.
Letitia of Standard Bank comments:
I enclose a scan of a photograph from our collection depicting the World War I memorial situated inside our Johannesburg branch, Commissioner St. Our former Cape Town branch premises in Adderley Street contain a large memorial listing all staff members who fought in World War I as well as another memorial listing staff members who died in World War II. I also enclose a scan of the one part of the World War I memorial as well as of the World War II memorial for your interest. In addition, there is also a memorial in the Adderley Street premises to commemorate the staff of the African Banking Corporation (which was taken over by Standard Bank in 1920) who participated in World War I of which we unfortunately do not have a photograph. The bank did not publish a book relating to its staff members’ participation in the wars. Lists of names of those staff members who participated were however printed for both wars and distributed internally to interested parties – the one for the World War II was in book form.
Johannesburg Standard Bank Memorial of employees who died in World War 1. The artist who designed the memorial was the architect, John Harrison. (Standard Bank Heritage Centre)
Standard Bank Cape Town War Memorial for staff World War I (Standard Bank Heritage Centre)
I would like to encourage enthusiasts to please take local photographs of memorials relating to wars and to submit these to the Heritage Portal (email firstname.lastname@example.org). I would like us to develop a few threads to preserve this information. Of particular interest are the less well known plaques in the buildings of companies or at mine offices or in institutions.
Kathy Munro is an Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand. She enjoyed a long career as an academic and in management at Wits University. She trained as an economic historian. She is an enthusiastic book person and has built her own somewhat eclectic book collection over 40 years. Her interests cover Africana, Johannesburg history, history, art history, travel, business and banking histories. She researches and writes on historical architecture and heritage matters and is well known for her magnificent book reviews. She is a member of the Board of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation and is a docent at the Wits Arts Museum. She is currently working on a couple of projects on Johannesburg architects and is researching South African architects, war cemeteries and memorials.