2014 marked 100 years since the start of the First World War. The Centenary was marked by individuals, communities and nations throughout the world; the City of London remembered and honoured people who lived and worked in London and whose lives were changed forever by the conflict.
The City of London commemorations
The Lord Mayor represented the City of London at events and ceremonies throughout the year. There were public commemorations within the Square Mile and run by City of London Corporation services throughout London from the spring of 2014 onwards. These varied from formal events, which maycould be religious or ceremonial, to cultural and learning activities and programmes run by the City services such as London Metropolitan Archives, Barbican Library and the Lending Libraries, Guildhall Library, Guildhall Art Gallery.
At the time of the outbreak of the First World War some 364,000 workers came into the City every day to run the world’s busiest financial centre. Most of these would have been male as comparatively few women worked beyond jobs in domestic service or as basic clerical support. At Guildhall the City Corporation administered the Square Mile within its ancient structures of the Courts of Aldermen and Common Council supported by the Town Clerk, Chamberlain and other officers. In 1914 amongst their deliberations were a Guildhall Improvement Scheme which included refurbishing accommodation for members with a smoking room; preparations for a reception for the King and Queen of Denmark; an increase in the electricity costs for Guildhall were noted and in July 1914 a message of sympathy sent to the Emperor of the Austria following the “dastardly and wanton assassination” of his heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
The role of the Lord Mayor and the City at home and abroad were at the centre of activities. The Lord Mayor, Colonel Sir Thomas Vansittart Bowater, had led official delegations from the City to Paris (November 1913) and Brussels in the summer of 1914. Where the party dined in ceremonial splendour in July 1914 at the Royal Palace in Brussels was a month later a military hospital. On his return to London the Lord Mayor distributed prizes at the City of London School on 29 July, leaving the capital again the next day for his own family holiday in France. However on Saturday 1 August, as the diplomatic crisis intensified, the Lord Mayor returned to London and three days later the country was at war.
While banks remained shut from the Bank Holiday Monday throughout the first week of August, plans were made to protect buildings from the dangers of air raids and to support the army and charities in the war effort by providing accommodation at Guildhall and Mansion House. On 4 September 1914 an extraordinary public meeting was held at Guildhall, chaired by the Lord Mayor, and attended by the Prime Minister and leading members of the government and armed services including Lord Kitchener and Sir Winston Churchill. This was the first of such events held across the country to encourage men to enlist in the armed services. Guildhall was packed with ordinary people who came to hear the call to arms. The meeting concluded with a motion proposed by the Lord Mayor and seconded by the Governor of the Bank of England “That this meeting of the citizens of London, profoundly believing that we are fighting in a just cause, for the indication of the rights of small states and the public laws of Europe, pledges itself unswervingly to support the Prime Minister’s appeal to the nation and all measures necessary for the prosecution of the war to a victorious conclusion whereby alone the lasting peace of Europe can be assured”.
At the Lord Mayor’s Show for the new Lord Mayor, Colonel Sir Charles Johnston, in November 1914 a significant military element was included as the City continued to support the government’s recruitment drive. By then hopes that the war would be “over by Christmas” were dying.
You can find out more about the first world war collections and events on the LMA web pages