Office life

100 Years Prudential & The First World War

By October 1915, Prudential was operating with its office and agency staff reduced by around 9,000 men. Seventy-six per cent of eligible Chief Office (Holborn Bars) clerical staff were either serving or had volunteered for service.

At the same time, the volume of business transacted by Prudential continued to mount. In addition to the popularity of existing products, the outbreak of war brought a surge of assurances as men hastily tried to make provision for their families before enlisting. The result was that 1914 showed the company’s largest- ever increase in industrial business and premium income. Ordinary business was also up, due partly to the same war-related causes.

In order to ensure that Prudential continued to run smoothly, more women and temporary staff were recruited – in 1915, the workforce at Holborn Bars comprised 1,000 temporary staff, 2,000 women (up from 400 in 1913), and 1,750 men who were unable to serve in the forces. An Ibis Magazine sketch of the time portrays an 'original' Prudential clerk saying, ‘I am being assisted by an old man of 90 and a girl of 15’.

Office hours were extended by 30 minutes at the beginning and an hour at the end of the day (this lasted until March 1921); and there were frequent calls for women in the Chief Office clerical departments to volunteer for overtime until seven or eight o’clock in the evening to clear temporary backlogs.

Work was often disrupted by wartime events. The Ibis Magazine of July 1917 tells of an air raid that affected Chief Office. ‘The attack took place shortly before noon, and lasted about four minutes in so far as it concerned this neighbourhood. A large number of the ladies sought safety in the basement… one window in the building was hit’.

‘One feature of the War was that everybody, whatever might be his or her age or physical defects, tried to do his or her best in some way, be it glorious or humdrum. The work at Chief Office was now being carried on by men who were either over age or had some physical disability which made it impossible for them to be accepted for military service.’ HE Boisseau, ‘The Prudential Staff and the Great War’