Volunteers on the home front

100 Years Prudential & The First World War

Most of the men who did not enlist, and remained working at Chief Office, served with the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) in addition to carrying out their duties at the office. Prudential volunteers were called on chiefly to transport wounded soldiers from Waterloo and Charing Cross stations to various London hospitals. By November 1916, the number of casualties transported by Prudential VADs had amounted to nearly 140,000.

Prudential staff also worked in the Red Cross Luggage Squad, which was responsible for delivering wounded soldiers’ belongings. One Prudential staff member described the duties as follows:

‘On the arrival of the train … one of you gets inside the van to arrange the articles as they are hurled in. (If you are over four feet in height that part of the work should be avoided.) Then two, working together, stagger about the platform grasping valises, trunks, and boxes, studded with hundreds of nails, corners, and splinters… The van is full except for about five inches by four. That spot is reserved for you to sit on as van boy… You do this all day and all night and finish up looking like a sweep.’

Fundraising activities were also undertaken by Prudential staff. A ‘prisoners of war fund’ was started by the Ladies' Staff in May 1915, and dispatched parcels throughout the war to prisoners badly in need of assistance; while in May 1916 as a result of a fund started by members of the Field Staff, two ‘motor ambulances’ were presented to the British Red Cross Society.

Saturday afternoon entertainments for audiences of up to 100 wounded soldiers were provided at Chief Office from Christmas 1915 to March 1919; while the company’s Horticultural Society provided fruit and vegetables for the wounded in London’s hospitals.

It was not only Prudential’s staff who were pressed into service. In July 1915, Godfrey Yearsley wrote from France:

‘Do you think the Ibis Rifle Club would lend my battery the large spotting telescope if it is not being used? I know it would be immensely valuable to us… Our battery lost their best glass at Mons.'

The telescope was duly sent from Chief Office and in August Mr Yearsley reported:

‘Already the glass can claim two scalps. A party of [the enemy] were seen outside a ruined farm about 800 yards behind their fire-trenches, and were apparently having breakfast. Needless to say it did not take us long to locate the spot on the map, obtain the angle from reference line, calculate angle of sight and range, etc., and send this over the phone to the battery.'

And later, he reported from the Balkans:

‘The telescope is still safe and sound and doing good work. It has been in some funny places with me. Was in use during the Loos-Hulluch push, and a few days later when we made the attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt... So you see the old glass gets a “rough house" at times.’