Battle of the Somme, Battle of Ypres, Belgium, correspondence, France, front line, Harold Bantock Sankey, home front, Italy, Joseph Sankey & Sons Ltd, medal cards, National Archives, Royal Field Artillery, War Office
During the final months of the First World War, Harold Bantock Sankey applied for release from military service for a period of six months to enable him to service as acting Director of Joseph Sankey & Sons Ltd.
Sankey joined the Army in August 1914, and served in France, Belgium and Italy. From March 1915 onwards, he was at the Front, including participating in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He also took part in the third Battle of Ypres in 1917. At the time of his application for release he was Lieutenant Acting Captain in the Royal Field Artillery Territorial B. Battery, 241st Brigade. His medal card can be found at the National Archives.
Wolverhampton City Archives has a collection of material relating to his application for release. The grounds for his application was due to the urgent and important nature of the work done at that time by Joseph Sankey and Sons, Limited. The Chairman of the Company, John William Sankey, had died in 1914, and his eldest son Sydney had been killed in action in 1915. Out of the two Managing Directors of the Company (both of whom were over military age), one of them, Fred E. Sankey, had been ordered to take a prolonged rest from business. Despite this insufficient management presence, the company was producing mines, metal fittings for aircraft and steel helmets in vast quantities, assisting the war effort in a number of of areas. Hence the company felt that it was vital that “a young and active man should concentrate upon [this area] and relieve the strain on the present depleted Directing Staff.” (Harold Sankey was 23 at the time).
However, gaining release from active service was not a straightforward matter. In December 1917, the solicitor George Thorne wrote to Mr Sankey, stating that “for the most part, the military authorities find the men of experience the most useful to them and will not let them go so long gas they can hold them.” Clearly, it would not, therefore be enough to state the case of Sankey’s already worthwhile contribution. In August 1918, Mr Sankey received a letter from a Nathaniel Martin, stating that “no such application must be made by the Ministry to the War Office on behalf of an officer under 25 years of age.” Martin did state that Captain Sankey could perhaps approach the War Office directly to obtain a temporary release.
The company had to provide references from various Government departments about the invaluable work they were doing. The company acknowledged that
if a civilian were available having these qualifications this application would not be made but the man power problem at these works is now acute and there is urgent need of some relief for the directing staff.”
Finally in October 1918, against all the odds, Captain Sankey’s application for release was approved for six months. Given the war ended a month later, hindsight would suggest that this was perhaps immaterial, but it does indicate that the importance placed on the work of the Sankey company during this time.