HSBC Memories for a New War Memorial: engaging archive volunteers

Company: HSBC
Sector: Banking
Impact: Colleague advocacy & engagement; Corporate responsibility
Sponsor: Helen Ceci (Archivist, HSBC)
Timescale: 2018-ongoing

Project brief

During the First and Second World Wars, 1,192 Midland Bank (now HSBC UK) employees lost their lives. To commemorate them, the bank erected two memorials at their London headquarters listing the names of fallen staff.

In 2015 it was announced that HSBC’s ring-fenced bank – soon to be known as HSBC UK – would be transferring to a new headquarters in Birmingham. To demonstrate the bank’s enduring commitment to remembrance, the archives team proposed that a contemporary memorial should be developed for the building, with the means to encourage meaningful interaction with the experiences of the thousands of employees who served during the two world wars. After many months of collaboration with digital heritage specialists and the bank’s IT and corporate real estate teams, on the anniversary of the Armistice in 2018, a new digital war memorial was unveiled by the CEO and Chairman of HSBC UK.

For the archives team, work began on expanding the interactive content available on the memorial’s touchscreen, by launching an ambitious volunteer programme.

The aims were to:

  • Enable broad audiences to engage with the war stories of past employees, whilst strengthening HSBC’s continued commitment to commemorate their memory in a dynamic way
  • Extend the bank’s knowledge of the wartime stories and sacrifices amongst HSBC UK employees by asking colleagues to research and write biographies for the individuals named on the memorial

An internal call-out was made to encourage interested staff to volunteer to undertake research about the men and women named on the memorial, remotely from wherever they were based in the UK. Each volunteer attended an online training session with the archivists and received all of the data and guidance documents they would need to begin their research. They undertook this in their own time, using digitised archive records and online resources to prepare biographies for the past employees. When complete, they returned their findings via email, ready for the archivists to proof read and upload to the digital memorial for users to access.

HSBC UK’s Digital War Memorial at its headquarters at 1 Centenary Square, Birmingham
HSBC UK’s Digital War Memorial at its headquarters at 1 Centenary Square, Birmingham. Photograph courtesy of HSBC Archives.


All the hard work by our volunteers and the innovative use of technology has enabled us to facilitate a truly dynamic act of remembrance. By interweaving elements of a traditional, physical memorial with digital features, we have increased access to an important element of our archives collection and created a space for our colleagues to engage and connect with the history of their company.
Helen Ceci, Archivist, HSBC

Business archives used by the team

  • War Cards: 4,000 index cards tracking Midland Bank employees in the armed forces during the First World War.
  • Staff registers (1939-1945) and staff magazines (1940s)

Outcomes and business benefit

  • Over 400 biographies completed and uploaded to interactive memorial touchscreen
  • 250+ current employees and HSBC pensioners signed up to volunteer programme
  • Positive social outlet for volunteers, especially during COVID-19 pandemic e.g. monthly open days at the archive for volunteers to conduct research together on-site (before COVID-19 pandemic) and online volunteer forum, newsletters, and community sessions on Microsoft Teams (during COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-2021)
  • Digital memorial is an interactive part of formal tours of HSBC UK’s Birmingham headquarters
  • Volunteer programme and war memorial project raise the profile of the archive and engage employees with the history of the company they work for

Lessons Learnt

  • A company’s archive has the potential to support the well-being of its employees. Volunteers enjoy making their contribution and in turn can be a great advocate for the archive. They spread awareness about the archive and help to raise its profile within the business.
  • Volunteers can build on existing archive descriptions and research which cannot be achieved by staff alone.
  • Volunteer supervisors should always consider individuals’ different skills and needs. Discussions around engagement and feedback especially regarding wellbeing should be made from the start. This helps build volunteer relationships, manage volunteers’ expectations and staff capacity to meet project work. It also assists the archive team to continue enhancing the programme for its volunteers.

Additional Resources