Remembering 70 legal staff who failed to return from Great War

Sheffield Law Society president Giles Searby reveals the rolls of honour of solicitors and articled clerks who died in WW1.
Sheffield Law Society president Giles Searby reveals the rolls of honour of solicitors and articled clerks who died in WW1.
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Almost 400 went to war and 70 did not return.

The impact of World War One on Sheffield’s close-knit legal profession can only be guessed at 100 years on.

But safe to say it must have been massive.

Not just the appalling loss of life, but the simple absence of so many men must have severely hindered the day-to-day running of law firms and the courts. Especially since there was a patriotic rush to sign up at the outbreak of war in 1914.

Then after four years of carnage, the final reckoning. Among the 270 legal clerks who joined the ranks the death rate was about 10 per cent.

It rose to more than 25 per cent among the 130 or so solicitors and articled clerks (trainee solicitors) who became officers.

Giles Searby, immediate past president of Sheffield Law Society and partner at hlw Keeble Hawson, gave a speech at the Yorkshire Law Banquet earlier this year which honoured the bravery of those from his profession who fought and died in World War One.

It also left him reflecting on his predecessors in the ceremonial role.

He said: “Imagine 400 people marching off and 70 not coming back.

“There would have been an initial wave of people joining. The Pals battalions were part of that and there were a lot of lawyers and accountants in the Sheffield Pals - they were quite a snooty bunch by all accounts.

“I don’t know what actually happened to the day-to-day working of the courts.

“It must have been severely affected by it all. In addition there would have been new laws brought in by the war.

“We can only speculate on what Sheffield and District Law Society president George Branson would have said at the Law Banquet in 1915.”

After the war, the society produced permanent records of those who served. Two hand-painted rolls of honour were framed and still hang at the society’s headquarters on Campo Lane in the city centre.

One lists solicitors and articled clerks and their regiments. A red cross beside each name denotes that he was wounded. A black cross marks those who died.

The other roll lists the clerks, the legal firms they worked for and, in initials, their regiments.

Details that leap out include two who were taken prisoner: Capt Arthur Sanderson Furniss and Pvt JE Markham, while Edward Lucas received the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre with Palm, which are awarded for gallantry and heroism.

A third item, a brass plaque above the fireplace in the society’s meeting room, lists the solicitors and articled clerks who died.

Giles said it was no longer known who commissioned or completed the works, which reveal their age by referring to the ‘European War’ and the ‘Great War’.

But the names of some firms and surnames of some soldiers were recognisable even today.

Broomhead Wightman and Moore became DLA Piper. Watson, Esam and Barber is Graysons with Watson Esam today. And Lieut Herbert Keeble Hawson was a member of the founding family behind hlw Keeble Hawson.

He added: “As well as honouring those who died, they are a really interesting piece of social history.”