RICS at 150
Pride in the Profession
Showcasing the positive impact surveyors have made to society.
By coincidence, the presidential address for 1918 to celebrate 50 years of the Surveyors’ Institution was given on the day the First World War ended, 11 November 1918. Then president John Hubert Oakley, at 12 Great George Street (still our HQ today), described the occasion:
Gentlemen, we have met here this evening by coincidence on a day of great importance, the greatest and most memorable day there has ever been in connection with our Empire, and, I think I may say, the whole world. As you know, Gentlemen, the armistice has been signed and by signing of that armistice, we were told by our Premier at the Guildhall on Saturday night – to use his exact words – “the issue was settled”. Gentlemen, it is a moment for rejoicing: it is a moment where everything gives way to the one thought uppermost in our minds, even at tonight’s important occasion, the Jubilee meeting of our Institution. Every other thought seems to disappear, and I feel that I musty, and that you would wish me, before we start our business transactions and I proceed to read my Address, to refer to the great event that has happened today, and I think, if it meets with your approval we should open the proceedings by singing the first verse of the National Anthem.
Given our position on the corner of Parliament Square it is not hard to imagine the scenes outside as this solemn speech was delivered. The Times reported the next day that “cheering crowds thronged the streets till a late hour at night”.
The sense of relief expressed in Oakley’s words reflects the losses the Institution had faced. At the AGM in May 1919 it was reported that 271 men had died, however more casualties were reported at the AGM’s in 1920 and 1921 and the list I have compiled amounts to 308 names including one member of staff. This is nearly 6% of the total membership reported at the May 1914 AGM.
The majority of members who died (200) were professional associates, the equivalent of our modern MRICS. This reflects the fact that Fellows would have tended to be older and therefore not eligible for active service although 30 of them were lost. 76 were classed as student, examinee or probationer.
There were just a handful of non-UK members at this time, however six overseas members were lost, two from Canada plus one each from Egypt, Hong Kong, Malaya and South Africa.
By the AGM in May 1919 a Memorial service had already been held by the Institution on 31 March at St Margaret’s Westminster where we still hold an annual Remembrance Service, this year’s being on 12 November at 1pm. The address was given by Rev. H.F. Westlake and the service was closed by the playing of the Last Post and singing of the hymn “The Supreme Sacrifice” “the beauty of which gave rise to many inquiries as to the name of the writer of the words and composer of the music”. We know the piece now as “Oh Valiant Hearts” and it is still sung regularly at our service.
Also, by May a Roll of Honour containing the names of all who had fallen was placed in the Entrance Hall of the Institution. This is no longer in place. The work was carried out by Allan Vigers, a son of a past-president, who has already worked on the memorial in Cape Town Cathedral to those who fell in the South African War. It was also proposed to compile a complete record of those who served in the war which, alongside a corresponding volume for the Second World War, which is still used in the wreath ceremony at the Remembrance Service.
The last member to be killed in action was Gordon Harley Grellier who was killed on 31 October 1918 at Cambrai, aged 33, and is buried in Poix-du-Nord Communal Cemetery. He was a Professional Associate who had worked for his family firm of Grellier and Son in London before the war. He reached the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery.
It is all too easy to reduce this war to facts and figures but it is important to also look at the personal stories and I have tried to report on a few of these during the centenary celebrations.
My thanks go to the Epsom and Ewell Explorer website which provide detailed accounts of the local men who died in the First World War. Most poignantly they record a list of Gordon’s effects returned to the family which “included a wallet, purse chain, wrist watch, pocket torch, pocket knife, cigarette case, cigarette holder, officer's advance book, cheque book, army book 439, a pair of gloves, pair of shoes, four large buttons, six small buttons, khaki handkerchief, tie pin, pencils and keys”.
The last member to die during the war was Edward Potter who died of wounds on 10 November 1918, hours before the Armistice. He was 34 and is buried at Saint Sever Cemetery Extension. He was a Lieutenant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and before the war worked for F. L. Mercer & Co in London.
Nine members are reported to have died after the end of the war from injuries and illnesses acquired on active service.
I have compiled a Roll of Honour spreadsheet of the men who died during the First World War including their membership status and employment before the war, their rank and regiment during the war and when and where they died and are buried. In a few cases, such as Gordon Grellier above, I have managed to find some additional information online. I am happy to share this and have enjoyed answering a number of queries over the last four years.
Get in touch if you would like me to check the Roll for anyone from your family or firm.
The First World War does not appear in the transactions of the Surveyors' Institution (as RICS was then called) until November 1914, as the previous meeting had been in May - before the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the outbreak of hostilities.
Head of Reference Services
Cathy is the Head of Reference Services at the RICS which encompasses the library service and London Bookshop. The library acts as the archive as well as delivering online resources to members to enable then to access information 24/7 wherever they are in the world.