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Reuters memorial hidden for 74 years goes on display

A memorial plaque commemorating “men of the House of Reuter” who died during the First World War was restored to public display in 2013 after being hidden from view since 1939. The memorial commemorates 18 young men from Reuters who served with Britain’s armed forces during the war and who never returned.

One of them was Hubert de Reuter, grandson of the founder Paul Julius Reuter and the third Baron de Reuter, who was killed at Beaumont Hamel on 13 November 1916. A total of 116 Reuters employees volunteered between 1914 and 1918. At the start of the war in August 1914, the entire staff of Reuters numbered fewer than 300, about 150 of them in London.

The bronze plaque inscribed with the names of those who died is fixed to a wall in an area reserved for historical artefacts at Thomson Reuters’ main London office at 30 South Colonnade, Canary Wharf. Its installation in November 2013 followed demands from present-day staff around the world. Thirteen of those who died were from Britain, three had volunteered in South Africa and two in New Zealand.

The inscription on the plaque is: “Honour to the men of the House of Reuter who in the Great War of 1914-1918 fought to defend their country and the cause of freedom and gave their lives”. The names inscribed are:

  • Capt. C.E.Withey
  • Lieut. C.F.Austin
  • Lieut. D.W.Robertson
  • Sergt. R.B.Adams
  • Corpl. A.E.Lambert
  • Corpl. G.Western
  • A.D.Freeman​
  • H.H.Retford
  • Hubert de Reuter
  • J.Brown
  • A.R.Castle
  • S.F.Collins
  • G.W.Ebden
  • P.M.Keech
  • C.Morris
  • E.C.Simons
  • H.Timmins
  • J.W.Young

Then: “May their names & example endure”. The date on the plaque is MCMXIX - 1919.

After the war, many companies, organisations and institutions commissioned memorials. Reuters decided on a bronze plaque. The inscription was written by the chief editor at the time, Frederick Dickinson. It was fixed to the wall leading to the main staircase at 24 Old Jewry, Reuters’ head office in London. When the company moved to 9 Carmelite Street the memorial moved with it. In 1939 Reuters moved again, this time to 85 Fleet Street, and the memorial moved again. “But it never seems to have been put back,” said John Entwisle, company archivist. “This may well have been because staff moved hurriedly into the new building in two stages during July. Less than two months later, Britain was again at war with Germany and there were many more urgent priorities. In 1945 World War II was paramount in people’s minds. World War I seemed to have less contemporary relevance.”

By the 1960s, very few Reuters staff remained for whom the names on the plaque evoked flesh and blood colleagues whose faces and personalities they remembered. The relatives of those killed who had felt such pride in knowing that their sons, husbands and fathers had been honoured by Reuters were yearly growing fewer.

Reuters had also changed. No longer “The News Agency of the British Empire”, it was becoming a company with a global future. Remembrance of the names of former employees who had died “to defend their country and the cause of freedom” implied something about the company’s past which it no longer wished to trumpet. The tablet’s nationalism was perceived as dated and difficult. So it quietly gathered dust in a basement store room, where it remained. From time to time, most especially on the 70th, 80th and 90th anniversaries of the start of the Great War, the question was debated as to whether it should be re-displayed in the company’s London office. But, on each occasion, it was concluded that to display it would no longer be appropriate for a company of Reuters’ international standing.

Writing about the memorial on Thomson Reuters’ internal communications web page, Entwisle asked whether the time had now arrived to put it back on display. A Thomson Reuters employee, or a visitor to its London building - whose great or great-great-grandfather fought on the German or Austrian side in the 1914-18 War - might be offended by the sight of a British war memorial, he said. More than 70 employees responded. Most were in favour of putting the plaque on display. Among the comments:

  • Display the memorial - It’s not a ‘British’ War memorial (there is no mention of nationality) - historically it’s a Reuters commissioned tablet.
  • Isn’t the point to challenge people to look at a memorial and question ‘why?’. Without which we risk ignorance. There is nothing offensive about this or inappropriate or somehow intrinsic to Reuters. All nations remember.
  • These brave young men deserve to be remembered and honoured for their sacrifice.
  • When those men fought, they were fighting not only for their families or even their country, but for the very survival of the Reuters organization itself. What would have happened to Reuters had that first World War been lost? The opening inscription is a testimony to their sacrifice, loyalty, and dedication to "the House of Reuter..." Should we ignore their sacrifices, of their own lives, for the cause of freedom?
  • At what point do we stop allowing heckler's vetoes to control all that we say and do? Why should history, in any of its forms, be hidden? The idea of keeping this memorial hidden, but recognizing those lives in some other way, seems a bit of a dis-service.
  • I say hang the sign to show the honor the sign was intended to convey, and to demonstrate Reuters recognizes the huge sacrifices made for freedom, especially by its own employees. At what point in the future do other emblems or implements of great sacrifice get hidden because of the continued precedent this holds, where those from the "House of Reuters," who gave their lives, were not worthy of a simple memorial? At what point do other "museum items" get put away or purged because of some perceived slight or discomfort?
  • Aren't our journalists putting their lives at risk everyday to bring us the truth of the impact of war, rather than allowing it to be hidden? This plaque isn't glorifying war, it simply honours these men and the sacrifices they made. It is part of unchangeable history; why hide that? When I wear a poppy it is to remember those people who have suffered or died because of war not because I agree with war. Will Thomson Reuters employees in 2101 be asked the same questions when they talk about 9/11 memorials? Will someone think that they should be hidden because 100 years of history has diluted the atrocity by putting a political spin on what happened that day?
  • I think it's almost insulting not to display it. As said above it's a tribute to the men who risked their lives for their country and way of live. Since mostly everyone from that time has now passed on, I don't see how anyone can rightly get offended at what is now a piece of our human history.
  • There's nothing wrong or offensive about defending one's country and people from facing personally the destruction and horrors of war. These boys took initiative to keep London, and all of Britain, safe from those horrors, and should ultimately be honored. Though my ancestry if partially German, I have forefathers who defended the United States in the Great War, and I see no problem with this plaque. I think both sides should proudly honor the bravest of their nations' sons. These were men who were brothers, fathers, sons, nephews, husbands, friends, and in this case, co-workers. To remove the plaque deems them unworthy of public recognition by our company, when these were some of the best and bravest Reuters has ever employed. The tablet states it clearly, “Honour to the men of the house of Reuter”. A decision to display it in ‘Thomson’ Reuters is respectful and fitting.
  • I cannot for the life of me, being an ex serviceman, even begin to comprehend why this subject is even being debated.  Of course it should be on display. When you lose friends in conflict, you swear to yourself that you will never ever forget them. This should be the attitude of the company that they worked for also. They gave their lives for us, they paid the ultimate sacrifice.
  • For a news organisation to not see the irony of discussing whether this should not be 'readable' by all, in case it causes offence to some, if not lost on me.
  • Why is this even a question? Why was it on the 70th anniversary, or the 80th, or the 90th? It is sad that in the name of political correctness, we choose to dishonor our own history and the sacrifice of our employees. Would anyone here be offended if they walked into the Wall Street Journal and saw a plaque to Daniel Pearl? How about a plaque for Marie Colvin at the Times? So why do we imagine that anyone else would feel outrage at our company honoring our dead, particularly from a century ago. We should respect their feelings, but they must also respect OUR culture and heritage.
  • If this tablet must be displayed it should be as part of a historical exhibition as the blog posts suggests, with some insights about its history. As a contemporary memorial it is totally inappropriate and should absolutely not be displayed, especially outside the building. This tablet is outdated, pompous, and imperialistic. Not least, it's mass produced and just plain ugly. Thankfully times have changed. There are far better ways to remember the war dead - like an exhibition or commemorative book that reclaims the humanity of the people concerned rather than just giving a list of names in order of rank. Lets put this tablet where it belongs - in the historical museum.