Thrift, Saving and the Role of the Post Office Savings Bank in Britain in War and Peace, c.1914-1945

Mark J. Crowley

This paper will focus primarily on the way in which the Post Office Savings Bank (POSB) proved instrumental in the shaping of attitudes among the British people towards savings in the period 1918-45.  It contends that the presence and contribution of the POSB to both the First and Second World Wars galvanised the nation by creating the inextricable connection between savings and national strength.  Saving became a national requirement during both wars, but in peacetime, the POSB also provided schemes for saving in the interest of preparing for later enjoyment (such as leisure activities and holidays). Martin Daunton’s study of the Post Office has argued that the earlier savings bank movements prior to the creation of the POSB were regarded as ‘paternalistic rather than democratic, without a sense of collective identity and purpose.’   Thus, the creation of the POSB sought not only to fill this gap in the society, but also increase people’s trust in the savings movement.    
This paper will show how war changed the government’s perceptions concerning the importance of savings and the participation of the working-class in the savings movement.  Furthermore, it will demonstrate how the experience of the First World War informed the preparations and initiatives of the POSB in preparation for the Second World War. Ultimately, it will display how the POSB acted as a complementary force to the pre-existing high street banks and other financial services used by the working class, and how it worked to define new perceptions concerning saving and spending in the first half of the twentieth century in Britain.  Drawing on a range of archival material from the British Postal Museum and Archive, the National Archives (Public Records Office) and the Mass Observation Archive (Sussex), this paper provides insight into both the government and public perceptions of the Post Office Savings Bank as an institution for encouraging saving and communicating the government’s wartime propaganda.