Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Law Society’s Gazette is its thorough commitment to preserving a sense of community among the solicitors that it served. In 1916, the Gazette had a “guaranteed minimum circulation of 9,000 copies a month.” This is no small feat for such a pamphlet. It was only distributed among the society’s members, who, in order to gain such a title, had to go through quite a formal process of nomination and confirmation before eventually receiving the honor of membership. The Law Society, then, had at least 9,000 members (probably more) all throughout Britain. And the Gazette itself seems to have been designed to keep this community of solicitors apprised of the latest changes in the field and in the lives of its members. It was aimed at serving not only the business and educational interests of its members, but also at facilitating a strong sense of unity among the solicitors.
Every issue of the Gazette notified members of upcoming lectures, future examinations, and general meetings, keeping solicitors up to date with all of the Society’s activities. There were always a few pages devoted to sharing the names of newly admitted members as well as the names of men who were seeking membership, emphasizing the human element of the society and its dependence on member participation. The Gazette even dedicated space within the pamphlet to obituaries, paying tribute to the lives of solicitors who had once been active society members. It is clear that the Law Society was deeply committed to the idea of community; the Gazette is a testament to this and, indeed, to the sincerity of this commitment.
The First World War deeply affected this community of solicitors. Many of the society’s members were young enough to volunteer or to be drafted for service on the Western Front; if they weren’t, then they likely had sons, brothers, cousins, and neighbors in the conflict. Hugh Vaughan Peirs, for example, was nearly sixty years old when the war began. He could not have fought abroad, but his son, Jack, could and did. Hugh Vaughan and Jack, both solicitors and society members, exemplified both the old tradition of the “family business” and the inter-generational sacrifices of wartime. It could not have been easy for Hugh Vaughan to watch his only son go off to war, but he and many other fathers had to do it.
The Society decided to reflect these sacrifices by making changes to the Gazette. As the war dragged on, a new feature, “The Roll of Honour,” began to appear in every issue. This column was dedicated to recognizing the “Solicitors and Articled Clerks” who had been killed on “active service.” The Gazette’s editors called upon the family members and friends of the dead to contribute this information, depending on a larger community to relay news to the publication, where it could then be distributed throughout the Society. Notably, the Roll of Honour was entirely separate from the long-established obituary section. It is reasonable to conclude that the editors felt it necessary to christen a new column for the wartime dead, to reserve a couple of pages solely for those men who had lost their lives in the trenches. The Gazette, and the Law Society itself, was not unaffected by the fighting at the front. The community of solicitors that the Gazette served was being routinely fragmented, both physically by flying bullets and emotionally by devastating death notices. The “Roll of Honour,” then, sought to address these wounds by acknowledging the community’s losses and by doing so properly – which is to say, by placing their names on a special Roll of Honour.
The Roll of Honour, however, was not simply a list of names. A short paragraph accompanied each name, listing, if available, the age of the fallen soldier, the names of his relations, and his notable military actions. Often, the location and name of the firm in which the man had worked was also included in the paragraph. The Gazette, after all, was a publication meant for the Law Society, and the men that it served were linked by their shared career path. Names of firms were not superfluous. Rather, they allowed other solicitors in the society to contextualize the listed deaths and visualize more fully the person who had been lost through the lens of the common interest that they had shared in life: the law.
Many of the entries on the Roll of Honour are businesslike. They include only a minimum of information. Others, however, are quite revealing. Quite a few of the war dead listed on the Roll of Honour – Anthony Harvey Bowman, Cecil Cooper Spink, Robert Lancelot Gibbs Hunt, and Francis Bernard Vivian Thomas – had been articled to their fathers, just like Jack was articled to Hugh Vaughan early on in his career. It is possible that they were training under their fathers not only for the demands of their future full-time profession, but also to assume the responsibility of the family firm when the time came. These men were seemingly in the middle of carrying on a family tradition when they died, not simply following through on a job requirement. Their work was closely connected to their families, to their roles as sons in a patriarchal society that placed great value, indeed familial honor, on the practice of primogeniture.
A few of the men, too, were their parents’ only sons. Both Edwyn Randolph Bowling, aged 22, and Roderick Spicer Russell Porter, aged 26, who appeared on the Roll of Honour in the Gazette’s July 1916 issue, were the oldest living sons in their families. Allan George Condi, aged 20, and John Richard Webster, 35, whose deaths were listed in the November 1916 issue, were also the only sons of their parents. It is interesting to note that the families of the fallen soldiers sent these death notices in to the Gazette. In Britain at the time of the First World War, the loss of an only son was not just emotionally devastating; it also had grave financial and social implications that could entirely transform the family’s future. That the families included this information in the death notices suggests that they, too, were aware, at least subconsciously, of the importance of their son’s role in the family.
Other entries on the Roll of Honour include specific details about the military service of the men who died. Clement Ridley Shield, 29, for example, was listed in the Gazette’s November 1916 issue and it was noted that he had been “mentioned in despatches in 1915” before he was eventually given the Military Cross for his actions at the front. Likewise, 32-year-old Richard Henry Vaughan Thompson’s tribute includes a mention that he had volunteered for service “immediately on the declaration of War…and obtained his commission in September 1914.” This information betrays a very human need to glorify the war dead, to ensure that their awards and their willingness to volunteer for battle do not go unnoticed. What these details tell us, indeed, is that the entries of Thompson and Shield were sent in by families that, in trying to reconcile the death of a beloved son, turned to visions of classical heroism for comfort amidst a barrage of unimaginable pain.
The Roll of Honour is a testament to how deeply the deaths at the front affected the lives of the men and women at home. That it was a monthly feature in a publication like The Law Society’s Gazette, which was not for general distribution but, rather, aimed at the men working as solicitors, is even more telling: on the one hand, the Gazette functioned, at least in part, to maintain a strong sense of community among Britain’s solicitors. On the other hand, the Gazette’s Roll of Honour is also just one example of the effect that the unprecedented losses of the First World War wrought upon every facet of early twentieth-century society, from family life to professional life. The Roll of Honour was a modest attempt to memorialize the war dead by a group of men who had only ever been tasked with writing about upcoming Society meetings and memberships. The modesty and straightforwardness of the Roll of Honour make it all the more important. It was, simply, one small community’s attempt to respond to the impossible.