Background notes by David Parkes
In 1947, at the age of 28, Howard Powell joined the Birmingham Municipal Bank; he retired at age 65 in June 1983, having attained the Senior Management position of District Manager. Howard had always enjoyed writing, and during his career with the Bank was able to pursue this interest by becoming Editor of the in-house magazine (CONTACT) and the local Trade Union branch’s magazine (The Guildsman). In 1972, Howard produced a history of the Bank’s Staff Association that was included in a special edition of CONTACT that celebrated the Association’s Silver Jubilee.
Shortly after commencing his retirement, Howard began ‘writing about my life, and my thoughts about the events of my life’ – these writings were subsequently published as a book entitled One Man’s Journey. In sections of that book, Howard describes his experiences during the Second World War (much of it spent as a Prisoner of War) and during his 36-year career with the Bank. An extract from One Man’s Journey is reproduced below.
One Man’s Journey
by Howard W Powell
It is strange how people can be thrown together and I always considered it to be a most unlikely trio when I was placed to work at a branch of the Bank that needed a staff of three only. The manager had been a conscientious objector throughout the war and, whilst respecting his right to his philosophy, I could never accept it because I had always the thought of a couple of German soldiers with rifles coming to my front door, going through it and ill-treating my loved ones. To be fair and by unspoken agreement we never discussed the subject because we both realised there was no common ground. I know that, had we not stood firm and fought, this country would have been quickly in the hands of the Germans who, I am well aware, would have so subjugated and slaughtered the population that “British” would have disappeared with “Jewish” and most of the young people living here today would have never been born.
The trio at the
branch was completed by a charming gentleman who had spent four years in various prison camps under the control of the Japanese; we
talked together quite a lot and we agreed that, out of it all, and over the years, we may have been given insight into human behaviour
that was fortunately denied most people; we agreed it would do no good simply to relate experiences and hope to help anyone but, if
we did ever have the opportunity to benefit anyone in any way by offering deeper understanding because of our experiences, then this
would be a time to reap some benefit from what we had undergone, if we were never able to do so, then it would be even more important
for us to find some personal spiritual gain, otherwise those years in our lives would have been wasted. It is not possible to put
your mind into someone else’s and make them share your memory if what you are describing is beyond their experience or knowledge or
understanding, and it wouldn’t help anyone if you could. It can be a comfort, when life puts pressures on you, to be able to call
upon someone who has been through the valley and knows how to offer help, this help is not “Oh, yes, dear, I know what it’s like”
because that only means “I think I would react in so and so manner if this thing ever happened to me” or “If I had more or less the
same hand of cards that you now hold, the cards in the other three hands would be distributed in a completely different way, so I
can only tell you what card I would play and hope it’s the right one in your case,” but it’s surely better to be able to call upon
someone who can say “I had nothing and I smiled, let’s see what you have.”
The following two extracts from Howard’s book recall his experiences in the Second World War and memories from his career in the Bank:
One Man’s Journey: 1939 to 1947 – the book’s Appendix: a contribution by Howard to a 2001 project entitled Birmingham Lives. This section of Howard's book describes his experiences during World War II, and leading up to the date he joined the Bank