With Centrica’s origins in the 1812 Gas, Light and Coke Company (GLCC), our people played a vital role fighting on the front line and fuelling Britain’s war effort at home. Today, we wanted to remember the lives of those who contributed to victory.
Our people on the front line
Many of our apprentices, gas stokers and meter readers swapped the safety of their civic lives for active service far away from home. Despite the difficult and dangerous reality of war, our people devoted themselves to duty and found solace in reminiscing about their old lives left behind.
An employee who went by the initials C.H.R, served in the British Expeditionary Force and wrote to colleagues with: “There is a fellow Co-partner here with me…He was a service-layer at Leyton-stone. Another chap here is a great friend of a fitter at Goswell Road, so between us we get news of the Company, and often have a chat together on Company’s things. We have had a pretty rough time since we have been out here...we are now fighting a very big battle which has already lasted eight or nine days, and the fight is still going on. This last fortnight the weather has been our worst enemy, day after day it has rained, and we have got wet, and it is bitterly cold with it, keen biting winds blow right across the top of the hills, and seem to go right through you , and everywhere the mud is over your boot tops. Some of the sights we have seen have been awful – the dead and wounded, and houses ransacked, looted, and wrecked by the Germans; but the space will not permit me to describe them all. There have been many gallant deeds done…but life is valued very cheaply in this game, and it is all taken as part of the day’s work…”
In all, 549 people in WWI and 402 people from the GLCC lost their lives in WWII while many others faced illness, injury or disablement. The Company maintained care for their people and families wherever possible, providing a regular income alongside insurance and sickness schemes.
Our people on the home front
Gas and its by-products were of significant national importance and consequently, colleagues faced unprecedented demand and danger on the home front.
Not only did our people have to meet the rising appetite for gas to fuel the war effort, they also had to install lights and appliances in new war-time buildings while extracting every ounce of value from the commodity to create explosives for battle, drugs for hospitals and fertilisers for food among its many other uses. To meet these demands, the industry became less fragmented and combined their efforts for the greater good while operations became more efficient and expanded. Meanwhile, women capably plugged the labour gap and paved the way for future involvement in the industry.
At the same time, brave engineers worked tirelessly to repair gas works deliberately targeted by bombs and re-connected thousands of miles of mains to power millions of homes, businesses and factories. This meant Repair Gangs often faced grave danger as duty took them out during the worst of the aerial conflict in WWII.
A private consumer stated, ‘I am dependent on gas for all heat, fires and cooking…I feel impelled to thank you all for the splendid work and organisation which has enabled these repairs to be done under such difficult circumstances. How one misses gas when it disappears!”
Iain Conn, Centrica’s Chief Executive said: “Our 21st century energy and services company is rooted in history and I am proud of the valuable contribution our company and colleagues made to victory in WWI and WWII. On Remembrance Day, we especially want to remember our brave colleagues who made the ultimate sacrifice and tragically lost their lives.”
Centrica Media Relations: +44 (0)800 107 7014
About the Gas Light and Coke Company
The Gas Light and Coke Company was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1812 and became the largest gas company in the world. It was the pioneer company from which the entire industry stemmed and the original company that British Gas and Centrica descended. Having originally operated in London, the company expanded through a series of mergers and eventually became nationalised under the 1948 Gas Act. It then played a major part in the new North Thames Gas Board which was one of Britain's twelve regional Gas Boards. Following the 1972 Gas Act, the British Gas Corporation was created which merged all of Boards together and later become privatised. Centrica plc was formed in 1997 following a demerger from British Gas plc and BG plc.
Read more about our role in the war