Donald Banks

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Sir Thomas MacDonald "Donald" Banks KCB DSO MC TD (1891-1975) was distinguished soldier, senior civil servant and a founder member of the Guernsey Society.

Sir Donald Banks (1891-1975)


Donald Banks was born in Guernsey on 31 March 1891, the son of Thomas Brownsort Banks, a stationer, and Margaret Elizabeth (née Roebuck). He had an elder sister, Blanche, and a younger brother, Maurice Rowley.[1] His great grandfather, Thomas Banks, a maltster, founded Banks & Co Brewery in Wolverhampton, which became part of Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries in 1890[2].

He married Dorothea Webster, and they had one daughter, Dawn Louise, born in 1932. They lived in Lymington, Hampshire. Dorothea died in 1947.[3]

In 1948, Donald married Elizabeth Bradley of Lymington, and they had two children together. They moved to Cadnam Lodge in the New Forest, where he kept a herd of Guernsey cattle.[4]

Early years

He attended Elizabeth College between 1899 and 1909, where he was in the Shooting VIII 1908-9.[5]


Civil Service

He entered the Home Civil Service in 1909 in the Exchequer and Audit Department. In 1914, he passed the Home Civil Service Examination, and was appointed to the Secretary's Office of the General Post Office.

World War I

He saw service in the First World War as Commanding Officer of the 10th (Service) Battalion Essex Regiment and the 8th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment. As a result of his actions, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), Military Cross (MC)[6], the Croix de Guerre, and was mentioned in dispatches twice.[7]

The citation for his Military Cross, awarded on 26 April 1917, reads

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led the left assaulting company in a most gallant manner, and succeeded in capturing his objective in spite of strong hostile opposition.

After World War I he continued with the Territorial Army, and commanded Princess Louise's Kensington Regiment from 1927 to 1931.[8]

Post Office

Returning to his Civil Service career, he became Private Secretary to the Secretary of the GPO, and between 1920 and 1923 was Private Secretary to four Postmasters-General in succession. In 1924, he was appointed Deputy Controller of the Post Office Savings Bank, and became Controller in 1931. He became first Director-General of the Post Office in 1934. During his time there he was responsible for numerous innovations including the emergency service '999', the speaking clock ('TIM'), the Greetings Telegram and the Empire Air Mail Scheme.

He was knighted in the New Year's Honours List of 1935, [9].

In 1936, he transferred to the Air Ministry, where he was appointed Permanent Secretary, in 1938 became first Permanent Under Secretary of State for Air. He was responsible for setting up the Empire Air Training Scheme, and travelled to Australia and New Zealand to discuss the manufacture of aircraft there.

World War II

The Second World War he returned to military service, and was Adjutant and Quartermaster General of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division. He served in the British Expenditionary Force (BEF) in 1940, and was mentioned in despatches. In 1942, he was awarded the "Efficiency Decoration" (TD) for twenty years' service in the Territorial Army.[10] He became a Major-General in 1943.[11]

From 1940 to 1945 he was Director General of the Petroleum Warfare Department, which developed innovative applications for petrol during the conflict, include FIDO (fog dispersal at airports), and Operation PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean taking fuels from England to Europe during & after the Invasion build-up).[12]

In 1946, he was awarded Legion of Merit, Degree of Commander by the President of the United States of America[13]. The citation reads:

Major-General Sir Donald Banks, British Army Director General, Petroleum Warfare Department, Ministry of Fuel and Power, performed outstanding services in the European Theater of Operations from March 1943 to November 1944, by assisting in the production and manufacture of an improved American flamethrower fuel. His department cooperated fully with the American Forces and adapted the Crocodile mechanical flamethrower to the Sherman tank, and trained American personnel in its operation and maintenance. He also provided the Ninth United States Army Air Force with a field mixing unit which was employed during the Normandy campaign. General Banks cooperation and keen understanding of the problems involved, contributed substantially to the successful prosecution of the war.[14]

Guernsey Society

Sir Donald was most concerned with the welfare of his fellow islanders exiled as a result of the German Occupation, and was in constant touch with the Home Office and Civil Servants responsible for the welfare of evacuees. He felt that there must be an informed voice and body of opinion among exiled Guernseymen and women that could influence the British Government, and assist the insular authorities after the hostilities were over.[15]

In 1942, he was approached by the Home Office to see if anything could be done to get over a reassuring message to the islanders, as it was known that, despite the fact that German authorities had banned radios, that the BBC was still being picked up secretly in Guernsey and Jersey. It was broadcast by the BBC on 24 April 1942.[16]

He was instrumental in the founding of the Guernsey Society in 1943, as well as the publication of Nos Iles by the Channel Islands Study Group, following a Symposium in Oxford in 1944.[17]

Sir Donald served as Chairman of the Guernsey Society from its formation in 1943 until the end of 1946, when he was appointed Vice President. He was succeeded as Chairman by Commander Esten De Jersey.

Air Ministry

After World War II, he resumed his civil service career in the Air Ministry. He was Head of the United Kingdom delegation to the International Civil Aviation Organisation at Montreal in 1946, and Deputy Chairman of the Air Transport Advisory Council 1947-51.

De La Rue playing card depicting Sir Donald Banks as Master of the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards in 1956

De La Rue

He was a Director of De La Rue and Standard Telephones and Cables, and Chairman of the Anglo-Chinese Chamber of Commerce 1946-54.[18]. In 1947, he was instrumental in the acquisition by De La Rue of his father's firm, Banks Brownsey & Co. This was an historic event for the international organisation, re-establishing its links with the birthplace of its founder, Thomas De La Rue, who left Guernsey in 1817 to seek his fortune in London[19].

In 1948, when the Post Office produced two postage stamps commemorating the Liberation, Sir Donald, as a Guernseyman, former Postmaster-General and serving Director of stamp-printer De La Rue, was the recipient of one of the 36 First Day Covers.[20]

In 1956, through his connections with De La Rue, he became Master of the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards.[21]


Sir Donald died on 11 July 1975 at the age of 85. He was buried at St Peter's Church, Bramshaw, near Lyndhurst, Hampshire. At his funeral, a eulogy was given by Sir Eric St Johnston.

In his obituary, The Daily Telegraph described him as "... a man of ideas whose versatility contributed much to the national well-being in war and peace".[22]


  • Banks, TM and Chell RA, With the 10th Essex in France, 1921
  • Channel Islands Study Group, Nos Iles – A Symposium on the Channel Islands, Teddington, 1944
  • Banks, Sir Donald, Flame over Britain: A Personal Narrative of Petroleum Warfare, London 1946
  • Banks, Sir Donald, Sand and Granite, RGS, Spring 1967 - the text of the recorded talk on the Channel Islands that the BBC broadcast on 24 April 1942.


  1. Drake-Brockman, DH (ed), Elizabeth College Register, Vol II, 1931
  2. Heritage of Banks' Beer
  3. Kinnerley, RA, Obituary: Major-General Sir Donald Banks, KCB DSO MC TD, RGS, Winter 1975
  4. Kinnerley, RA, Obituary: Major-General Sir Donald Banks, KCB DSO MC TD, RGS, Winter 1975
  5. Drake-Brockman, DH (ed), Elizabeth College Register, Vol II, 1931
  6. London Gazette, 26 Apr 1917
  7. The Times, Obituary, 14 July 1975
  8. The Times, Obituary, 14 July 1975
  9. London Gazette, 1 Jan 1935
  10. London Gazette, 2 Oct 1942
  11. London Gazette, 31 Dec 1943
  12. Banks, Sir Donald, Flame over Britain: A Personal Narrative of Petroleum Warfare, London 1946
  13. London Gazette, 24 Jan 1946
  14. WO373/147/1609, National Archives, Kew
  15. Kinnerley, RA, Obituary: Major-General Sir Donald Banks, KCB DSO MC TD, RGS, Winter 1975
  16. Banks, Sir Donald, Sand and Granite, RGS, Spring 1967
  17. Channel Islands Study Group, Nos Iles – A Symposium on the Channel Islands, Teddington, 1944
  18. Marr, LJ, Guernsey People, Phillimore 1981
  19. Return to Guernsey, De La Rue Journal, October 1947
  20. 1948 Channel Islands Liberation Issue, P 150/05/04/07, British Postal Museum & Archive
  21. Profile, Old Elizabeth Association web site.
  22. Profile, Old Elizabeth Association web site.
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