By Steve Smith
From time to time this blog features the stories of the men and women who have made a significant impact on the history of Toc H. This is another such story but what makes this one different is its somewhat poignant ending. Tubby sometimes spoke of him at meetings and described him as “really nobody of any importance, just a very humble, normal fellow”. In Tubby’s understated way this was high-praise indeed.
William John Musters was born in Campbell Road, Bow in February 1897 to German parents. His father Justus (Sometimes Eustace or even Justice) was a baker and bread-maker, a trade dominated by Germans in the East End at that time. William’s surname was actually Muster but after he left the army it mutated to Musters for some reason. We will refer to him by his obvious nickname of ‘Mus’.
By the age of 14 Mus had left school and was working as a Warehouseman’s Clerk. Young Mus was also a footballer and soon began to gain a reputation as being a talented goal-keeper who could easily have turned professional if he had wanted it. Tubby later claimed to have heard of him in this capacity though they didn’t meet during World War One. Mus enlisted in April 1915 and was soon promoted to Sergeant in charge of four or five men and an 18-pounder gun. According to Tubby, Mus’ original commanding officer was a great man, a Major who was a brave outstanding Christian. Unfortunately he was killed and his replacement was a weak Subaltern who left Mus and his men alone at their guns soaking up a German barrage. Many of his men were killed and Mus himself was broken mentally and physically – a shattered foot.
His elder brother Henry Eustace Muster died on the 31st July 1917 and as his body was never found, is commemorated on the Menin Gate. This loss, combined with his anger at being abandoned by his officer on the front, left Mus very bitter about war. He was discharged in September 1918 and spent two years recovering in a Scottish hospital. Afterwards he found himself engaged to a young Scottish girl – Isabella Reekie Melville – and selling typewriters for the Yost typewriter company, an American business selling in the UK.
Meanwhile, in London, trying to get Toc H underway in 1919, Tubby had only the poorly typewriter he brought back from Poperinghe and £19 – from selling a medal he was awarded at Oxford – with which to replace it. He contacted Yost who sent out their young, limping salesman along to The Challenge office in Effingham House, Arundel Street. After explaining that his American masters would not let Tubby have anything new for £19 Mus eventually provided a reconditioned Yost No.10 for £10. However, Tubby’s first secretary, Mrs Payne, acquired on loan from a local hospital, refused to touch the No.10 so Tubby summoned his new, young salesman friend. The No.10 was taken away and a newer model replaced it.
That evening, at Tubby’s request, young Mus joined the prototype Toc H hostellers in the flat on Red Lion Square, where Tubby explained his plans. Shortly afterwards Mus left Yost and got a new job but had a few days off between posts which he gave to Tubby helping with the administration of Toc H. He was much missed by Tubby and Mrs Payne when he started his new position so they were delighted when three weeks later he turned up at the office – having quit his job – and announced he was postponing his wedding and coming to work for the fledgling Movement. And so our Mus became Toc H’s Registrar, a position he would hold for over 20 years, and the first paid staff member in Toc H.
As registrar he was responsible for keeping the membership records which, over the coming decade, would grow exponentially. And with his knowledge of accounting he also helped keep an eye on the expenditure even holding Tubby’s personal cheque book. He sat on the Finance Committee and did his best to stop the founding padre over-spending.
Mus moved into Mark I but when HQ moved to Mark II in September 1920 he was billeted there. However, he was living across the river in Mark III on the 9th September 1922 when he finally married his fiancée Isabella. The wedding took place in the nearby St John’s Waterloo and was performed by Tubby, then still a Curate having not yet been appointed to All-Hallows. Though he had performed weddings whilst at Portsea, this is the first time I am aware of him marrying anyone in London. (The normal vicar of St Johns was of course John Woodhouse, a staunch Toc H man who had provided St John’s vicarage as Mark III. Freddie Domone, Secretary of Mark II, was best man.
The newlyweds first home was a flat created by members in a couple of deserted rooms over the stables in the mews near Mark I in Kensington. Even though the stairs apparently collapsed when furniture was being taken up, one shudders to think what such a property would be worth today.
His great interest was sport and Mus had much to do with the activities at Toc H’s newly acquired sports ground in Barnet. He ran Toc H’s annual sports day at the Folly Farm site and also organised a 5-a-side competition there.
Despite his shattered foot he also kept goal for both Toc H and in the 1925/26 season Wycombe Wanderers, one of the best amateur teams in their league. He made 31 First Team appearance for the Wanderers beginning with a game against the London Caledonians in September 1925 and finishing with a Cup game against Oxford City in October 1926. He even played for an Amateur Football Association ensemble against Tottenham in New Year’s Day 1924, alongside the formidable Charlie Thompson who has graced these pages before.
For much of this time, he and Isabelle lived at 22 Fossway in Dagenham but by the thirties had moved into central London and were living in Tavistock Road near Paddington. In 1939 he and Isabella moved into the Toc H Mark in Swindon along with several other HQ staff temporarily evacuated from London because of the ‘phoney’ war. At this time he was listed as Chief Accountant as well as Registrar. But Mus’ story was about to take an unexpected turn.
Near the beginning of the war in 1940 there was some discussion about whether Toc H could support pacifists or Conscientious Objectors. At one Toc H meeting a pacifist was allowed to speak which apparently upset some old soldiers. A branch official wrote to Tubby for his view on the matter and Tubby’s reply was through the pages of The Journal. To summarise Tubby stated that “No man on active service can be allowed to attend a meeting at which a Pacifist is eloquent” and “I should have a thought a Pacifist today would be content to leave Toc H alone”. The article ran over a couple of pages and Tubby’s tone was about as aggressive as he ever got on paper. This startlingly ‘hawkish’ outpouring from Tubby must have shocked many in Toc H but perhaps none more so than Mus, who after serving the Movement so faithfully for over twenty years, handed Tubby his resignation. This came as a great surprise to all his colleagues but demonstrated just how entrenched his convictions, stemming from the bitterness left by the first war, were.
Life goes on and in December Mus started a new job – one which he beat several dozens of applicants to. A fortnight into his new role, on 14th January 1941, Mus left his West Kensington home after kissing Isabella goodbye. Two hours later, a colleague found him sitting in his chair in his office quite dead, taken by a heart attack. He was only 43.
Reeling from the destruction of his beloved All Hallows and living under the shadow of the belief that Talbot House had been destroyed, Tubby must have entered 1941 with some despondency. On the 8th of January he had lost old friend and Toc H president Lord Baden-Powell and on the 15th that important Toc H benefactor Lord Wakefield. But these were both old men who had lived long and worthy lives so surely the greatest tragedy for Tubby must have been the sudden death of the old friend who had so recently left his side because of a disagreement.
Still reeling from his recent departure, Tubby and all of Mus’ Toc H colleagues now had to come to terms with his premature death. Thankfully the bombing of All-Hallows had left the crypt and Columbarium mostly untouched and so a service was organised to receive Mus’ ashes. Tubby described that service in the Journal. The following are extracts from his long and poignant telling.
“We entered under the Cromwell tower….thankful that the winding staircase stood unimpeded….the Undercroft was lit by lamps and candles and Arthur Pettifer was there in charge with all arrangements beautifully ordered. We came East, passed the great blacksmiths’ gate and stood in a half circle, lit by candles which showed the place was quite unharmed….Unfairly I appealed to Barclay Baron to say a few words, without a moment’s warning. He complied and never used his powers to a nobler purpose……the kindly light shone softly on some names, fondly remembered, both of men and women, who had within Toc H fulfilled their task,
and Sergeant William Musters thus came home.”