By Steve Smith
Twice on television over Easter, eagle-eyed folks spotted a Toc H mention on TV and both related to the same project. Firstly, in an archive clip on Countryfile, a Toc H Collection point was clearly spotted and then on a Michael Portillo train journey the same project actually got a mention. This inspired me to seek out the story of what I discovered was called Operation Daffodil.
Newent in Gloucestershire is famed for its array of daffodils. Even today – at least in non-Covid times – coach trips are arranged to go and view the sea of yellow and tourists pick armfuls of them. Back in 1924 however, someone had a bright idea of using the famous flowers for a good cause.
That someone was Mr William Henry Ernest Mockford, a 45 year old Londoner, then living in the West Country. He had memories of the patients of hospitals of his home town being unable to benefit from the reviving beauty of nature around them so contrived a plan to take nature to them.
Formerly a Private in the Rifle Brigade, William was now Vice-President of the Newent Comrades Club and he engaged that organisation to help him achieve his objective of picking a few dozen bunches of daffodils and sending them to the hospitals.
The newly build Comrades Club house was used as the centre and dozens of volunteers collected the blooms on one Sunday in the spring and brought them to the club. From here they were bundled up and transported to London by train to be distributed around the capital’s hospitals. The scheme caught the public’s imagination and it became known as Daffodil Day or Daffodil Sunday. Pathe News filmed it a couple of times and it turned into a real community effort with school children helping pick the blooms.
In 1929 over 20,000 bunches of daffs were distributed to more 40 London institutions, the distribution being carried out by Great Western Railway.
The organisation of the project was taken over by the British Legion in the mid-thirties and then, after a break due to the war, was revived in 1952 by Toc H. Local branches such as Newent and Gloucester got involved as did Mark VII in Fitzroy Square, London which became the centre of distribution for the hospitals.
Notices were plastered all over Newent asking the hordes of visitors to pick an extra bunch of daffodils for the scheme and Toc H men manned the collection stalls led by Arthur Langley, the local Jobbie. Helped by the women’s movement, the daffodils were packed into whatever boxes were to hand and travelled to London in detergent and margarine boxes.
Local school-children, youth club members, scouts and guides also helped gather the flowers. Toc H men on motorcycles patrolled the key tourist picking areas and handed out the notices asking people to pick an extra bunch for the hospitals. They even set up roadblocks asking those in motor cars to surrender a bunch or two for a good cause.
The following morning – Monday – the goods train carriage, half-filled with boxed daffodils, was shunted to Gloucester and attached to the Cheltenham Flyer. Then it sped to Paddington where London Toc H took over. They did send them by lorry in 1952 but returned to the tried and trusted train in 1953. In 1954, Operation Daffodil, as Toc H christened it, distributed over 100 boxes of the flowers weighing about a ton in total, to twenty London hospitals.
So Toc H can’t take claim for Newent’s Daffodil Day as it was started by others but they certainly got heartily involved with Operation Daffodil in the mid-fifties. I can’t tell you when Toc H stopped doing it or when Daffodil Day died out but the fields of daffs still appear each spring and the tourists still flow in.
If anyone wants to take this story further, the Gloucester branch records are in the Gloucestershire county archives and an article about Toc H in Newent compiled by Dood Pearce, Chairman of Newent Local History Society, was deposited with the Toc H archive last year.