Whilst the Toc H was a Movement made up of thousands of unpaid members in groups and branches across the globe, the organisation would have seized up if it wasn’t for a large and active staff team greasing the wheels and pushing the whole thing forward. Somewhat like the church, Toc H staff were expected to serve where they were needed and it was common-place for field staff to be moved from pillar to post to apply their skills where they fitted best. A fine example of this would be Stuart Greenacre, known widely in Toc H as ‘Greeno’. From his early beginnings as a branch member, Stuart joined the staff team in 1931 and spent 27 years serving Toc H across the UK and abroad and even passing over ‘in the saddle’ as we shall see. This is his story.
Greeno was born on the 25th of November 1901 Birmingham to Edward and Mabel Greenacre. He was christened Arthur but later preferred to be known by his middle name of Stuart. As a youngster he was a member of the Church Lads’ Brigade, a good indicator of where his life was heading.
Like his father and many of his family members, Stuart began his career as a salesman in home furnishings but he was clearly looking for more than work from his life. In November 1923 we find one A. S. Greenacre as Honourable Secretary of the Oxford Federation of the Church of England Men’s’ Society (CEMS). I believe this is Stuart and given that quite a number of Toc H men were also in the CEMS, this may have been Stuart’s route to Toc H.
The first mention of Stuart being in Toc H is a newspaper report that retrospectively reports that he had been a member of the Nottingham group of Toc H where he held the post of Jobbie or Jobmaster, the man responsible for finding work for the branch and its members to carry out. He would have been a member in July 1924 when the group were elevated to Branch status and in December when their Lamp was first lit by the Prince of Wales in London.
It would be his transfer to the Manchester branch which would give him a role he could really get his teeth into. In January 1926 the Manchester district branches had opened a hostel at 16 Rutland Street in Hulme. An old pub, they retained the pub’s name of Bleak House and deliberately set out to attract the working class of the Hulme district. Toc H felt that it’s standard houses – the Marks or hostels it had opened across the country – were “too pleasant, too suburban”. Bleak House was something of a homeless shelter, working with the “down and outs” although former regulars of the pub also used to call in for a chat.
In the autumn of 1926 the main bar was turned into a coffee ‘stall’ and named in honour of the fallen as most rooms in Toc H hostels were; in this case it was the Unknown Soldiers’ Room. The Journal announced that “a coffee stall will be opened very night from 9’o’clock until 6 a.m., staffed by three members recruited from Manchester and Salford area”. Stuart was one of those members. It was popular with cabbies, tram-drivers and night workers and in a report he made to the Manchester branch in 1927 Stuart concluded
“people look to the Coffee Stall as a powerhouse for service – from dressing injuries to clearing up family differences and caring for the homeless.”
Stuart remained in the Manchester area until 1931. As well as running the coffee stall at Bleak House (until at least April 1928) he was the Honorary District Secretary and Salford District Pilot, all voluntary unpaid roles. However, in March 1931 The Journal announced that “A.S. Greenacre (“Greeno”) is to become the Secretary of the Southern Area, now enlarged by the addition of the Thames Valley and Oxford Districts”. This was a paid staff job and his postal address was listed as 47 Francis Street, London, Toc H’s headquarters at that time.
The role of the Area Secretary was varied and was fundamentally to act as a conduit between the branches in his area and Toc H HQ. He would represent Toc H by attending and speaking at local groups and branches, rallies (gatherings of groups and branches in an area), initiating members and presenting Rushlights and Lamps to groups as they earned them. He wouldn’t have done this in isolation though as HQ stalwarts like Tubby, Barclay Baron, Peter Monie and Pat Leonard all liked to attend rallies and so Stuart would have known all the Toc H executive very well. This meant that his abilities were brought to their attention and explains why – in October 1931 after just over six months in his first paid role – Stuart was assigned to Special Work. He left the Southern Area and was first sent to Northern Ireland to spend some time helping the groups there and the lone branch in Belfast. After Christmas he was sent to Scotland to do similar work there with Bob Sawers and then was posted to the South Western Area in a holding position until Easter.
In May 1932 it was announced that he was being appointed as Area Pilot in South Wales and Secretary, in the Western Area. His address is listed as Toc H, Insurance Buildings, New Street, Cardiff. This was the home of the Cardiff branch of the North British and Mercantile Insurance company, of which Walter Southwell-Jones was a director. Southwell-Jones was the Toc H benefactor who gave Mark V Southampton to the organisation and even sat on Central Council for a while. The fact that Toc H in Cardiff used this building was presumably no coincidence.
By the time of the staff conference in September 1932 Stuart was listed as South Wales & Western Area Secretary. This was two distinct Areas and quite a big responsibility given how quickly Toc H was expanding. In fact by July 1933 Stuart had relinquished South Wales and was focussing on the Western Area. His address was now the Bristol Mark but I don’t know if he was living there or it was just an office.
Then in October 1933 Toc H announced that six men were to be dispatched overseas (Two to New Zealand and four to Australia) to strengthen the groups and branches. Stuart’s brief was to forge new and stronger links of personal friendship between Toc H in the UK and in Australia, and also to assist Toc H Australia to solve for itself its own constitutional problems. Whilst several Ambassadors (Not least Tubby and Pat Leonard) had toured the Dominion to get Toc H going, this is the first time staff men have been assigned a formal tour of duty abroad.
He left Southampton on the 17th January 1934 for Fremantle, on the Jervis Bay, a Commonwealth Line steamer built by the Australian government for the purpose of shipping migrants. His companions were Rex Calkin and Ronald Wraith. The fourth man seemed to have dropped off the list but Ronald’s new wife Doris travelled with them. The party became known as Regron (REx, GReeno & RONald). They were certainly busy travelling right across the continent and they seemed to meet their brief. In the 1935 Annual Report it was said that “the results of their visit exceed our most sanguine expectations”. In practical terms this was reflected by the six independent Toc H Associations in Australia effectively restructuring under a parent association.
Stuart often enthused about his time in Australia and was a good friend of his travelling companion Rex Calkin, who was the General Secretary of Toc H. Stuart and Rex arrived back in England on the 2nd February 1935 (Leaving the Wraiths in Australia) and Stuart was posted as Acting Secretary East Midlands Area, switching with Alan Cowling who was sent to take up a Secretary post in Australia. After a permanent Area Secretary was appointed in May, Stuart returned to Bristol to be Western Area Secretary again.
It was whilst he was in Bristol that Stuart met Gertrude Bolton, the woman he would later marry. Gertrude was a staff member of the League of Women Helpers having left teaching after being been drawn to the Movement by Phyllis Wolfe. Phyllis was a fellow teacher at Camden House School in London and member of Toc H but both she and Gertrude joined the staff and formed something of a triumvirate with Elsie Potter, something of a legend in the LWH. Primrose recalls
“Mum told me about travelling up to Manchester to speak to groups of women about Toc H and what a shock it was for her to experience the conditions under which people lived. She also told me about taking East End kids on camping holidays and having to find shoes for them.”
Stuart’s next role change came in July 1936 shortly after the huge 21st birthday celebrations at Crystal Palace. A post-festival ‘cabinet reshuffle’ saw Stuart sent back to South Wales as Area Secretary (His place in the Western Area taken by Reg Smith whom we have featured in this blog). A year later, an unwell Stuart was replaced by a Mr Johnston. On recovering he was sent to help out in the Lincolnshire division of the East Midlands area but in December 1937 was posted to the South-Western Area as Area Secretary based at the local Toc H HQ at 42 St David’s Hill, Exeter. He was still holding this role at the time of the 1939 Register and his address was given as 12 Richmond Road, Exeter, a boarding house. As well as his paid role with Toc H, the register also recorded that he had some sort of voluntary role with the Women’s’ Voluntary Service Motor Transport unit. Incidentally, at the same time, Gertrude was living in lodgings at 21 Victoria Park Road, Exeter and was Regional Secretary for Toc H Women Helpers Travellers English Office. Three months later, on the 9th December 1939, they were married. Gertrude left the staff at this time.
This was of course a time of great change for the entire world, not least Toc H, who had turned their attention to opening a new chain of Talbot Houses across the UK and around the world to serve the pastoral needs of Service Men and Women. I am working on a blog about these Services Clubs for later this year. Stuart was assigned as Warden at the Toc H Services Club in Plymouth and whilst running this he became a father for the first time when his son, christened Timothy, was born. Tim’s godparents were his mother’s great friend Phyllis Wolfe, and John Brunger. The family were living in Dawlish at the time and Stuart was still South Western Area Secretary and also Pilot for the region.
On the 1st February 1941 Stuart was privileged to become the Warden of a unique Toc H Services Club. The Toc H Services Club of America at 46 Union Street, Plymouth was funded by the British War Relief Society, an American humanitarian aid organisation. Tubby and Barclay Baron were at the opening which was performed by Lord Astor, Mayor of Plymouth.
The Union Jack and the American flag both hung over the front of the building causing some confusion since the USA was of course not yet in the war. On March 11th the Duke of Kent paid an official visit but then on March the 20th there was a surprise visit from the King and Queen who were visiting the nearby YMCA. Stuart recalled the event
“The first I knew was the arrival of a breathless sailor, having run all the way from the YMCA to tell me that ‘they are coming here. Lady Astor asked them and they said yes.’ I had just time to put my tie straight and walk to the door, and up came the Royal car. It was a great joy to receive and welcome them on behalf of Toc H. Most graciously they talked to many Service folk and lady helpers. Both the King and Queen said what a delightful house this is and wished it every possible success.”
However, two hours later Plymouth was undergoing its worst bombing yet and Stuart said
“All night we fought hard and saved the buildings opposite, fed and watered firemen and A.R.P. workers, bandaged the wounded, and cheered [up] the women and children.”
The next night the Toc H Club was damaged in further bombing and they shared with the YMCA whilst it was being repaired.
However Stuart wasn’t just running the club for Servicemen and women. He also organised an appeal for clothing for various citizens of Plymouth who had lost theirs in the dreadful bombings the city suffered. The South Western branches responded admirably and sent speaker vans around the streets of Devon and Cornwall and within 36 hours two branches alone (Seaton and St. Austell) had collected and sent to Stuart some 2000 items of clothing. Stuart wrote
“The story of St. Austell’s great gift is good. The Secretary [of the Toc H branch] is a school teacher. He showed my letter to the Head. The Head called the school together and read my letter to them and then sent the children home, and by the afternoon a lorry set out loaded with clothes for Plymouth. Within 48 hours of the second ‘blitz’, Seaton again sent 50 sacks of clothes.”
Stuart travelled to St. Austell on Saturday 3rd to open their new headquarters. In his speech he told the assembled crowd of Toc H men and signatories that he had had only 4½ hours sleep since the previous Sunday due to many further bombing raids in the Plymouth blitz.
He may well have welcomed a change of scenery when, by August 1941 he had been posted to Leicester as Area Secretary. He and Gertrude were living here when a daughter, Primrose arrived. Old friend Rex Calkin would be her Godfather.
Growing up as the daughter of a Toc H staff man presented Primrose with some difficulties. She recalls
“One of the things I found difficult as a child was explaining what my dad did, what his job was. Other kids had dads who were postmen or factory worker or doctors but what exactly was Toc H and what did dad actually do? ¨Well he goes to meetings and he meets lots of people and he likes helping people.”
Stuart was soon on the move again and by September 1945 was posted to London where he became the London regional Secretary based in the House of Charity in Soho Square which Toc H used during the war. After this regional office closed he was relocated to the main HQ at 47 Francis Street.
In October 1945 Stuart returned to Exeter to speak at a large gathering of Toc H (Women’s Section) as the League of Women Helpers were now known. He praised the efforts of all in the Services Clubs but stated
“I am anxious that the public shall not judge Toc H by its wartime suit – that was only an expression of our will to serve.”
And Stuart certainly still had the will to serve. One of the first things he did in London was get a Bayswater branch up and running.
Whilst in London, Stuart and Gertrude’s third child, Mark was born. His Godfather was Austen Williams, a Toc H Padre who had recently spent most of the war interned in German Prisoner of War camps after being captured working for Toc H with the BEF. His other Godparent was Elsie Potter, still a leading light in Toc H (Women’s Section).
The children were all quite young when the family relocated again to Chandler’s Ford in Hampshire when Stuart was appointed Southern Area Secretary in 1948. This would prove to be his final posting. It was here that the family really grew up and they have fond memories of the years spent in Hiltingbury Cottage in this pretty area near Southampton.
Primrose adds that
“during and after the war there was absolutely no anti-German talk in our house in fact I think Toc H must have befriended some German families after the war because I can remember a very grateful Herr Claus”
Stuart was based at the Talbot House Seafaring Boys’ Residential Club where Inky Bean was Warden (ably assisted by Mrs Bean). The children occasionally accompanied Stuart to work. Mark still has a half size Valencia Acoustic Guitar bought for his 10th birthday from a Spanish sailor. He has strong recollections
“I distinctly remember being taught the game of billiards and snooker by a large sailor and thinking how huge the table was and how smooth the surface was. Then the Hythe Ferry going down the Solent past the Cunard Queens if they were in dock. Going on the little steam rain on the Mile long Hythe Pier. That’s a wonderful memory.”
The family also knew well the nearby Mark V at Bassett. Mark again
“We all remember Toc H Mark 5 on the outskirts of Southampton. I remember garden parties and fund raising fetes there in the summer months. I usually got myself into some sort of trouble.”
“Lots of the Toc H people had nick names; Tubby, Sawbones (Hugh Sawbridge), Inky Bean, etc. We met lots of these people. They came to the house or we went to them or we met at various Toc H functions. I liked it when Tubby came or Miss Macfie because they both had terriers, Tubby’s was called Chippy and I was allowed to walk him round the garden holding onto the lead.
We also met some of the Winant volunteers. I can remember Dad being delighted because Anne Rockefeller was coming to see us. She of course being the granddaughter of the American business magnate.”
The Southern Area was huge and included the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands so he was away a lot at weekend conferences and evening meetings. Primrose says
“When he went to Jersey he always brought back some cherry brandy and we were allowed a thimbleful to taste. He was not the sort of Dad who went to the pub, he was a half pint man and he also found Mrs Bean’s dinners too huge to eat when he had lunch at the office in Southampton.”
Stuart started a Toc H branch in Chandler’s Ford in the mid-fifties and then restarted a Milton and Eastney group in early 1958. He was a church warden at St Boniface church and leader on a committee which planned St Martins in the Wood church as an offshoot of St Boniface. Primrose again
“I can remember being very pleased when Dad started up a branch of Toc H in Chandlers Ford because the Dads of some of the kids we knew joined and then they would maybe know what Toc H was.”
Unfortunately, in the early fifties Stuart got an infection in the spine, a spinal streptococcus. They operated at a hospital in Alton, Hampshire he was there for about 12 months. Mark remembers visiting him there several times with their mother. He says
“A very kind Toc H man built a device which allowed him to read a book lying down. That was so helpful during a very long stay in hospital. It took months to get him back on his feet again with them gradually increasing the elevation of his bed. Stuart wasn’t one to hang around in bed. He wanted to get back working for Toc H ASAP. I remember Mum saying that she thought he should have convalesced for a lot longer before returning to full time work with Toc H.”
Sadly Stuart’s great service to Toc H was to end too abruptly and when he was far too young. On Thursday 15th May 1958, Stuart had been attending a meeting of the Management Committee of the PM Boys’ Club run by Toc H (so called because it served the hotel page boys and bell-hops who were only free in the afternoon). He was on the platform of Westminster station when he had a heart-attack. He was taken to hospital but died later that day aged only 56. Mark says
“A Red Cross nurse was standing next to him and she got some men to lift him off the train onto a station bench seat. He was taken to St Thomas Hospital on the south side of the river Thames. That Red Cross Nurse contacted Mum and they met later in London, what a wonderful woman. Many years later when Mum died whilst having lunch in the Cafeteria of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square she was also taken to St Thomas Hospital.”
If it was a great loss for Toc H then it was a tragedy for his family, the children still quite young and deprived of their father. Mark remembers
“I was in the cricket field across the road packing up the stumps after practice with a friend called Chris White who lived down the road. Prim came running out of our house calling me and screaming the news that dad had died. I remember dropping the stumps and just running off into the neighbouring corn field where I ran into John (Pop) Vining the farmer who did his best to comfort me with some very kind words.”
And Primrose adds
“I can remember the dad of one of Tim’s friends being heartbroken when dad died. I saw him crying at the Memorial Service. I was fifteen at the time and it made a great impression on me that so many people, the church was packed, would come to honour my Father. In the local paper the headline was ‘Friendship was his Forte¨ and I remember that because I had to look up the word forte to see what it meant.”
As well as a local memorial service at St Boniface (11th June) there was a service at All Hallows and Stuart’s ashes are in the Columbarium under the church. Gertrude’s ashes were also placed there when she died in 1984. Southern Region Chairman John Goss said of Stuart
“His outstanding quality was that he made a personal friend of everybody. He would go to tremendous lengths to help others in difficulties and try to share their burden.”
According to Primrose, Stuart’s philosophy was
“Get involved if good things are being done,
get involved to stop bad things being done
Always do your share”
I think it’s fair to say that Greeno got involved and certainly did his share.
Grateful thanks to Mark, Primrose and Tim Greenacre for their help in putting this blog together.
Primrose and Tim went to Poperinge with a Toc H party led by Rex Calkin in 1961. She says:
“Going into that loft at the top of Talbot House is something I will never forget especially the iconic sign Abandon Rank all ye who enter here. I love that.”
Mark’s ended up emigrating to the country his father so loved:
“The last time I saw Tubby Clayton was when he visited my Mother at her cottage near Shaftesbury in Dorset in 1971 the year I emigrated to Melbourne, Australia. Tubby was very supportive of my move to Australia and gave me the name of one of his most distinguished contacts Sir Edmund Herring, Chief Justice and Lieutenant Governor of Victoria based in Melbourne. Needless to say I didn’t actually follow up on that contact.”
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.”
The name of Prideaux-Brune has been attached to Toc H for its entire existence. Latterly this has been through the work of Ken Prideaux-Brune in his varied roles of Director, Editor of Point 3, International Secretary and much more. However, for decades the foremost Prideaux-Brune in the Movement was Ken’s father Lance. A Foundation Member and great friend of Tubby, Lance’s time with Toc H was just one facet of his incredible and fascinating life. This is a glimpse at that life.
The Reverend Edward Shapland Prideaux-Brune was the second son of Charles Glynn Prideaux-Brune of Prideaux Place in Padstow, the Prideaux family being of ancient Cornish roots (The Brune’s being from Hampshire). Edward took holy orders and from 1884 was incumbent Rector in the parish of Rowner in Gosport. Long associated with the family, the church of St. Mary contains a Brune family memorial dating back to 1559, and the manor can be traced back in the family to 1277 when it was granted to Sir William le Brun by Edward I.
It was in the Rectory that Lancelot Oglander Prideaux-Brune was born on 17th October 1894. At that time, the youngest of four – Humphrey, Cheston, and Hugh preceded him – he would gain a younger brother, Amyas, in 1903.
The happy father wrote to his cousin John Oglander, shortly after the birth thanking him for agreeing to be a Godfather.
Thank you very much for your kind letter and consent to be godfather to this quartus. My wife is delighted at your acceptance and it is indeed a great gratification to us both that the ancient relationship between the two families should be thus sealed, as likewise I am sure it will be at Padstow, when they hear of it. The baptism of this new arrival, which raises my mother’s grand-maternal status to the dignity of double figures, is fixed for Sunday next at the afternoon service, when I trust you will think of us. Our neighbour, Captain Martin of the 60th Rifles, is the other godfather and my sister-in-law, Rosalie Grant, the godmother. Alan Grant, my brother-in-law, will take your place (as proxy) on Sunday next. Then as to the name over which there has been a great discussion on the part of the 2 females (I mean my wife and Isolda) it is finally settled for Lancelot Grant Oglander. I was rather for Nicholas Oglander or Edmund Seldon, but the child’s mother has taken so much trouble, poor dear thing, as Mr. Carlton would say, that assuredly it is but fair that she should have the whole choosing of the name. When I say above that it was finally settled, it is of course subject to your approval with regard to the “Oglander”, as I am charged by the two, if you disapprove, to ask you if you would be so good as to write or should there be no time for that, to telegraph “No”. I am glad to give a good account of my father. He is going to and fro (Crediton to London) on North Cornwall Railway business. As the S.W.R. are assuming a hostile attitude, it is I hope some comfort to him to get something out of them by a frequent use of a free pass. I was much interested to hear that the Cadenabbia [retreat?] is known to Joan and yourself and equally sorry that Mrs. Oglander is suffering from a painful throat. With every wish from Rowner Rectory, I remain, etc.”
It was just a co-incidence, though an interesting one, that in 1910 a certain Tubby Clayton came to be a Curate at St Mary’s Portsea just 3 miles due east of Rowner and Lance’s family home. Moreover before Tubby’s time the Revd. Prideaux-Brune’s counterpart at Portsea was William Cosmo Lang, a great churchman who would have connections to both Talbot House and Toc H.
Educated at Marlborough College, a school founded in 1843 for the sons of Church of England clergy, Lance didn’t follow his father into holy orders but instead joined Lloyds bank in 1913 and moved to London. His career was soon interrupted by the war and Lance, who had an interest in all forms of motor transport, responded to an ad stating that the army desperately need motorcyclists. He applied and two weeks later he was summoned to a hangar and told “There’s a motorbike in that crate. Put it together and show us you can ride it.”
Two weeks later, on the 20th November 1914, he was in France as a Corporal in the Army Service Corps Motor Transport company attached to the Royal Engineers. As a despatch rider, his uniform came complete with spurs which were still issued to riders reflecting their earlier use of horses for transport. When he pointed out they were rather an impairment to motorbike riding, he was ordered to chuck them over a nearby hedge.
His stint as a rider was only a few months long as Lance was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and transferred on 1st July 1915. It wasn’t all plain-sailing though as his son Ken recalled:
“Although he was supposed to be sent to a motor transport unit, the order was such a scribble that MT was read as HT and he found himself in a horse transport unit. He loathed horses and had never ridden but they said “We’ve been ordered down to the Somme so you’re going to have to come with us while the mistake is being sorted out. But”, they went on, “We’ve got a horse that even you will be able to ride. It pulled a milk cart in civilian life so it moves slowly and stops every 20 yards or so.”
The mistake was sorted out and Lance was assigned to the supply trains – columns of lorries – getting ammunition and other supplies to the batteries around the frontline near Ypres. This was how he came to be near Poperinghe and how in February 1916 he made his first visit to Talbot House. It would clearly impact his future. We don’t know how many times he visited but it was believed to be several.
Lance survived the war despite collecting bruises after being blown clean off his motorbike early on, and suffering ptomaine poisoning towards the end. Like most people though, he didn’t escape the period totally unscathed. A cousin, Edmund Prideaux-Brune was killed during the fighting in May 1918 but, perhaps more tragically, in October 1917, Lance’s younger brother Amyas died after a short illness. He was away at Gresham’s School in Holt at the time and was only 14 years old.
In March 1919 Lance left the army and returned to his job at Lloyds. At first the bank refused to employ him saying that he had been dismissed when he signed up in 1914 but the government had in fact made it illegal to sack anyone who enlisted so they had to take him back.
Soon afterwards he became an early resident – a Marksman – at Toc H Mark I in Queen’s Gate Gardens. This was the start of a lifelong relationship to Toc H Marks. In May 1921 Lance took over as a Warden, an honorary position where one of the Marksmen was responsible for overseeing the day to day running of the house. Lance replaced Herbert ‘Shi’ Shiner, Mark I’s first warden and a man who was a close friend. Shiner and his new wife Elizabeth moved to Petworth in Sussex where he was a big name in local government and a stalwart of Toc H in the area. Shi and Lance probably first met in Belgium where Shiner commanded a heavy gun battery. In 1921 Lance represented hostellers on the London Club Committee, his first, but by no means last, committee role for the Movement.
Lance was not cut out for banking and in 1921 struck out and formed the Automobile Service Company of Marylebone to sell and repair motor cars. The initials, ASC, paid tribute to the branch of the army in which he had served. This homage was reflected in his early choice of business partners and employees. His initial partner was George Henry Cope Morgan, formerly a 2nd Lt. in the Royal Garrison Artillery and they opened their first premises in half of D H Bonnella and sons showrooms at 60 Mortimer Street. Bonnella made small electrical appliances for the aviation industry but also supplied Ford so there was some synergy.
The business soon moved to larger premises at 166 Great Portland Street. Another former soldier joined the team as workshop manager. Cuthbert Marc Anthony (better known as Dick), was formerly a Staff Sergeant in the Army Service Corps in Lahore. The showroom and garage became agents for the French Seneschal car which Dick Anthony regularly raced to publicize the marque.
Cope went on to become a farmer (Possibly in South Africa) and at some point Lance recruited Geoffrey George White as his sales manager. White lived for a time at Mark VII in Fitzroy Square, a few hundred yards from the garage. Born in 1905, he was too young to have served in the war.
Lance also became a worshipper at All Hallows once Tubby was appointed there in late 1922. Tower Hill was to become another integral part of his life. He would become a Churchwarden at All Hallows from 1929 until 1937 and is commemorated with a stained glass window in the north aisle.
Lance remained living at the Toc H Mark until 1926 leaving only when he married Constance Tetley on 5th June. I am not certain how they met, nor is their son Ken, but Constance’s brother Geoffrey Tetley was Tubby’s aide de camp in 1925. They were both the children of the wealthy industrialist Henry Greenwood Tetley and his second wife Charlotte. Charlotte became a key benefactor for Tubby in several of his guises. She provided trusts for his ordinands’ scheme and for his work on Tower Hill with the Toc H and All Hallows, and Tetley Trusts. Through the latter she did Toc H a great service by providing them with 42 Trinity Square as a base for their works. Originally gifted as a clergy house, it performed a myriad of roles and I intend to tell the story of this Talbot House later this year. Lance would be a Trustee on both of these schemes.
The newlyweds lived at Stanhope Court in Tyburnia, part of the Hyde Park Estate but in 1934 moved to Thrift Wood House, Limpsfield, Surrey, a 1920s property in a wood running alongside the old roman road that ran from Peckham, to Lewes. Here they would spend the rest of their days.
Lance’s interest in motor cars went well beyond just selling them. He was a keen driver too. Although they never drove in motor circuit races they did compete in motor rallies throughout the thirties. The first major rally of the modern era in Great Britain was the Royal Automobile Club Rally and Coachwork Competition of 1932. 341 competitors in unmodified cars started from nine different towns and cities (London, Bath, Norwich, Leamington, Buxton, Harrogate, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne and Edinburgh.) Lance was in that number, as was Dick Anthony, both driving Aston Martins, which as we’ll see shortly, was their main marque of the time.
Lance and Constance specialised in the coachwork competitions (Concours d’Elegance) which required drivers to first complete the rally and then show their cars for the judges which required lots of overnight polishing, picking out the letters on the tyres in white paint, and generally making the car gleam. They achieved considerable success in this somewhat esoteric endeavour and their son Ken has a number of their medals.
Ken said of his parents:
Lance liked to say how, when they got married Constance agreed to teach him to dance and he agreed to teach her to drive; and, he added: ”I was much the better teacher!” He always maintained that she was the better driver and she did all the night driving on the rallies.
They also owned a 1926 Sunbeam with a crash gearbox and she was the only person who could drive this smoothly. She once said that the invention of synchromesh had taken all the fun out of driving. The Sunbeam was a magnificent vehicle. There was a large gap between the front bench seat and the rear bench seat and so when the top was down the rear passengers had their own windscreen which they could unfold and pull towards them. Lance claims on one occasion to have conveyed two cricket teams about a mile from the field of play to his house for tea. Men stood on both running boards and crammed together in the space between the front and rear seats. The 1930s was indeed a different world!
I have compiled a table at the end of the blog showing Lance’s (and Constance, since she was regularly his co-driver) participation and performance in some of the major rallies of the era.
Meanwhile the premises on Great Portland Street were no longer adequate for Lance’s successful business and in early 1928 they moved to 10-14 Macklin Street just off Drury Lane. The premises adjoined the rear of the Winter Garden Theatre and although Lance continued to trade as Automobile Services Company at first, in the early thirties he changed the business’ name to Winter Garden Garages (previously the name of the premises only). They continued to sell Senechals until 1931 when Lance turned his attention to Aston Martin and they were loaned a recent Le Mans entrant from the factory, which Dick Anthony raced at Brooklands. At the time Aston Martin was somewhat circling the drain and, impressed by the car he had borrowed, Lance pumped money into the company in return for the sole London concession. By January 1932 he was a board member at Aston Martin. Although his time with them was short, he is known is some circles as the man who saved Aston Martin. Certainly he bankrolled their entries into the 1931 Le Mans. However, orders were not coming in fast enough and after poor sales at the Olympia Motor Show, Lance sold his stake in the company to Arthur Sutherland in March 1933.
Lance opened an additional garage at 179 Tottenham Court Road (aka 2-10 Pancras Street) where he continued to sell Aston Martins alongside other sports cars. His employees now included a junior salesman, Geoffrey Dunning Hunt who lived at the Brothers’ House in Kennington. Also too young to have served in the First World War, Hunt would join the Royal Artillery during the Second World War.
Despite no longer having a say in the running of the company, Lance did much to support Aston Martin including driving them in various rallies (See table at end) and supporting some independent drivers racing standard Astons at the 1934 Le Mans with Dick Anthony in charge of the pits. Lance and Dick were also on the first committee of the Aston Martin Owner’s Club convened in May 1935. Lance became the Honourable Secretary and occasionally hosted tea at his house if the club were on a trip in the Kent area.
One notable customer was Cicely Ethel Wilkinson, a pioneer aviator who qualified as a pilot in 1916 although her service was driving ambulances on the Western Front. She maintained her love of motors and on the 17th April 1937 bought an Aston Martin 15/98 from Lance at his Tottenham Court Road showroom.
They opened a further outlet at 185 High Holborn in early 1937 which would become their main showroom but they retained the premises at Macklin Street (100 yards away) and the showroom on Tottenham Court Road. Lance continued to sell the marque until 1938 when the company started selling directly from the factory. Instead Lance picked up a concession for Morgan which would lead to one of the great race stories of the time.
Prudence Fawcett was the daughter of a Sheffield solicitor with – much to her mother’s chagrin – a great love of sports cars. She had set up a little unofficial business importing Alfa Romeos to sell and Customs and Excise were hounding her for unpaid duty. Lance was a friend and he sold one of her Alfa-Romeos for her to pay off the debt.
In 1937 Prudence visited Le Mans as the guest of the Duke of Westminster and announced that she wanted to enter the race the following year. To cut a long story short, Lance agreed to obtain a car from Morgan, get it ready to race, and provide the support team.
They all drove to Le Mans together and Lance managed the pits with Dick Anthony as mechanic; Constance kept the lap charts; and Geoffrey White was co-driver. A mutual friend of Lance and Prudence – Lord Wakefield – provided fuel and lubricants.
Prudence finished a respectable 13th out of 45 entrants of whom only 15 finished. It was Morgan’s first entry in Le Mans and also Prudence first and last major race as she met and married an aviator who persuaded her to give up motor racing!
Hunt and Anthony took part in time trials at Brooklands in September 1938 in a Morgan 4/4 and Lance put in another Morgan in the 1939 Le Mans; this time White and Anthony shared the driving and finished 15th.
But what of life outside business. Although Lance didn’t really engage in Toc H branch life once he left the Mark, he retained a close interest and close contact. In particular he took an interest in the management of the Marks and other residential properties and was Chairman of the Central Housing Committee for 30 years. He was on the CEC briefly in 1932 (representing Mark VII) and following his two year tenure became a Vice President in 1934. He would become a President in the late sixties, a position he would retain until his death. Additionally he was an Officer of the Corporation, Chairman of the Talbot House (Tower Hill) Management Committee and – as we have already seen – a trustee on various trusts connected to Toc H. When Toc H decided to create the first purpose-built Mark to replace Punch House in Hackney, Lance chaired the committee charged with raising the necessary funds and, when completed, the Mark was named Prideaux House in recognition of his long service to the Marks and his enthusiasm for them. All in all a rather busy man.
Lance – and Constance – were also very close friends of Tubby. It was he who married them in 1926 and baptised their children. Most tellingly, it was to the Prideaux-Brunes that Tubby took himself in 1935 when he was unwell following an unforgiving series of world tours. Although he stayed in a farm house five minutes’ walk from the new family home in Limpsfield, he spent much time in their company whilst he recovered. Their company now included baby Kenneth who had been born in London on 17th November 1934. A sister – Claire – would join them in 1937.
There was still one more important impact on the motoring scene to come from Lance. A close friend was Raymond Mays the well-known racing driver who co-founded the English Racing Automobiles stable (ERA) with Peter Berthon and Humphrey Cook. Mays originally raced Bugattis, Mercedes, Hillmans and other marques but in the late thirties developed and drove his own ERA cars. In 1938 his newest project was a road-legal version of their 4.5 litre Invicta but it was doomed from the start and indirectly caused the breakup of ERA. Cook walked away with the company name and Raymond Mays was left to pick up the pieces. He wasn’t alone though. Lance had already had some involvement as his good friend Mays wanted him to distribute the new cars. However there was some contention about this as another of May’s trading partners, Charles Follett, was vying for it too. Lance wrote a very forthright letter to businessman Philip Merton who was backing Follett’s case. The following extracts are from that letter:
I submit that we are the right people to distribute, as we know the trade well. We have the right premises, comprising ample floor space, a repair shop, petrol pumps etc., all in one spot. By next September we can be free of all agency commitments and with the exception of the Morgan, my intention would be not to take on any commitments for next season, so as to concentrate the full weight of my organization on launching the E.R.A.
Follett’s organization is not, in my opinion ideal for distributing your car. His premises are very good west-end showrooms, but you cannot make a wholesale depot of a west-end showroom. His commitments are far too heavy……..
………on the other hand, Follett would be a great help on the retail sales, and I therefore suggest the following. The Winter Garden Garages to be appointed the Sole London Distributors with the special care of the wholesale sales, and they would appoint Follett as a special main agent, giving him preferential deliveries and every possible help.
In the end, this was moot because as we saw, the original project was shelved. Instead, in August 1938 a new company Shelsley Motors was formed to sell the “Raymond Mays Special” sports tourer, based on the V8 Standard Flying 14.
Shelsley, was named for the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb that Mays was famed for, was based at with the address 185 High Holborn although the workshops were at Raymond Mays and Partners garage in Bourne. Lance, Raymond Mays and Peter Berthon and Phillip Merton were the directors.
The car was unveiled at the 1939 RAC Rally and reports speak highly of the car’s handling and the power of its modified engine based on a Standard 2.7 litre V8. Four were entered in the Rally. Three were Tourers with bodies by R.E.A.L. whilst the fourth was Lance’s own specially commissioned drop-head coupe with a Burgundy body by Carlton – registration FLN388. The Tourers were driven by Raymond Mays, Dick Anthony and Sammy Davis. Anthony didn’t finish due to a minor accident. Lance retained the drop-head until 1951 and it is still thought to exist today, believed to be in the USA.
Sadly this venture never got off the ground and only the four cars mentioned were built (There are rumours of a fifth but no conclusive evidence). Shelsley Motors was wound up on the 25th July 1939.
After the breakup of ERA Lance tried to organise peace talks with Cook but ultimately they failed. However, he and Constance did later purchase the 1938 1.5 litre ERA Works car on behalf of Mays, for which he was delighted and most grateful to his old friends.
Anyhow, as the autumn of 1939 approached the whole world of motor sport was to in as much turmoil as everything else as war loomed. In the 1939 civil register a note is written against Lance’s entry saying that he will “be available for work from November”. I think this suggests that Lance was already thinking about temporarily or perhaps permanent closing his garages. Although Winter Garden Garages is still listed at Staffordshire Buildings in Macklin Street in the 1940 and 1941 trade directories, we know that Lance retired from this work early in the war. He maintained an interest though and in March 1943 attended a Motor-Racing Brains Trust meeting organised by Rivers Fletcher.
Dick Anthony went on to service airport plant for John Mowlam whilst Raymond Mays formed British Racing Motors (BRM) after the war. Lance would continue to work with Mays as a director of the motor business he ran, which involved monthly visits to Bourne.
Lance was recalled to the (now Royal) ASC being commissioned 1st August 1940 and served as Lieutenant and later Major in administrative posts at Northern Command headquarters in York.
After the war he made no attempts to revive his business though he sold the occasional car privately still including, in May 1951, his Raymond Mays Special drop-head coupe. However, retirement, if that’s what it was, was not spent pruning roses. Locally he was for many years churchwarden of Limpsfield church and chair of the governors of the local primary school.
Just a few miles from the family home was Beech House in Nutfield. A sprawling country mansion, it was purchased in 1949 by the London Police Court Mission, a kind of forerunner to the probation service originally started by the Church of Temperance England Society. Lance was introduced to their work by George James Morley Jacob (Normally known just as Morley Jacob) who was a Toc H member and former Marksman and long-time secretary of the mission. Morley even spoke about his work to Mill Hill Toc H in 1932. The Nutfield home opened in May 1952 and was “A new type of home for delinquent boys where the problem is being tackled through work in the market garden, a craft department and in further education classes”. This was clearly aligned with Toc H’s work and it’s easy to see what attracted Lance. He became the chairman of the home’s committee.
All this public work was on top of his continued Toc H connections. And Toc H would soon become a family thing. Constance belonged to the General Members’ branch of the Women’s Association and in the early fifties was on the Executive with Alison Macfie, Annie Barron, Nora Ellison and Norah Edwards helping steer the Women’s Movement toward integration. She was also involved with the purchase of Alison House, sharing Lance’s enthusiasm for Toc H properties.
Around 1951 Tubby called Lance and Constance ‘dismayed’ that his ADC had had the temerity to ask for a week off. Lance’s son Ken was called to the fold, and never left! Ken’s first work was to be Tubby’s companion on a trip to see Johnny MacMillan in Stirling. Later, whilst at Oxford, he would spend a few weeks as one of Tubby’s official ADCs and he would be the British organiser of the Winant Volunteers, the Claytons, an early member of the Projects team, editor of Point 3, International Secretary, and of course – for ten years plus emergency stand-ins – Director of the Movement. In fact at the time Ken became Director in 1974, Lance was a President and Constance was a Trustee!
Daughter Claire attended many Women’s meetings with her mother and was a volunteer waitress at the Lunch Club in Crutched Friars for several years.
Lance’s biggest input to Toc H remained with the Marks and other houses. As mentioned earlier he was heavily involved in fundraising for the Mark at Hackney which would be named in his honour. Lance was of course at the opening on 1st June 1962, along with the then Administrator George Davis, Tubby and the Queen Mother who opened it. John Burgess, a Warden at Mark III in the seventies, recalls Lance and Constance visiting Prideaux House in 1973 for inspection. Lance was also involved with Clayton House in Croydon.
Time though is relentless and Lance died on the 2nd May 1987 at the age of 92 and his wife of over sixty years, Constance followed less than two months later on the 26th June. A chapter closed.
Major Rallies entered by Lance as Driver
This list is not necessarily complete
My grateful thanks to Ken Prideaux-Brune, John Burgess, and Charles Trevelyan for their help in putting this blog together. As ever, a plethora of online sources were used and I should particularly mention Motorsport magazine, Find My Past, and Ancestry.
Finally I am especially grateful to the following two sites for much of the motor racing history. I’m no petrol-head and these sites helped me understand much about what I have written. If you are interested I suggest you click the links and take a look
This short, and largely visual, blog was inspired by a recent acquisition. Despite being the son of a keen philatelist, I had never heard of Maximums before, so the 1965 postcard of the chapel in Talbot House was to be my education in the matter. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. This blog looks briefly at all the postage related paraphernalia relevant to Toc H and it’s not much – unless of course you know better.
The first Toc H related stamps were in fact issues to help raise funds for All Hallows in 1943 after it was seriously damaged through two separate nights of bombing in late 1940. This set of six stamps were issued in a presentation card and were available to anyone making a donation of at least 2/6 (Two shillings and sixpence) to the All Hallows restoration Fund.
The next Toc H related stamp was issued in Belgium in 1965 to celebrate Toc H’s Golden Jubilee. The brainchild of the man who ran Old Flanders on the market place, it was a solitary 3 Franc stamp.
Often seen as a standard First day Cover, it was also issued as a Maximum. This is a postcard style First Day Cover featuring a picture on the front too which the stamp is affixed and franked. More common in continental Europe than the UK, I was happy to obtain one recently.
The final item, to my knowledge, is not a stamp but simply an envelope and a postage frank from Australia commemorating the Centenary of Tubby’s birth.
Probably about time we had another stamp in the UK.
One of the longest running programmes started by Toc H was The Winant Volunteers, which began shortly after the Second World War and finished less than a decade ago, though it had long left the umbrella of Toc H. Now the story has been told in full and is freely available online.
The author, Nick Robertshaw, was a Clayton Volunteer in 1970. He returned to the U.S. the following year, and was employed at his Clayton assignment, in mid-town Manhattan, for thirty years. His wife, Nanette Rousseau, served as the American coordinator for some fifteen years. They are now retired, and live sixty miles north of New York City, in the township of Pawling, New York. The preface to the book was written by Edgar Masters, who was a Winant Volunteer in 1952. He has served as President and Chairman of the organization.
The organization was the brainchild of John Gilbert Winant, the U.S Ambassador to Great Britain during the Second World War, and of Tubby Clayton, Founding Padre of Toc H, and long-time vicar of All Hallows. After Winant’s untimely death in 1947, Tubby organized a small group of young Americans to work in London’s social service organizations for the summer. At that time London was only slowly recovering from the catastrophic damage of the War. The U.S. was comparatively unscathed, and the initial groups were largely from backgrounds who could afford to work alongside the youth of London without financial worries. Tubby travelled widely, and through his efforts recruited and raised funds in the United Sates, especially in Texas, through his connections with the oil industry.
The numbers of Volunteers increased over the years until by the 1960s there were close to seventy in each year’s group. For some years an orientation was held on the island of Iona at the beginning of the summer, and after the eight weeks or so of work, Tubby would host a review at Talbot House in Poperinge. The Queen Mother was an early supporter, and for many years held a reception specifically for the Volunteers at Clarence House. From 1960 Volunteers were placed in cities outside London, starting with Bristol. Toc H Committees were instrumental in setting up placements, initially in settlement houses and church- based programs. Other cities included Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, and for many years the majority of the Volunteers were placed outside London
The History makes the observation that the year 1968 was a turning point in the organization’s development- a year that saw turbulence in the United States and rethinking by many young people of society’s goals, leading to smaller and more diverse groups. There were major changes in Britain as well. Inner city settlement houses gave way to placements to local authority social service departments. As Toc H contracted throughout Britain, Volunteers were concentrated in London. Accommodations were mostly centralized in one residence, and the groups were much smaller. At the same time as costs increased the number of alumnae and alumni who had time to help declined, as with many other voluntary organizations.
The organization formally closed its doors in 2011, after close to 2,000 young American volunteers participated as Ambassadors of Goodwill, a term coined by the longtime American Honorary Chairman, Dwight D. Eisenhower,
It should be noted that in the U.S. the organization is called Winant and Clayton Volunteers (in the U.K. Winant Clayton) This is a history of Americans going to Britain only. From 1959 over 700 Clayton Volunteers participated in assignments in social service programs on the East Coast of the U.S. Their story remains to be told.
Fifty years ago today, at All Hallows by the Tower, the Reverend Gualter de Mello, a chaplain in Toc H, joined John Urban Burgess and Marolyn Joy White in Holy Matrimony. I know many people reading this blog today will know John and Marolyn and will join me in wishing them a very Happy Anniversary.
Today’s blog is short tribute to John. You see, and I’m not sorry to make this personal, but I wouldn’t know most of the people reading this blog if it hadn’t been for John; I wouldn’t know Toc H at all if it wasn’t for John; and I wouldn’t know a part of myself that John has helped me develop over the years. So thank you John Burgess. Oh, and, well done!
I suspect it was not a coincidence that this joyous event took place on Tubby’s 85th birthday. By 1970 John already had Toc H firmly ingrained in him and he knew Tubby well. Let me tell you how that came about.
John’s parents, Harold and Margaret were both staunch members of the Movement in Essex and it was perhaps inevitable that John would join them, being inducted into the Colchester branch on the 21st September 1961.
Just three days later he struck out for Tower Hill for the annual clash between the Romans (Marksmen) and Boadicea’s gang (East Anglian Scouts). What happened that day would become pivotal a few months later. In John’s own words:
“I was stepping off the pavement looking down at the deep kerb, and a photographer took a photo of Tubby. A good portrait. Just three quarters of my face was visible. Tubby was sent a copy of the photo and he asked who the young man was. Next I had a letter from him inviting me to spend a weekend with him on Tower Hill.”
That weekend John was given small tasks to perform most notably walking Chippie in the precincts of the Tower. This led to him becoming a part-time ADC whose jobs included sending Tubby to change his clerical collar and bib which were constantly covered in tobacco, ash, custard and gravy.
He travelled to Belgium with Tubby in 1962 along with the Winant Volunteers. Tubby led them around the battlefields and cemeteries telling his stories all the way. John’s been going back ever since and has many friends in Flanders.
Tubby liked to keep detailed records of people he met and it was John’s job to interrogate them for all their personal details and record it all. It’s no wonder he has such an encyclopaedic knowledge of Toc H people to this day.
In March 1967 John was sent to Paderborn to work in one of the BAOR Service Clubs run by Toc H. He would remain in Germany for four years serving briefly in Munster and Verden as well as Paderborn.
On his return to the UK he moved into Mark III (Prideaux House) in Hackney. It was the first Mark to admit women alongside men, and Marolyn White was also staying there. They met, fell in love and in December 1970 were married at All Hallows by Gualter, who was Warden of Prideaux House.
Marolyn worked, most of her career, for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and John was now entrenched in Toc H. He was firstly working on Tower Hill at Crutched Friars but in 1973 when Gualter left, John became Warden and remained in that position until the spring of 1977. During his time the Youth Club opened behind the house and the Summer Playschemes went from strength to strength.
He left Hackney in the spring of 1977 to join the field staff for Beds and Herts. Though John’s role was wide and varied he became a specialist in the Project Scene – the work of Toc H that was pumping new life into the Movement
John was constantly encouraging branches in his remit to arrange or sponsor projects. He would help them find the resources they needed. That is how he came to Cuffley Youth Centre in 1988. The centre had previously done some work with Toc H but that was under a previous manager and with Toc H branch members now gone. But on 2 Nov 1988 John Burgess met with Richard Gentle for the first time. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship for the Youth Club, for Toc H, and for many individuals, not least me.
Though I wasn’t there the day Richard and John met, I was a volunteer at the Youth Club and that’s how in July 1990 I found myself sitting in the Upper Room listening to Jacques Ryckebosch unfold the tales of Talbot House. That was when I first tried the bait of Toc H and from that moment John slowly reeled me in. That is how he works.
Over the next few years I observed John’s prodigious but understated body of work for Toc H. Even a bad accident in 1997 couldn’t stop him though it slowed him down a little. John continued to give his life to the Movement, though sadly, elements of the Movement didn’t show the same loyalty to John when the chips were down and his long career ended in redundancy. Not that that stopped John being heavily involved in Toc H. He has continued to give his all, not least with the incredible work he put into the archives. He has kept up regular contact with all the various Toc H folks he as befriended over the years and continues to nurture, inspire and enthuse a whole family of Toc H people.
Let one of his oldest friends in Toc H tell us
He has befriended, affirmed, encouraged and lovingly challenged them, and there must be many people out there who first discovered, to their surprise, that they could do things they thought were beyond them, because John trusted them to do so. Many, young and old, have gone to meetings totally unaware that, an hour or so later, they would have been ‘volunteered’ by John for some task – and then found themselves to be an important, and valued, member of a team.
So well done that man and well done Marolyn too. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done for me and may you bask in the glory of all you have achieved.
My last post – and I apologise for the current paucity of blogs; I’ll blame Covid – featured a tribute to Tubby in poetic form by Geoffrey Batchelar. It was taken from Geoffrey’s own collection of his works in a handwritten book that was passed to me by someone who found it in a house clearance. Given its Toc H connections, I promised to revisit the book, some of the poetry within it, and of course, the author. This is that revisitation!
Poetry, like any art form, is a matter of personal taste but what I like about Geoffrey’s work is that it mostly records events in his life in some detail. With the ones concerning Toc H this is particularly useful. You can judge for yourselves as several poems are embedded in this blog. Clicking the title of the poems – they should be obvious – will cause them to pop up in a separate document – just close them after reading to return to the blog.
Now, what about the man himself.
Our poet was born on 23rd July 1906 in Wadhurst, a market town just on the Sussex side of the border with Kent. His father Robert was a farmer and estate manager originally hailing from Buckinghamshire, whilst mother Jean was Lancastrian. The Batchelar family were well-known in Buckinghamshire as brewers and maltsters and Robert owned a farm in Eaton Bray though he sold it in 1903 to retire upon the proceeds aged only 23.
Robert already had a military past having joined the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment as a Second Lieutenant in March 1898. By 1902 he was a Lieutenant in ‘D’ Company and he would continue his military service into the First World War.
Meanwhile, Robert and his wife Jean began their family with Geoffrey arriving first later be joined by a brother Denis in 1908, and a sister Daphne in 1917. Both will feature in this story later.
By the time of the 1911 census they were living in Newtowngate in Dunstable. Just over four years later, in September 1915, Robert was made a Temporary Lieutenant in the City of London Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers and according to his medal card went to France on 22nd May 1916. He was promoted to Captain during the war and returned home safely to his wife and young children.
Geoffrey was educated at Evelyn’s School at Colham Green in Middlesex. Founded in 1872 it had close connections with Eton and it was whilst he was here that, at the age of 10 in 1916, Geoffrey began writing poetry. He started the book that inspired this blog the following year.
One poem – The Raggamuffin – was written for the Evelonian school magazine when the author was 12.
From the age of about 14, Geoffrey continued his education at Haileybury, a school built on the site of the old East India Company College in Hertford Heath. Geoffrey was here until about 1922.
He joined Toc H around 1925 and both he and his brother Denis became Marksmen at Mark II (St George’s Square, Pimlico) in 1926. Denis would remain there for several years and be an active member of various Toc H sports teams including the Rugby First Fifteen and the athletics team where he was a high jumper and a hurdler.
Geoffrey was also in the Rugby team and in 1927 took on the administration of the newly created annual Toc H Rugger Sevens competition which he organised for over a decade.
The first tournament took place at the Toc H Sports ground in Barnet on Saturday 23rd April 1927 and eleven teams took part. They included teams from Marks I, VII, XIII (The Brothers’ House), branches from Barnet, Enfield, Ealing and Hampstead as well as two teams from Mark II.
Mark II took this very seriously as this poem of Geoffrey’s shows. The italic text is Geoffrey’s own note above the poem.
The following was composed by a member of Toc H Mark II, 123 St George’s Square at a time when almost everyone in the House was hauled out of bed to do exercise in the Square Gardens in training for the Toc H Seven-a-Side Rugger Tournament in 1927.
Pinned to a Toc H Notice-board – a glimpse of the team training preceding the Toc H “Seven-a-side” Tournament & Sports
Ode to the residents of Mark II when up and doing PT in the Square before Breakfast. Those mentioned above (in order) are Bullen, ‘Chin’ Davies, George Chadd, John Vernon, E.J. Molyneux, Walker, myself and my brother Denis, Stevens, Stainer, Keith Bullock.
It paid off because Mark II were victorious and on 5th May, England international William Wavell Wakefield (later an MP and Baron Wakefield of Kendal) came to St George’s Square to present the trophy.
However Geoffrey was Jobmaster for the branch at Mark II and was quick to remind the Marksmen that whilst sport was important, Service was also crucial for Members.
Another interesting connection that Geoffrey recorded in poetry was the Mark’s obvious relationship with Little Hatchett. This charming bungalow in the New Forest was the Clayton family’s former home which in the late twenties was run as a guest house for Toc H members. Lacking running water and electricity it was compensated by a beautiful and relaxing setting. However, for the young male cohort of Mark II, the real compensation may have been the hostesses in the form of Tubby’s niece Miss Stuart Clayton and her friend Miss Grace Butler!
In December 1928 the freehold of 42 Trinity Square was bought anonymously for the newly formed All Hallows’ Toc H Trust. It was not opened as a Mark and in the beginning the only residents were clergy but was a centre where various activities were run and some staff based. Around 1930 Geoffrey was appointed as Provost.
In 1930 Geoffrey represented Toc H at a meeting in County Hall bringing together various organisations to discuss to formation of the Youth Hostel Association. He described the meeting as ‘every man for himself’ with much bickering. Later that year another meeting was convened at Digswell with his friend, and Toc H stalwart, Barclay Baron in the chair. The atmosphere, Geoffrey declared, was much changed. Baron of course, went on to become the YHA’s first chairman.
In 1931 brother Denis emigrated to South America to become a Banana Planter. His sporting prowess shone once again as he took up Polo.
In September 1933 Geoffrey attended Wardens’ Conference in Matlock which gives us one of the rare photos I have been able to find of him outside of the Rugby team. That December he left for Gibraltar with Tubby and Baron to spread the Toc H word. They sailed from London on a full-size ship and it was the first time Baron and Batchelar had been on anything larger than a Channel steamer. On board, by chance they met fellow Toc Hers Lord Cavan and Lady Warwick and arranged Toc H meetings on board with information stalls of course, during the four day crossing. It was Geoffrey’s job both to man these stalls and to lug the suitcase containing all the literature.
The trio spent a few days on the Rock with Tim Harrington – a member and supporter of Toc H newly installed as Governor of Gibraltar – then Christmas Day was spent in Spain at Jerez de la Frontera as guests of the Sherry importers Williams and Humbert. They then headed to Malta to spend New Year with the Royal Navy. They were booked on to a P&O Liner but at the last moment Tubby discovered HMS Acasta was also leaving the Rock for Malta and he and Geoffrey hitched a ride with the navy leaving Baron to accompany all baggage and vast amounts of literature on the Rawalpindi.
Back on Tower Hill Geoffrey was also involved with All Hallows’ PCC. He wrote this account of an event held there on Ascension Day 1934. It features many of Toc H’s partisans.
Report on All Saints’ Day All Hallows by the Tower Parish Party held on Ascension Day 1934 – presented to PCC Meeting 2.12.34
In March 1937 Geoffrey became engaged to the aforementioned Hylda Jardine. Perhaps his 1929 Ode had finally won her heart. They married that September (16th), I think at All Hallows.
In early 1939 he resigned as Provost at Talbot House to devote his time to boys’ club work in Northampton and it was here they were living when the civic register was taken in September as the country prepared for war. He was described as Provost and Warden of Boys Club. Also described as a Special Constable.
In the same register, his sister Daphne, who was still living with her parents at 25 South Street in Morden, was described as an Assistant Manageress Residential Club Womens. I don’t know if this had anything to do with the League of Women Helpers.
However, there was soon to be great sadness for the family. Denis had returned home in 1934 and lived with his parents and sister Daphne in Morden but went back to Sao Paulo in 1938 where he married Sylvia Greig. Sadly, he died out in Brazil on 14th November 1939, which must have been a terrific blow to his siblings.
In the December Journal, a short obituary described him as Denis Roger Batchelar aged 31, a hosteller and officer of Mark II from 1926 for some years.
Meanwhile, his and Hylda’s stay in Northampton proved to be short-lived. Whether it was the outbreak of war, or simply other circumstances, Geoffrey notes in his poetry book that “during 1940 Holden and I ran a hostel for difficult and delinquent boys at Woking. Known to the boys as the House of Misery”, it’s not apparent whether this was a Toc H project or not.
This too was short-lived and judging by his notes in 1941 he had signed up for the army and was at Catterick Camp, presumably undergoing training. I have yet to ascertain how he spent the war but I think it may have had an impact on him as the next time we find him he is being ordained by the Bishop of Salisbury having studied at Salisbury Theological College. His ordination is announced in the Church Times of May 1948. St Thomas’, Salisbury is mentioned so I presume this was his first posting.
However in 1952 he got his own living when he was made vicar of St James, Holt (Dorset) and also Rector of nearby Hinton Parva. He remained in these posts until his death. I believe he lived in Hinton Parva originally but moved to Puddletown in October 1964 as he writes a poem about this.
Geoffrey’s sister-in-law – Denis’ widow Sylvia – had clearly remained in close contact with the family and in 1955 she remarried. Her new husband was John Harrison Edinger, son of the WWI Naval Chaplain and Frank Edinger.
It is possible that Geoffrey introduced John to Sylvia since John was a Toc H Padre serving Toc H in the Orkneys during the early part of the war. Ordain as a Deacon then a Priest, John held a Curacy at Hythe in Kent and in January 1948 became Rector of Mersham. He got engaged to Sylvia early in 1955 and they married on the 4th of June in his own church at Mersham. In 1963 whilst vicar of Lensham John had a brief moment of notoriety when he publicly announced that women in stiletto heels would not be allowed into his vicarage as they would damage the wooden floors!
Meanwhile, our bard of the cloth lived out his days peacefully in the West Country punctuating his life with the occasional poem. He kept contact with Toc H and when his good friend Barclay Baron died in 1964 remarked:
“No Guest Night was more rewarding than when Barkis was the speaker”
Geoffrey himself died in Dorchester hospital on the 8th June 1974 after a long illness. His ashes were interred in the Columbarium in All Hallows’ crypt. He was survived by his wife Hylda, his sister Daphne, and a little red book containing a collection of his poetry which sits by my side as I write these closing words.
I was recently contacted by a man who was decluttering his garage. He had come across two volumes given to him by a friend some years ago which, in turn, had come from a house clearance in Hindhead many years earlier. One contained a number of family and personal photographs whilst the second is an extraordinary collection of poetry, largely by the person who collated it. The poetry goes back to 1916 when the author was still a boy and comes forward to 1965 when he transferred his later poems – written on scraps of paper at different stages of his life – into the notebook. Amongst the poems are several with a Toc H theme which is how I came into the story and now hold the book in my hand. The author’s name was quite familiar to me as he appeared in my recent Barclay Baron story on several occasions but I realised I knew little about him. That research is underway and I will publish a blog about him and his poetry in due course but in the meantime, I wanted to share just one of the poems. So this readers, as a taster, is a poem by the Reverend Geoffrey Batchelar written to celebrate Tubby’s 80th birthday.
I don’t know if this was ever published but it didn’t appear in The Journal of the time. Instead the December 1965 edition contained a few stanzas by Edmund Blunden about the Jubilee Celebrations in Poperinge earlier in the year.
Since its rather a short blog, I have illustrated it with a few less commonly seen photos of Tubby. The original poem is also reproduced as well as a transcription.
An unseen cloud of witnesses A multitude of men Who preach the word, who listen, Who wield the mighty pen?
Men, in every walk of life Who speak or who are dumb, And men who, from your wisdom, Have picked up just a crumb
Now join together, heart and soul, To give to God his praise, Who raised you as their leader And set them on their ways.
Men, for fifty years now – At Talbot House in ‘Pop’, In Toc H here and every where – Have seen you at the top.
And many a man on ship and shore Has clasped your hand as friend, And found you as their anchor Until their journey’s end. —-
We’ve watched you on your pilgrimage Lonely, at times (it seems) – A young man seeing visions, An old man dreaming dreams.
We’ve seen you at our Guest Nights, Inspiring one and all; We’ve shared your prayers and praises In Chapel, Mark and Hall.
We’ve watched the high and mighty. We’ve watched the great and small. Listening to your wisdom – A little bit for all.
We’ve watched Tower Hill Improvement, The joy of “Children’s Beach” – Achievement of ambition Outside most mortals’ reach.
We’ve seen the Marks grow one by one, The Branches multiply, As Toc H spreads around the globe Its love to fortify
The leper has been given hope When BELRA you inspired; The keen imagination of A hundred men you fired.
The “Winant Volunteers” you brought To help in the “East End”; And so with “Clayton Volunteers” “The States” made many a friend.
And so to you, dear “Tubby”, (Though many mem’ries fade) We bring you a reminder Of all these friendships made
In Persia, “Pompey”, Poperinghe, In Tooting, on Tower Hill, In Pimlico and Paddington, Malta and far Woodville,
Kalgoorlie and Calcutta, In Petworth and Painswick, At Broken Hill and Bloemfontein, At Winnipeg and Wick,
In “Beagle” and “Acasta”, In mighty grey “Q.E.”, On the Rock of Gibraltar, On land and on the sea,
On SS “Almanzora”, On tanker, trawl and train, In Jerez-de-la-frontera, In Portugal and Spain,
At Knutsford and All Hallows, At Abadan and Ryde – Where’ve your foot has landed, And many a place beside…..
We one and all now greet you, (Wherever we may be), At your great age of 80- (Toc H’s Jubilee).
May these few lines remind you Of what we tried to say- That Thousands owe a debt to you They never can repay
A week or so ago, Bertin Deneire told us of his first trip to England to take part in a Toc H project. Now Bertin is back with a further guest blog about a trip to London in 1971. Although Toc H doesn’t feature heavily, I think this is a lovely, evocative story of one of our Belgian friends discovering the English capital for the first time. This article has been posted in the Toc H facebook group previously, but I felt it deserved another airing. Over to you Bertin………
Although my first visit to England (1969) had been a wonderful eye-opener, to say the least, it took me another two years to finally visit the capital of my new adoptive homeland: London! The reason for this being purely financial, as any trip abroad was – certainly in those days of economic recession – a fairly costly undertaking.
In that particular year (1971) I was in my first year at Teacher Training College, and as I hadn’t had a summer holiday of any meaning, I managed to coax my parents into making a trip to the City, something that had been strongly recommended by my professor of English at the TTC, I stressed. And so, in early November of that year I decided to cross the Channel for the second time, with a view to visiting ‘the capital of my dreams’. The mid-term break looked the perfect time for five days in the City, and so we left Poperinge full of ‘burning’ anticipation. ‘We’, that was Ray, Marc, Julian and myself: four mates from the TTC, hoping to spend a visit at a minimum cost but with a maximum in return. Apart from being prospective English teachers, we all had the same thing in common: we were confirmed anglophiles and… raring to go.
Unlike on my first visit to the UK, we decided to cross the Channel from Calais to Ramsgate using the novel hovercraft, thinking that was to be an experience in itself. We booked our outward journey on the first flight of the day, planning to return on the last one scheduled, which gave us a substantial discount.
On the eve of our departure, I gave my battered leather holdall a liberal sweep from the dubbin tin and packed a minimum of luggage: my striped pyjamas, some spare clothes, my trusted shaving gear plus a few city maps I had received from BTA Belgium. On the morning of our departure, Marc’s father took us to Calais and the journey to London was to be completed by train, the four of us having bought a BritRail Junior Pass.
The ‘flight’ proved quite a disappointment as the weather was rough and there was an ominous swell in the Channel. I was most disappointed that you couldn’t walk around in the craft and besides, looking through the portholes was almost impossible, as the whipped-up spray made visibility almost nil. Somewhere in the middle of the Channel, the sea became dangerously turbulent, and all you could see on both sides were two walls of green, as if the craft was caught between two soaring waves of seawater. Each time the hovercraft reached the crest of a wave, it plummeted nose-first into the dark dip shaped by the towering rollers, the seatbelt holding you in place and preventing you from hitting the low ceiling. Rolling on the swell, all you could see from the portholes was – only sea this moment and only sky the next.
I started swallowing more frequently and managed only just to keep my food down. One of the female passengers sitting at the far end of my bay was so violently sick that she fainted and fell head-first on the floor in the central alley. Two flight attendants rushed to pick her up and tried to bring her round by dampening her brow with cologne tissues, the stench of vomit mingling with the smell of cheap eau-de-toilette. Fortunately, the crossing took only 45 minutes and so we were glad when we finally arrived at Ramsgate terminal where we boarded a shuttle bus to the local railway station.
I can still remember the dragging train journey through the bleak Kentish landscape followed by the tedious trundle through the grey suburbs of Greater London, showing the untidy backyards of endless terraced-houses. What a difference from my first drive through the Kentish landscape, two years before!
As the train slowed down, following the banks of the River and passing the Oxo Tower on the South Bank, we got our first glimpse of Westminster: the impressive Houses of Parliament, The Mother of all Parliaments, as we had been taught, and of course the slender Big Ben tower, famous for its legendary chimes.
We got off at a bustling Victoria Station where we bought ourselves a Go-As-You-Please ticket, a pass that would entitle us to limitless use of the underground and other London Transport for three full days. This, we first used for the trip to our accommodation, which was in Kennington Park Road in the South West.
Our lodgings were in a place called The Brothers’ House, a Victorian edifice smack between the famous Oval Cricket Ground and the busy Elephant & Castle crossroads. The hostel, which was run by Neville Minas (a wartime friend of Ray’s aunt), was one of several establishments owned by the Toc H movement. Actually, it was not meant for tourists but – in line with the caring nature of Toc H – it served as a ‘social’ hostel for long-time residents who had no home of their own. As an exception to the strict house rules, Neville had been found prepared to put us up for four nights. We could even have half-board for a small extra charge, something we gladly accepted.
Mr Minas’s agreement, however, came at a price. We were supposed to share multi-bedded rooms with other guests who seemed to be either minor office clerks or junior shop assistants, with a few social ‘outcasts’ thrown in. I found myself allocated to the basement in a dank room with three other portly, middle-aged men.
On the first night of our stay, I couldn’t get my sleep as their snoring – in different keys and rhythms – kept me wide-awake. Sometimes, it seemed to mingle with the rattling noise of the late underground trains, winding their way somewhere deep beneath us. Outside, you could hear the slowing-down of black cabs, their screeching brakes eerily tearing up the still of the night, a noise only to be exceeded by the blaring siren of the odd ambulance going by. To top it all, a brisk wind made the small sash-window next to my bed produce an erratic but most annoying jangling noise.
Early in the morning, after I had finally dropped off, one of the men stumbled out of his creaking bed and – scratching his body like a rousing gorilla – made his way across the squeaky lino to the washstand. While the tap was running, he undressed and started washing with no obvious inhibition. Stock-still, I peered from under the blankets at this slightly hunchbacked man, hung like a baboon. The scraping sound of his razor cut through the eerie silence like sandpaper on stone. Now I knew for certain that I wasn’t going to get any more sleep… Half an hour later another of the men got out of bed and went through the same motions, his neighbour following suit shortly after.
When they had all left the room I got up myself, had a quick wash and made my way to the ground-floor where the kitchen was. Some of the guests were already having their breakfast: thin crispy rashers of bacon with eggs, followed by slices of toast and Robertson’s marmalade. Mrs Brierly, the charlady, gave me a cup of her strong brew, something that picked me up in no time. It looked pitch-black but smelled like creamy malt. After my erstwhile rather unpleasant encounter with tea, it now seemed to do me a world of good, and I became a tea addict there and then.
By now, my friends had come down and apparently they too had spent more or less the same kind of restless night. Only they didn’t care much for tea, and settled for a steaming mug of Nestlé instead (referred to by Mrs Brierly as ‘Nestles’). Not being used to instant coffee, we joked behind her back that was she really meant was ‘Nettles’.
After breakfast we decided to ‘hit the town’ in pairs. Marc and Julian would go together, while Ray and I would visit something different, each comparing notes in the evening on what we had seen. We were pretty sure this would work, since we shared more or less the same interests: history and war, museums and art galleries, statues and monuments, music and fashion…
An icy draught struck us in the face as we left on our first outing that morning. The air was thin and crisp, as it seemed to come down straight from a cloudless sky. Streams of dead leaves lined the gutters, and freak winds scurried them up into the air, the universal reminder of a windy autumn. Kennington tube station was only a few minutes’ walk from our lodgings but the biting wind added a mean chill factor.
At the station, a black attendant working the lift (and who looked not unlike Uncle Tom) took us down to the platform. From here we took the Northern Line to the intersection with the Circle Line. The smell of carbolic acid was all around and each time a train arrived, a metallic voice called out “Mind the gap! Mind the gap!” It struck me that passengers were so stoically silent, as everybody seemed to be immersed in their newspapers or books.
In the big, glazed-tile hall leading to the different platforms a lone busker was playing ‘Cry me a river’ on his tenor saxophone, his instrument case serving as a collection box. The melancholic tune echoed wonderfully in the arched hall as we hurried past to the eastbound escalator. I was quite impressed by the man’s obvious talent, but we were reluctant to stop and listen to him as everybody was rushing by, and apparently nobody paid attention to this brilliant young singer.
I found it a great shame that we didn’t stop to listen but we were simply dragged along with the maelstrom of hurrying commuters. As we passed him by, Marc and I pretended to search our pockets for some coppers, which gave us a fleeting moment to enjoy the man’s impromptu performance. As we left rather reluctantly, I thought to myself – what is an artist like you doing in a place like this? You should be in the studios making records!
We got out at Trafalgar Square, the nucleus of the City. The grandness of the place with its clover-shaped fountains and its grand statues was positively overwhelming. This, I pondered, was where the big political rallies and CND marches had taken place, the place where the likes of Bernadette Devlin and Bertrand Russell had addressed big crowds with their inspiring speeches. As we emerged from the pedestrian subway, a flock of pigeons flew up, almost darkening the sky as they swirled towards Nelson’s Column. Here and there we spotted something that we had never seen in Belgium: graffiti – scribbled on office buildings and public walls. One of the slogans that seemed to reoccur all over the city was ‘Clapton is God’ and also the unfathomable scribble ‘Kilroy was here’. But who the heck was Kilroy, we wondered.
The streets were much busier than I had expected with an endless stream of red double-decker buses and boxy black cabs gingerly snaking their way through the congested traffic. Again there was that eerie noise of braking taxis adding to the juddering engine noise of the stationary Routemasters… endlessly idling in neutral.
It was much colder than I had expected for the time of the year, and it struck me how many tramps and young people could be seen huddling up in bundles of tattered blankets. Others were sleeping rough in big cardboard boxes, the ones that come with washing machines or tumble driers. I kidded that a couple of tramps had a row over who had the best box. I imagined one said to the other “It’s not a fair world; yours is a Miele; I only have a Philips!” All joking apart, it was a sad sight: some of the young men – barely a few years older than us – were lying in porticos, cuddling some thin mongrel; others in a desperate bid to keep warm were stretched out on the central heating grids of some office building.
Although it was only early November, you could already see the bemittened chestnut men with their charcoal fires, the acrid smoke from their blackened braziers hitting your nostrils like the proverbial ‘punch on the hooter’.
We found it rather difficult to decide where to start our sightseeing tour, as obviously there was so much to choose from. Only now did I understand the full meaning of Samuel Johnson’s famous quotation When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. Naturally, we would go for the free museums such as the Science Museum, the V&A, the National and Portrait Galleries.
The big tourist attractions such as Madame Tussaud’s and The Tower we would keep optional, as these were rather expensive for our narrow student’s budget. And of course, there was Cricklewood Green in the North West, which we deemed a ‘must see’ as it featured on the famous Ten Years After rock album…
After some discussion we made our way up north to the British Museum for our first proper visit. On entering the forecourt we felt absolutely overwhelmed by the sheer size of the museum. We just stood there for some time in sheer awe at the extensive choice of rooms and galleries. After some careful consideration I picked out the Sutton Hoo collection and the Lewis chess players while Ray went to see the Egyptian rooms and other classic highlights like the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone.
By lunchtime we felt positively peckish, and managed to find a cheap snack bar in Manette Street, a cul-de-sac off Charing Cross Road. With its gaudy colours and Formica tops it still had the atmosphere of the Swinging Sixties. As we went in, a sickening smell of over-cooked frying oil struck us in the face. But that didn’t ruin our appetites. We managed a hot meal for under a pound, and you could still get a cuppa there for only 10 (new) pence then. Ray now suggested nearby Foyle’s for our next visit, but I said that we had better keep that for our last day, as I didn’t want to spend too much of my meagre pocket money on the very first day of my holiday.
The bustling streets were now very busy with hurrying passers-by. Some of them – presumably civil servants – were dressed in posh pinstriped suits, topped with the archetypal British bowler and the universal black brolly. But the sight of the young men living rough seemed to haunt me and, was it imagination or was it the cold, but I felt shivering all over, despite our hot lunch. Ray suggested going back to our lodgings and putting on more clothes but I said that I had only brought my nylon school anorak, which was obviously a bit thin for these icy conditions.
Instead, we took the tube to the other side of the river and visited the Imperial War Museum. It struck us that whenever you entered a museum the attendants would check your bags as in those days, security measures (IRA terrorist threats?) were already quite prominent. Anyway, that didn’t take long and at least it was warm and cosy there. We thought the Imperial was superb and we marvelled at the fabulous displays of weaponry and other military artefacts.
When we got home that evening, I asked Neville what the cheapest clothes shop was in London. He replied that Marks & Sparks offered good value and that British Home Stores might be an alternative. After some hesitation, he added that Petticoat Lane often had good second-hand winter coats that could be had for a third of the price, if you could settle for such a compromise, he concluded dryly.
The next morning, after a much better night’s rest and a full English breakfast, we set out for Middlesex Road where indeed we found several such clothes stalls. The offer was quite extensive and included half-long Monty coats, worn black donkey-jackets, gabardine trench-coats, long, sand-coloured cashmeres and old army greatcoats. I knew my fussy mother would never have approved of such a dubious purchase but the understanding Ray promised to keep ‘mum’. After some browsing around I went for a camel duffel-coat that looked as if it had hardly been worn, though it did smell a bit of mothballs.
I must admit that it was rather oversized, but Ray said that was the fashion, and – fair enough – with its big pockets and warm hood it was exactly what I needed. The stallholder didn’t even have a mirror but I gloated at myself in a nearby shop window. In my naïve imagination I thought I looked like a CND protestor ready for the next Aldermaston march.
As it happened, the bearded Ray found something for himself: an old Navy jumper, which made him look a bit like the HMS Hero sailor in the famous Players’ advert, I joked. The jumper sported the letters RTC Fleet, but none of the benumbed stallholders seemed to know what the abbreviation stood for (we filthily joked that it meant ‘Randy Tits and Cunt’), but at least we were now ready to brave the cold. That afternoon we visited Carnaby Street and The Kings Road, hoping to somehow get ourselves in a Sixties mood. However, it seemed obvious that it wasn’t anymore like in the days when The Fab Four were setting the scene (well it wouldn’t, as they had recently broken up). No Twiggys or Shrimps to be spotted either, and very few hotpants or miniskirts (not surprisingly in this kind of weather).
As a matter of fact, we had difficulty finding where Mary Quant once had her famous shop. Since it was a Saturday, Portobello Road street market was on, and like Petticoat Lane that seemed to be our thing. I bought myself a tiny, solid brass Churchill statuette, a fine paperweight that would grace my study desk at TTC, I imagined. Ray for his part managed to find several fine second-hand LPs: Jimi Hendrix, Carole King, Neil Young, King Crimson, Rod Stewart and the Faces…
On our third day, we visited Downing Street where we had our picture taken at the world-famous No 10 (a far cry from the stringent security measures these days). Then it was up to the Changing of the Guard, which was then still performed outside Buckingham Palace gates. After that, we had lunch in a kitschy Wimpy Bar (I particularly liked their plastic tomato-shaped ketchup bottles). The meal seemed to be a repetition of breakfast, as – allegedly – you could eat well in Britain by “having English breakfast three times a day”.
That afternoon we visited a number of bookshops including the big W.H. Smith & Son on Oxford Street and a few second-hand shops off Tottenham Court Road. Still, we decided to save our money for the last day and settled for some window-shopping in the boutiques and posh arcades of the West End. To me, Fortnum & Mason with its gloved servants and thick-carpeted floors was the cream of the crop. I thought it looked more like a boudoir than a shop. Still, no purchases here!
That evening we decided to go and see a play. As we crossed Leicester Square, I was hoping to see the likes of Roger Moore and Julie Christie but the only people we saw were shivering tourists who, like ourselves, were queuing up impatiently at the box-offices. It was to be either Agatha Christie’s ‘Mousetrap’, Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ or Harold Pinter’s ‘Caretaker’. We finally settled for the latter but the play proved to be slightly more difficult for us to comprehend than we had expected. In order to make good our disappointment we returned to our lodgings by making a detour through Soho, hoping to get a glimpse of the ‘window women’ (we later heard that this was a continental custom – not a British one) but apart from a few leering Chinamen and the odd rowdy drunk there was little that attracted our attention.
On the final day of our stay, we decided to do a spot of shopping. In fact, after having scrimped and saved for three days we thought we might ‘splash out’ a bit now. As agreed, Ray and I decided to visit Foyle’s, whereas Julian and Marc wanted to buy something fanciful from Harrods.
On entering the famous shop I almost lost heart. I had never seen anything like this in my life. Six floors of bulging shelves, books stacked up to the ceiling, piles of volumes dumped in every nook and cranny… (I later learned that the shop boasted some five million volumes).
The language section alone seemed to take up almost an entire floor in itself with every kind of book available. I really didn’t know where to begin, let alone what to buy as the collection seemed to cover every aspect of the English language. An absolutely ancient lift, complete with concertina metal door, took you to the different floors but on each floor we arrived it was the same story. Truly an Aladdin’s cave!
After much hesitating, Ray went for the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, at cut-price rate, and the bulky Cassell’s Comprehensive Dictionary, both of which were hard to come by in Belgium. I too wanted something you couldn’t get in our country. But what…? Then I remembered our professor’s celebrated words that “prepositions” were “the key to a good command of the English language”. The man had added that you could assess anyone’s knowledge of the language simply by their use of prepositions… But here was so much more: grammar books, pronunciation dictionaries, reference books and – quite literally – thousands of Penguin paperbacks.
After some painful ‘soul-searching’, I finally settled for F. T. Wood’s ‘Prepositional Idioms’, a large volume on prepositions, as the wise professor had recommended. The book seemed to explain every aspect of this difficult matter: prepositional idioms and adverbial particles, phrasal verbs and collocations. From now on there were to be no more questions on the use of the correct preposition, I concluded (I could already see my marks going up at the next English test). However, this ‘pick of the basket’ cost me a grand £2.75, my steepest expense up to now.
The problem on the final day was that both our money and our travel cards had run out. From now on, our explorations were to be ‘on Shank’s pony’, as Neville had termed it. So, that morning we walked from Westminster Abbey, along Whitehall, across the Strand and by way of Fleet Street all the way down to St Paul’s. This was to be another highlight of our visit. In this ‘Cockpit of Britishness’ were the tombs of three of the most famous men in British history: Nelson, Wellington and Wren. But we were also intrigued by the mysterious Whispering Gallery, which proved its name after all.
Later that afternoon, we continued south to Trinity House, another Toc H establishment on Tower Hill. Neville had an old friend living there who had agreed to take us free of charge to The Tower, where apparently he worked in administration. So, as promised, Alec Churcher led us through the staff entrance, on the pretence that we were doing “a history study on The Tower”, the kind man managed to get us in for free. Alec then left us to our own devices while he went his way to his office. Ray and I marvelled at the colourful Beefeaters and the legendary ravens, although we were not unduly impressed by the opulent Crown Jewels, especially as it was rumoured they were fake!
As time was pressing now, we spent our very last pennies on a bus fare from Tower Hill to our lodgings. We thanked Neville profusely for his kindness and had our holdalls packed in no time.
By now, the only money left in our thin purses was some loose coppers. So we had to walk all the way from Kennington Park Road to Waterloo Station, dragging our bulging bags with us. Ray claimed he knew a shortcut that would get us there quicker. However, our map was a little too sketchy for such an undertaking, so we had to ask the way on several occasions not to get lost completely.
We fretted and nagged each other until we finally found our way back to a bustling Waterloo Station. Just in the nick of time, we managed to board the train back to Ramsgate, for the very moment we slung our holdalls into the luggage rack above our seats the train gingerly set in motion. Panting and with burning feet we stretched out for the long journey back to Belgium. I looked out of the window and saw the murky river Thames flowing wide along the railway line. The sight of this dreary part of the City gave a depressing feeling. It wasn’t difficult to imagine how the Cockneys must have lived through the dark and dangerous days of the Blitz, or indeed to conjure up the grimy squalor of Victorian days with its shabby rogues and top-hatted chimney sweeps. However, no flight of fancy could ever deduct from my lasting feelings for this British metropolis.
Little did I know then that a couple of years later, after graduating, I would find myself in Greater London employed as a French teacher in two secondary schools. Later still, that first trip to London would stand me in good stead for my future job as a tour guide in the city of my dreams. As we left the station behind us, I couldn’t help thinking of the poetic lyrics Ray Davies had written a few years before when he immortalised it in his dreamy ‘Waterloo Sunset’.
Dirty old river,must you keep rolling, flowing into the night.
People so busy,makes me feel dizzy. Taxi light shines so bright.
But I don’t feel afraid. As long as I gaze atWaterloo Sunset I am in Paradise.
In some ways this blog has a very tenuous link to the history of Toc H since it looks at something that happened over two years before Talbot House opened its doors and even further before Toc H was formed. And yet the event focused – quite literally because it was a photographic session – on the man whose name adorned the house but more crucially, whose death in the First World War became archetypal of the loss of almost an entire generation. Gilbert Talbot was almost certainly destined for a career in politics and these photos actually give an indication of this. We will never know what impact he, and the many other young men and women who lost their lives before their potential had been unveiled, would have had on the Twentieth Century but then of course, the War that claimed their lives, meant the world was irrevocably transformed in any case.
There is another reason that I wanted to write this blog though, and that is the photographer. Mary Olive Edis (She usually dropped the Mary professionally) was born in London in 1876 to a successful physician and his wife. She took up photography at the age of 24 and by 1905 had set up a studio in Sheringham, Norfolk with her sister. It was between here and a studio in Notting Hill that she divided her time and became a competent and sought-after portrait photographer. At different times she also had studios in Cromer and Farnham. Thus it is the former, along with Sheringham, that gives me local interest, and the latter, where I believe the photographs featured here were taken.
Edis took photos of everyone from local gentry to the fishermen of Sheringham and much of her collection is now at Cromer Museum, which is housed in a former fishermen’s cottage just down the road from Edis’ studio. She started using Autochrome, an early colour photography technique, in 1912 and became renowned for it. Her most famous body of work is probably from just after the Great War as in 1919 she became a War Photographer, the first female photographer to be officially engaged as such. She married in 1928 and became Olive Edis-Galsworthy and died in 1955. Her ashes are in Sheringham Cemetery.
But it is the session she had with Gilbert Talbot that we share today.
Gilbert Walter Lyttelton Talbot was born in Leeds on the first day of September 1891 to Edward Talbot, Bishop of Winchester and Lavinia Lyttelton, a niece of Gladstone. His uncle, John Gilbert Talbot was Conservative MP for the Oxford University constituency 1878-1910.
In 1905 Talbot went to Winchester and was in Trant’s House. Trant was the name Wykehamists gave to Mr Bramston. After a shaky start, he turned into a model student, won the Duncan Prize for reading and edited the Wykehamist magazine. Whilst at Winchester, he write to a London paper with such an air that he received a response from a major Liberal politician believing the schoolboy was a figure of great importance. And perhaps he was, even then. He was a prefect and head of his house and was looked up to by the younger boys in his charge. It was said he showed splendid moral courage and purged school life of its ‘pollutions’.
In 1910 he went up to Christ Church, Oxford to read Literae humaniores (Greats) then in 1911 his father was appointed Bishop of Winchester and the family moved to Farnham Castle. Talbot would spend his holidays there. During his visits home he would often meet politicians and other important men who stayed at Farnham Castle. Some of them influenced his thinking and stirred his political ambition.
A Conservative who recognised the need for a policy of social reform, he once told his parents:
I want to lend a hand in the fight against poverty and misery and wrong … My greatest ambition is to be among the great world problems and to try and give my part to their solution.
At Oxford he was a founder member of the New Tory Club, Secretary of the Canning Club and President of the Oxford Union. Amongst his contemporaries was Harold MacMillan, a future Premier. He later said of Talbot:
I feel certain that if he had been spared he would have made a great mark in our politics.
He wrote early on for some periodicals on subjects such as Public School Life and at Oxford, he spoke often at the Union. The Times asked him to write about the Prince of Wales’ time at Oxford, which he did with aplomb.
Canon H. Scott Holland knew Talbot well and wrote a short character sketch of him just weeks after his death. He said that Talbot loved getting to the principle of the matter and analysed motives admirably.
Of all those he met at his parent’s house, none had a greater impact on him than the former Tory Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. Balfour visited the family at Farnham Castle on a number of occasions. After a visit in April 1912 Talbot wrote:
AJB can never have been in better form. As usual I was quite overpowered by the charm of the man. It’s simply the size of the intellect that first strikes one – in a different class to everyone else’s in the room
At this period he was out of the political limelight. After a landslide defeat to the Liberals in 1906 Balfour continued to lead the Tory party but stepped down in 1911. He would return to political power during the war but spent the interregnum as MP for the City of London and giving talks.
In March 1913 the Pall Mall Gazette and many other newspaper carried an advert announcing that Mr Balfour promised to debate a “subject of present day importance” with Mr. Gilbert Talbot, son of the Bishop of Winchester, at the Farnham Corn Exchange on April 25. He was a guest of the family at Farnham Castle for the weekend following the Friday night debate. The Bishop took the Chair. The discussion was organised by the Farnham Field Club as the finale to their lecture season. It was a condition of Balfour’s attendance was that no press coverage was allowed.
Nevertheless, the subject was leaked and turned out to be The Future of the British Nation. The local paper, took the view that they should be allowed to publish the basic facts and said that Talbot, in opening, spoke at length about the decadence in the life and aspirations of the English people. He was supported by Mr. Livingstone who also took a pessimistic view of the future of this country. It should be noted, at this point, that Talbot was sometimes described as a clever controversialist, so he may well have been looking for a strong reaction from Balfour.
The Rev. A. E. M. Sims and Mr Balfour took the opposing view. The paper doesn’t go any deeper into the debate except to say that Mr Balfour’s charming personality was much appreciated by the audience and there was a ‘hurricane of applause’ for him. The meeting closed after two and a quarter hours.
However, Talbot wrote his own summation later in which he admitted to be nervous at first but once he got into his subject he lost that and felt very excited about it all. He was glad to hold their attention throughout.
I suspect that the Edis photographs featured in this blog were taken at this weekend, probably in Edis’ Farnham studio which was at 68 Castle Street, just down the hill from Farnham Castle. She opened the Farnham studios for a couple of months each spring and it was open in April/May 1913. Given that the debate had attracted much interest, it seems fitting that they should mark it by having their picture taken together. Nevertheless its possible it was in 1912 or another time altogether. That doesn’t really matter. It just matters that they were taken.
And this is what it left us. One of the great portrait photographers of the time, capturing for posterity a man with his life and career ahead of him.
Of course a long life and great career were not to be. I expect most reading this column know how Gilbert Talbot lost his life at Hooge on the 30th July 1915 and how a humble soldiers’ club in Poperinge took his name and held it for eternity.
I loved Gilbert – he was always delightful to me, and I cherished the most confident hopes that if he lived he would do great things for his country. He has done great things – the greatest and most enviable – but not in the way I expected
It was Balfour who said that had he lived Gilbert Talbot would have one day been Prime Minister of England and thus this final photo from the Olive Edis’ session shows the former prime Minister alongside the one who may have been.
But let us, as so often we do in Toc H, leave the last word to Tubby Clayton, who said of Gilbert Talbot:
One would have been to English public life what Rupert Brooke began to be to English letters
Today’s Guest Centenary blog is a first-hand look at the UK Project scene from Bertin Deneire who took part in many activities back in the seventies and maintains a close connection to Talbot House to this day.
At Talbot House, the famous British soldiers’ club in Poperinge, I had heard of Toc H Projects, an organisation that ran camps for underprivileged children with the help of volunteers, native as well as from abroad. I made enquiries to one Miss Rolande Blanckaert, the local Toc H representative and a Talbot House trustee who would test you before your ‘application’. She was a kindly and most helpful spinster who lived only a few yards from The Old House in Gasthuisstraat where she ran a millinery and hatter’s shop.
I can still picture Miss B sitting in her cosy little backroom bedecked with Albion souvenirs and other paraphernalia of Britishness: Jasperware pottery, a miniature Union Jack, a Toby jug, a couple of old Fortnum & Mason jars, pictures of royalty, a framed brass rubbing… On the mantelpiece was a silver-framed B&W picture that clearly had pride of place in this shrine of anglophilia. It was that of Miss B shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth II, as in 1966 – on the anniversary of Toc H – she had been introduced to HRH herself on that most memorable occasion.
When I first visited her, she immediately started testing my English, stressing the fact that everything in the language hinged on collocations and prepositions (how right she was!). If I paid attention to these, I would be OK, she claimed. After a few further questions, Miss B seemed quite surprised that she didn’t have to coax me into joining the Projects, as I was already ‘keen as mustard’ and ‘raring to go’. To me, Miss B herself spoke absolutely perfect RP English (maybe that was because she listened to Radio 4 all day). How I envied her command! And so, together with Stephen, a younger schoolmate of mine, I decided to travel to Guildford (Surrey) in Southern England for ‘a fortnight’s holiday with children who otherwise would not have one’, as the heading on the Toc H Projects brochure read.
The booklet mentioned ‘deprived’ kids, and as I had never heard this word before I quickly looked it up in my well-thumbed Prisma Dictionary. Before long I would come to realise that the true meaning of the term was quite different from the one explained in the book…
Anyway, as I had been working as a tobacco stringer for the past month, I had earned some good pocket money that was to be used for my travelling expenses. This was topped up with some extra sterling that my generous granddad had bought off good old George Sutherland, a mate of his (a Scottish expat actually), who worked as a gardener for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Poperinge and who frequently travelled to the UK.
In my battered and CND-stickered wallet I kept a chart of the various notes and coins plus a handy conversion table based on fractions of a 240th (the common denominator to add up the pounds, shillings and pence). As the pound in those days was still ‘old money’, it was not an easy thing for us continentals to get acquainted with.
Instead of ‘decimal’, the system was still ‘imperial’ with 20 shillings to a pound (spelled £) though not in a ‘guinea’! and 12 pence (spelled ‘d’) to a shilling (called ‘bob’). Apart from such monetary absurdity, there were more puzzles in this enigmatic money-game such as half-a-crown, sixpence, three-pence and twopence (spelled ‘tuppence’). There was even a ‘monkey’ (although my budget did not reach that far) plus an assortment of Mickey Mouse coins like ‘halfpennies’ and ‘farthings’ at the other end of the scale. Very, very confusing… indeed.
We are sailing, we are sailing…
In spite of ample parental advice to be prepared for all kinds of weather, I wanted to travel light, and so I packed only what I imagined to be the bare necessities for a holiday in England: my pocket Dutch-English dictionary, a pair of faded blue jeans (flared in those days!), my trusted M65 army jacket, a pair of well-trodden Claysons, my precious Alpine pocket knife, a down sleeping bag, a few spare T-shirts and some clean underwear.
Since English summers were reportedly wet, or at least humid, I thought some kind of impermeable jacket would protect me against the notorious British climate. As I did not own such a garment, I reluctantly asked my Mum for her expert advice. She claimed that a fisherman’s oilskin would be the best choice. However, there were no such things on sale in the clothes shops of a rural backwater like Poperinge, so I took recourse to the local DIY shop where they sold PVC jackets for navvies…. And although I would stick out like a human canary, the garment would at least keep me dry even in the worst of deluges. Although the newly introduced hovercraft was the in thing at the time, we still thought in ‘national’ rather than ‘European’ terms, and by consequence we unwisely opted for the Ostend to Dover crossing rather than the much shorter Calais-Dover route. Stephen and I had decided to hitchhike our way to Ostend as in those days this way of travelling was well accepted and without much danger, certainly for boys. But Stephen’s Dad objected, not because of any risk to ourselves but simply because we stood a chance of missing the ferry, if we were unlucky at thumbing a lift.And so, early that auspicious August morning in 1969, Stephen’s father took us in his comfortable Citroën DS, and dropped us off – holdalls and all – at the ferry terminal in Ostend. Here we were, two green Flemish kids with hardly any travelling experience but ‘bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’ for the coming adventure across the Small Divide.
I must stress that we had arrived there well on time for, as the man at the travel agency had warned, you needed to complete a number of official forms before boarding the ferry. In those days every ship’s passenger had to fill in a pink Visitor’s Card, a white Landing Card and a grey Immigration Card. The first one was the most important of the three, as you had to present it to the Immigration Officer on arrival in Dover. And this man – we had been told – would question you about your purpose for travelling to the UK…!
I vividly remember how we gingerly boarded the ‘Princess Astrid’ across a wobbly gangplank. She had been finished only recently at Hoboken’s historic Cockerill Yards by the renowned ‘Compagnie Maritime Belge’ and was so named after our latest princess royal (my granddad sneered that royals “bred like rabbits though never lifted a finger for their keep”).
‘Astrid’ had three impressive funnels and big, white horn-like ventilation shafts sticking out from her upper-deck, a vessel much like those in a Tintin comic book. To my landlubber’s mind, she seemed absolutely enormous, but once on the open sea she would look (and behave!) more like a nutshell. The weather was clear and fine on that auspicious August morning but there was a brisk wind and a rather nasty swell in the Channel.
A salty dog
I must admit that I had little idea of what a sea journey meant, as the best experience I had yet had with aquatic transport was a rowing-boat trip on Dikkebus Pond near Ieper and a leisurely boat trip on a school outing to Walcheren in South Holland. Anyway, for us this was going to be like a mini cruise, we hoped. Stephen and I bought ourselves a 33-cl Stella Artois can, a small prismatic bar of Toblerone and a packet of 20 Senior Service Plain. We both rented a folding deckchair from the Purser’s Office and so, for the price of 5 BEF (today’s equivalent of some 20 Euro cent), we finally sat ourselves down on the sun-deck among the other – mainly young – passengers.
As I have always been most susceptible to smells, I thought I discerned a faint smell of vomit coming from the canvas fabric of my chair, but I soon dismissed this as an unfounded impression of mine. One smell that was unmistakably around was that of diesel oil. Ever since we had left the quay I had discerned the sickening stench of diesel wafting from the ship’s engine room. But worse was to come…
The year 1969 still was the time of hippies and other ‘long-haired lovers’, and so a colourful crowd of backpackers and other young travellers were lazing on the upper deck, basking in the sunshine. Some faint guitar chords could be heard coming from a young bloke leaning against the ship’s railings. Sheer heaven, I thought.
However, as we approached the open sea, the colour of the water turned a menacing dark green. ‘Astrid’, for her part, soon began rocking wildly and for those who were lying on their backs on the deck – in true hippie tradition – it was getting more and more difficult not to roll onto their neighbours. My father had told me that he’d heard from his British acquaintances that crossing the Channel on the Ostend-Dover line normally took four and a half hours: one and a half hours leaving the Belgian coast, one and a half in the open sea and another one and a half with the English coast in view. As the journey proceeded, the sea became increasingly choppy, and now and then I saw white foam flying from the ship’s bow.
As Stephen was becoming more or less the same colour as the sea, I advised him to go down to the toilets and battle it out there. I for one was convinced that as long as I could keep my eyes fixed on the horizon I would be OK, so I remained on the upper deck, now and then swallowing a hint of heartburn that was lingering at the back of my throat.
Besides, the fresh air seemed to help, in contrast to the vile smell coming from the lower deck where the toilets were. It seemed to do the trick for a while but more and more people around me were clearly turning a ‘whiter shade of pale…’ sending those still standing ‘cartwheeling across the floor’. When they too were beginning to be sick, the smell became absolutely revolting, and I turned my face from the queasy crowd in a bid not to become the next victim. I tried to recapture ‘my’ horizon but all I saw were two green walls of waves embracing the ship on both sides. I thought… my God, how will this end…? Just as I was about to join Stephen downstairs, someone on the upper deck called out ‘Dover!’ and sure enough… in the distance there seemed to emerge a greyish strip that had to be the English coastline. Almost at the same time the swell started to subside and through the salty flying spray, there appeared what Vera Lynn once glorified as ‘the White Cliffs of Dover’. Unfortunately, I can’t remember exactly how white they were in those days, as I have the impression that today they should rather be dubbed ‘the Grey Cliffs of Dover’.
As we staggered down the gangplank at Dover Western Docks, we weren’t half relieved to get off our erstwhile Titanic. And although it was now well past lunchtime neither Stephen nor I felt particularly peckish. The quay was draughty and humid, and the presence of a few menacing seagulls came across like the backdrop to a Hitchcock film. The ferry terminal looked positively Victorian, with its wrought-iron staircases, and a pervasive smell that was somewhere between creosote and Dettol hung in the air. In spite of my self-pity I couldn’t help thinking of the poor boys in the ill-fated British Expeditionary Force who, some three decades before us, had arrived dishevelled and exhausted after their narrow escape from Dunkirk.
We were now directed through a long, draughty corridor until we reached a number of booths where stern-looking officials in long trenchcoats were checking passports and collecting our Visitor’s Cards. Here, things went agonisingly slow as the Immigration Officer – who looked not unlike Blakey, the lanky ticket collector in ‘On the Buses’ – was doing his job very much by the book. When my turn came up, the bespectacled Blakey enquired: “What is the purpose of your visit, young man?” “A holiday, Sir” I said. “How long are you staying?” “A fortnight, Sir” I replied politely. He briefly looked up from his registers and went on: “And where are you heading for?” Since the word ‘head for’ was not in my vocabulary yet he had to put the question differently. But when I said “A holiday camp with Toc H” his undertaker’s face lit up. Now would you believe it, he knew Toc H…!
I instantly felt the urge to ask him if he had ever met Tubby Clayton but I refrained from doing so. Besides, a long queue of impatient travellers was forming behind me, and as the boat had already suffered some serious delay, time was pressing for all of us. But above all, I didn’t want to hold up our waiting drivers any longer.
In the meantime, Stephen too had gone through Immigration and Customs, and so we both proceeded to Western Docks Railway Station. Here, a metallic voice was calling “Dover… (it sounded like doughver, Western Docks. All aboard for London Victoria Station”. Just as we were beginning to think that our hosts might have missed us, a voice rang out from among the crowd calling “Toc H, Toc H Projects…”
Sure enough, there they were at the station’s entrance: the three men who – we had been promised – would come and collect us – plus a few other volunteers: Bill, a white-haired, pipe-smoking gentleman in a posh Rover; Alan (who introduced himself as the camp leader) in a flimsy Hillman, and the moustachioed Rob in a flashy Ford Capri 3-litre. Rob, the one in the middle, was holding up a cardboard panel that read ‘Toc H Camp Guildford’. And so, we met our first real ‘live’ Englishmen.
After a firm handshake and some brief introductions we jumped into the cars and prepared to set off towards London. Already waiting in the cars were three more English volunteers from the Kent area, plus one German girl who had arrived on an earlier ferry and was to be dropped at a different Toc H Project location. She looked utterly Teutonic with her blue eyes and flaxy plaits. When she heard we were Flemish, she started a verbal avalanche in her native tongue but when Miss Jungmädel felt that she wasn’t getting much audience, she changed the subject. Next came a detailed account of her voyage, which apparently had been very much like ours. ”Ze vind” had been “zo fiolent” that she had been “ferry afraid of ze vaild zea… und hat mich ganz Seekrank gemacht.”
I must admit, I wasn’t unduly impressed by her presence… A square peg in a round hole I thought (or was it vice versa?)! Understandably, we didn’t ‘mention the war’! To my utter relief I was soon detached from my ‘Jungmädel’ (I hadn’t come to England to meet Germans, I was thinking) as she was heading for a different campsite. Now our hosts asked us to ‘jump in’ and so after throwing our holdalls into the boot of the car, we got in. I was a bit disappointed to be assigned to the slowest of the three vehicles. I had been hoping to admire the mahogany interior of the Rover or feel the breakneck acceleration of the sporty Capri. Anyway, we soon left Dover for the A2 with me sitting in the front of the Hillman. I must say, it gave an odd feeling especially when a car was coming in the opposite direction, you were inclined to think that it was going to run straight into you. And so, every time Alan overtook the car in front I involuntarily closed my eyes while I inadvertently leant over a little to his side.
After about an hour or so on the A2 we saw a signpost for Canterbury. Immediately a number of school memories sprang to mind. I vividly remembered Mr D’s lecture on the Murder at the Cathedral in 1170, when Archbishop Thomasà- Becket was scalped by four knights of Henry II – right in front of the altar – and how after that “most heinous of crimes” Canterbury had quickly become a place of pilgrimage when apparently all kinds of miracles started to happen there and then. Mr D had also told us of how some four centuries later the city had become the Cradle of the Anglican Church after Henry VIII had broken away from Rome because the Pope wouldn’t dissolve the king’s marriage, after which Henry still saw himself as ‘Defender of the Faith’ (though the new one!), putting the Archbishop of Canterbury in charge of his new Anglican Church.
By now the sun had come out and we were getting rather thirsty. So, some distance past the city I dared suggest stopping for a drink, something Alan found a good idea. I remember him pulling over at a roadside café in the shape of a bridge, a tubular construction that spanned both sides of the A2. We all had a lemonade at a yellow Formica-topped table enjoying our ‘bird’s eye view’. I found it exhilarating to be able to sit and relax while the traffic was hissing by under our feet – a novelty we’d never seen in backward Belgium!
Through the Garden of England
In the meantime the journey took us through the rolling Kentish countryside. The roads were full of weird and antiquated cars like bulky Zephyrs, ‘bowler-hat’ Morris Minors and three-wheeled Reliants that looked absolutely out of this world. I was wondering why – in spite of the humid climate – there were so many Minis on the roads here, as every Belgian motor mechanic swore that these little Austins and Morrises were totally unreliable and notorious ‘bad starters’ on a damp morning. Apparently, they broke down as soon as they went through as little as a puddle, and it was rumoured that the clutch burned out after only 500 miles!
There seemed to be hardly any bicycles about, but I just couldn’t take my eyes off the many Nortons, Triumphs, BSAs, Royal Enfields and other shiny motorbikes thumping away gently on these winding country lanes. In my blownup imagination, their riders, wearing Cromwell crash-helmets and leather goggles, looked more like pilots from a Biggles’ squadron than motorbikers in the first place. Since we were heading for Surrey, I was secretly hoping to get some free time so that I might visit Brooklands near Weybridge, once the Mecca of British motor-racing. Alan told me that the original racetrack was still there but that it was now derelict and not open to the general public. I don’t know why, but my preconception of ‘The Garden of England’ had been one of a rich but flat county, a bit like our Flemish Polders. So I was pleasantly surprised to see what an undulating landscape it really was. I also noticed how well preserved it looked, with centuries-old oak trees solitarily dotted in lush, verdant meadows.
But most of all, my first impression was one of space and expanse, as even in the late 60s Flanders already looked cramped with its many built-up areas and its typical urban ribbon development. The countless sheep happily grazing away only added a touch of tranquillity to this absolutely unspoilt landscape. Here and there I noticed old timber-framed cottages with thatched roofs looking like the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel’s fairytale. Now and again, Alan pointed out the traditional round oasthouses, their white pivoted cowls clearly sticking out from a canopy of green.
Time and time again as we passed through some quaint Kentish village I noticed an open grassy space, which Alan explained was the ‘village green’ or ‘common’. I couldn’t help joking that in Belgium such a big space would promptly be turned into a car park or supermarket. Other, more tended ‘greens’ that we saw, were manned by groups of sedate gentlemen playing a rather static game, apparently called ‘cricket’. I thought it looked a bit like baseball but more relaxed, an observation that prompted Alan to retort that it was anything BUT what their ‘American cousins’ played. His obvious irritation kept me from saying that at first sight, it had looked to me like a rally of the combined Kent Butchers’ & Bakers’ Unions.
When we bypassed towns like Ashford and Maidstone I finally got a glimpse of English suburbia: nice but rather small houses, smart, semi-detached dwellings and cosy pre-war bungalows. The local Norman village churches seemed Romanesque in style and with their castellated parapets and grey flint walls they looked more like barbicans than churches. Most of the houses seemed to have well-kept gardens, both at the front and back of the house. Wisteria and honeysuckle covered walls and facades, and the neatly-trimmed lawns looked very much like the ones in the Commonwealth War Cemeteries of South West Flanders. As far as rhododendrons were concerned, I had never seen such giant specimen; this being the result of acid soil, Alan explained.
Later, as we approached Greater London, we passed row upon row of identical terraced-houses with their typical bay-windows. They seemed to go on for miles and miles, and I was wondering how people were supposed to find their own front-door in the dark after a night on the town… During the journey Alan told me at length about the camp and the planned activities. “To put you in the picture”, he said (leaving me wondering what picture he was talking about). Anyhow, I immediately felt he was a responsible chap and that the project was going to be a promising one. He was studying to become a chartered accountant, he told me, while Rob was an engineer on holiday from his oilrig in the North Sea, I learned. And Bill… well, Bill was a retired bank manager and had been a lifelong Toc H member. He had volunteered to come and collect the rest of the party in his spacious Rover.
Although the conversation we were having grew more and more interesting, the trip to Guildford (some 90 miles from Dover) seemed endless and in spite of the incitements to ‘Take Courage’ beckoning from roadside pubs, ‘miles’ appeared to be so much longer than ‘kilometres’. Besides, the M20 had not yet been built, and the journey sometimes went over narrow trunk roads with the odd stretch of ‘dual carriageway ahead’. And so, it was already getting dark when the groaning little Hillman pulled off towards Guildford.
It was almost pitch dark when we finally arrived at the campsite, which carried the military name of ‘Henley Fort’ (nicknamed ‘Henry Ford’, our drivers told us). The Toc H recruitment brochure said that the place had been built during the Napoleonic Wars to protect England in case the French invaded, and that it had been used in the Second World War by the Home Guard.
In many respects Henley Fort resembled an army bulwark, complete with a highwalled perimeter and self-sufficient facilities. At even distances around the camp hung red buckets filled with sand. As they read ‘fire’, I assumed they were a kind of primitive fire extinguishers. The site was situated on the outskirts of the city, roughly between Farnham in the west and Guildford in the east.
The Fort lay right on top of the Hog’s Back, a wooded hillcrest (basically an ancient ridgeway, part of the North Downs) and this elevated position – which the Celts had used for its strategic value – was just perfect for a holiday of this nature. Compared with the main part of the Downs to the east of it, it looked a narrow, elongated ridge, hence its name.
Alan told me that in the Middle Ages the Hog’s Back lay on the road from London to Winchester and that it also formed part of the Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury. This well-preserved and unspoilt green area boasted a wide array of wildlife including foxes, badgers, hedgehogs and even roe deer, while the spreading bushes and hedges – as we were to find out – yielded an abundance of mulberries, brambles, rosehip, blackcurrants and elderberries. A beauty spot indeed confirmed by none less than Jane Austen who, in a letter to her sister Cassandra, wrote: “I never saw the Country from the Hog’s Back so advantageously…”
The kids, who had arrived earlier that afternoon, were still out and about. Some were riding piggyback on the volunteers. Others were just running around barefoot, screaming and shouting like madmen, while a few intrepid boys were chasing some of the girl volunteers through the adjoining bushes. I thought, my goodness – what a bunch of rascals…!
The children slept in small, green tents while we, the volunteers, were under bigger canvas, feet to the middle. The camp leader and the caterers slept in a wooden chalet where they also had a small office, a first-aid post (which smelled of – what I would later come to know – TCP), and – adjacent – an oddity called the ‘tuck shop’. The kids were surprisingly young, some of them just toddlers really, but what struck me most on that first encounter was how good their English was – in spite of their young age. To any Brit this must sound like a strange thing to say, but I was so impressed by their pronunciation, their accent and intonation that for the first time I understood the true meaning of the expressions ‘mother tongue’ and ‘native speakers’.
Soon, Stephen and I were introduced to the other volunteers, most of whom seemed to be about the same age as ourselves. A number of them were sons or daughters of Toc H members while quite a few others were Police Cadets who had joined the project as part of their compulsory ‘social competence’ training. But it was Angie, an 18-year-old traffic warden from Greater London, who struck my eye from the very moment we met. She had soft features and the most beautiful beady eyes I had ever seen, and… she seemed to smile at me all the time…
Eye (and ear) openers galore
Alan took us into a stale-smelling building with two long trestle tables and an assortment of folding chairs. This room – I figured – was the dining-hall. As we were still standing, he said, “Park your bums, lads!”, to which I drew a complete blank. Surely, HE was the driver of the car, so why were WE supposed to park HIS car, I thought… Besides, I wasn’t too sure about that ‘bum’ bit either (was that short for ‘bumper’, perhaps?). But soon Alan smilingly rephrased his invitation to “take a seat and make yourselves comfortable”. And so we cottoned on…
As we had had nothing to eat since our departure from Belgium, he went into the kitchen to get us some food. This, however, was going to be an eye-opener, to say the least. Since Mr Trawlber, the visiting cook, had already left, Alan was going to do the cooking himself, he promised.
“How about some soup and a pie, boys?”, Alan asked. We nodded eagerly as we were rumbling with hunger after our erstwhile maritime ordeal. Being fond of soup, we had no objection to the proposed starter, but after we had tasted some of Campbell’s Tomato Cream ‘Alanese’ we were beginning to think he had erroneously added sugar instead of salt, as we had no idea that soup could ever taste sweet!
As far as the pie was concerned, I vaguely remembered my father, who had been posted with BAOR (the British Army On the Rhine) during his National Service, speaking highly of the delicious English pie. But, obviously, Dad had only tasted apple and cherry pies during his spell with the British, and he might not have heard of the savoury variety. After Alan had popped two frozen porkpies in the oven, he opened a bag of peas the size of marbles (a far cry from my Mum’s cherished ‘extra fins’), and put some cotton-wool Mother’s Pride bread on the table. I thought it looked more like ‘Mother’s Shame’ compared to the crusty loaves we had back in good old Pop.
The peas, for that matter, smelled like mint and for a brief moment I thought that Stephen, an incorrigible joker, had played one of his practical jokes on me again, and had put toothpaste on these ‘green giants’. Judging by his likewise reaction, I concluded that he hadn’t! And so, in a prompt attempt to camouflage the suspicious smell I topped my share of ‘minty’ peas with a blob from a square sauce bottle standing on our table. It carried the name ‘HP sauce’, which – I supposed – stood for ‘Ham Pickle’ or something. Once again, I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that it was NOT some kind of ketchup, as I had been assuming. Alan explained that the initials HP stood for Houses of Parliament, but once again I failed to see the connection… Was this the staple sauce for MPs, I wondered?
Anyway, when we finally started our momentous ‘First Supper’, the pork pies were still rock-hard inside, and as I did my best to put up a brave face, I felt the pink mince slide down my throat… like a lump of meat ice-cream. For drinks there was only the choice between Nestlé’s instant coffee (which Alan pronounced ‘nessels’) and two complete novelties for us. First, there was ‘Robertson’s squash’, which looked like diluted orange juice, and of course the universal ‘cuppa’. I settled for the latter as I was of the idea that “when in Rome…”
While pouring, Alan suddenly said, “Say when!” I looked at him in slight embarrassment but he just repeated in a higher tone of voice “Say WHEN, Bert.” And so, trying not to be too disobedient to my kind guest I just emulated “When, when what?!” It seemed to do the trick and we were soon to learn that ‘when’ simply meant ‘enough’ in tea lingo. I then brought the scalding mug to my lips (how could anyone drink such a hot beverage in summer, I wondered) but I was surprised to find that it was not at all a herbal tisane. So, I soon refrained from the old Roman adage, as the brew – I thought – tasted like an infusion of… spring hay.
When Alan saw my obvious disappointment, he advised lacing it with milk and adding some sugar. This I did, and sure enough, with some imagination you could have been forgiven for thinking that English tea was some kind of disastrous hot cocoa. When I had finally managed to finish my ‘cuppa’, Alan asked, “Would you care for some more, Bert?”, an offer that I hastily declined with a polite ‘thank you’. However, I was most bewildered to see that he now wanted to fill up my mug again… Only much, much later, and to my obvious detriment, I was to learn that – unlike in Dutch or Flemish – in these circumstances the expression ‘thank you’ actually meant ‘yes please’. Little did I know then that I would come to love the drink. In fact, the experience did not stop me from eventually becoming a tea addict.
Talking of disappointments, my first visit to the toilets that night was both literally and parabolically an ‘eye-opener’. I was a bit surprised to see (or rather ‘feel’) the quality of British toilet paper, which looked much like the kind of greaseproof paper we used in Belgium to wrap dairy butter in. Next to the toilet was a box of sharply-folded sheets that bore the brand name Izal. When I gingerly ‘applied’ the meagre material it didn’t seem to ‘do the job’. Obviously, Mr Deconinck wàs right after all.
Before going to bed we asked if we could have a shower. So Alan promised to show us to our ‘ablutions’. These consisted of a plain wooden shed with one long zinc gutter over which simple brass taps were fitted. At the far end were two primitive showers with wooden, toilet-style louvered doors. Would this work the other way round too, I wondered? Would blue be cold and red be hot? You never knew in a fickle country like this, I reckoned. But, surprise surprise… this was Continental! Or were we British in taps perhaps? As I had forgotten my own soap, I grabbed hold of an orangy-red bar that had been left lying about by the person before me and which bore the name ‘Wright’s’. But when I applied the stuff, it gave off a sharp, almost tarry smell. For a moment I thought it was something the cleaners used to disinfect the floor but sure enough this would prove to be our ‘sample soap’ at the camp.
As we were about to turn in, Alan ushered us into the dank dining-hall asking if everything was to our satisfaction. He then presented us with a hot beverage, which he called Horlick’s. The drink looked like hot cocoa but instead had an unexpected malty flavour. At least a pleasant novelty to round off a most eventful day. After downing our mugs, Stephen and I were shown to our sleeping accommodation, and although I was a trifle apprehensive as to what oddities the following day would bring, we gladly crawled into our down sleeping bags to spend our first night on British soil and slept like logs.
Out and about
The next day, I was up at the crack of dawn. The interior of the tent felt stifling but it was already broad daylight outside. I gingerly slipped out not to wake the others and had a quick look round the camp, which was still dead quiet. I took a deep breath and the prickly smell of newly-mown hay quickly brought me back into the world of the living. Only now did I see what a charming beauty spot the Hog’s Back was, overlooking the city of Guildford below with its massive cathedral still shrouded in the morning mist.
I hurried to the showers and had a quick wash. In the meantime, Alan had opened up the dining-hall from which the penetrating smell of freshly-toasted bread mingled with the crisp morning air. A huge pan of scrambled eggs was waiting on the table while a large tray of baked beans was already simmering in the oven. But there was also fruit juice, milk, various kinds of cereals like Cornflakes and Rice Crispies… while a tea dixie the size of a small oil drum was brewing on a nearby trestle table. Breakfast? I thought this looked more like lunch to us!
A stern-looking, bespectacled character, called Mr Trawlber, was already doling out portions of scrambled egg on small plates for the camp leaders. In his oversized duffel-coat, this chain-smoking ‘Capstan’ chap looked not unlike Jack Hawkins in ‘The Cruel Sea’, I thought. Mrs Trawlber – on the other hand – proved to be a most kindly character with whom I hit it off straightaway. Together with her husband she worked at the campsite as a resident caretaker, doing the odd job and looking after the place when the kids were on their outings.
Later I was to help her out quite a bit with the catering though I was slightly bewildered when she started calling me ‘love’ after a couple of days. Might she have taken a fancy to me, I wondered? When I cautiously told Alan about this, he just had a good laugh as he said that ‘love’ was only a vague term of endearment and that I shouldn’t take it too literally…
Soon the kids were woken up (Wakey wakey, show a leg…) and led – rather unenthusiastically – to the zinc washstands. After this, they filed in four queues for their breakfast: cereals, scrambled egg on toast and tea or milk. As for cereals, they came in the shape of Cornflakes and Rice Crispies plus two oddities that went by the names of ‘Weetabix’ and ‘Shredded Wheat’, little crumbly cakes that seemed to be made of compacted roughage.
Stephen and decided to go for the Cornflakes (they looked not unlike crisps), though not before we watched how the kids were eating them, with milk and caster sugar (we thought that one was supposed to have them plain). As the kids enthusiastically shook them from big cardboard boxes, Stephen joked that Cornflakes looked like some sort of chicken feed, and with the Kellogg’s cockerel on the box, you might be inclined to think this was indeed the case. When I finally tried a Weetabix, I must admit it didn’t taste too bad, although the biscuit did look like something you might find on the floor of a sawmill… And so this breakfast thing went on and on, while the kids worked their way through the various courses of this extended first meal of the day. Just as we thought all was finished, the kids started to help themselves to big jars of what looked like apricot jam; though it struck me that there appeared to be some sort of small strands in it.
We saw how they spread their buttered toast with this thing that – we now learned – went by the name of ‘marmalade’ (to which Stephen and I reacted with an ‘Obladi Oblada’ chorus). The stuff looked appetising enough so we decided to give it a try. But when I felt the red rind crack between my teeth, releasing a bitter taste on my palate, my enthusiasm for the traditional British breakfast suffered another blow.
Still, no matter how hearty your appetite, no breakfast was never had before you’d said ‘grace’, another linguistic novelty that we emulated parrot-fashion: “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.” Then, after the meal, the kids took it in turns to do the washing up, tidy the tents and sweep the courtyard with witch-style birch brooms. Only then did the day proper start. In the meantime the mist had cleared and gave way to glorious sunshine, leaving the Hog’s Back crowned with a strato-cumulus sky.
Each team was allotted a group of eight to ten kids for two volunteers: one male and one female. My ’buddy’, as they were called, was a 19-year-old policewoman called Judy. She was kind but firm with the kids and turned out to be a very responsible volunteer. Besides, she always proved ready to help me out each time I got stuck in my failing English, and soon I was like putty in her hands. Morning activities at Henley Fort usually meant scavenger hunts, outdoor games like wheelbarrow, tug-of-war or sack races, and of course sports. Football and cricket were the favourites though Steven and I wisely watched the latter from a distance, as our involvement might have had disastrous effects on the game, and even more so on our egos. If wet, activities were shifted to some kind of ‘lecture’ like a lesson in deaf-and-dumb sign language or a cartoon show. Each time we went on a daytrip we took packed lunches, which were had outdoors as one big collective picnic: doorstep Mother’s Pride sandwiches (again!) cut in the familiar triangular shape, small blocks of cheddar (which Stephen and I dubbed ‘candle wax cheese’), bags of Smith’s crisps, bars of Kit- Kat, oranges and bananas and the universal Robertson’s squash, which came in plastic one-gallon containers.
I myself was always hungry enough to help wolf down the piles of sandwiches (only the ones with Marmite – which I initially mistook for maple syrup – which I loathed), so we rarely returned with any leftovers. As for the crisps, these too were rather a novelty for me. I had recently ‘discovered’ them in a souvenir shop on a school outing in Belgium but, having no idea what they tasted like, had assumed they were bits of dried pancake, sprinkled with white caster sugar… Our outings ranged from a visit to the nearby Royal Engineers army barracks at Aldershot (fascinating), a visit to a local piggery (ugh!), boating on the Wey (wet fun), horse and pony-riding (the kids’ absolute favourite), a visit to a local animal park (where – typically – I got bitten in the shoulder by… a donkey!) or to a local adventure playground (no theme parks yet in those days), a picnic at Frencham Pond (a beauty spot), a trip to the seaside and – to top it all – a night at the local stockcar races. Toc H members from the Surrey branch volunteered to drive us in their cars and mini-vans, and kindly took us to these various locations in the county.
One of the regular drivers on these trips was Bill Crook, the man who had also taken some of us from Dover to Guildford. I just loved his company, as he was a kindly and well-spoken gent whom I saw as a paragon of the Old World. I particularly liked the smell of his pipe, which he filled with a ready-rubbed mixture called ‘Parson’s Pleasure’. Wherever Bill went, he was followed in his tracks by a fragrance of honey and figs. There and then I swore that back in Belgium I would take up pipe-smoking, albeit for the sake of looking more British, and hopefully… more ‘intellectual’.
Talking about the seaside, one day we travelled from Guildford to Chichester on the Sussex coast for a ‘bucket-and-spades’ outing. Before we set off, Alan taught us a song for the occasion. It had quite a catchy tune and seemed to cheer up everybody in our ‘gang’. This is how it went:
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside,
I do like to be beside the sea,
I do like to stroll along the prom, prom, prom,
Where the brass bands play Tiddley-om-pom-pom!
So just let me be beside the seaside,
I’ll be beside myself with glee;
And there’s lots of girls beside,
I should like to be beside,
Beside the seaside, beside the sea.
It proved to be another scorcher and all my apprehensions about the British summer were brushed aside there and then. It was absolutely sweltering that day, as it had been most of the time during our stay (we’d hardly had any rain yet). In fact I had expected (or rather wànted) it to rain as in my simplistic mind ‘rain’ would have added up to the quintessential British atmosphere, as I had savoured it in songs like ‘Flowers in the Rain’ and ‘I can hear the grass grow’ by The Move and in The Hollies’ ‘Bus Stop’ (please share my umbrella…).
When I told Alan about my prejudices he explained that due to the presence of the Gulf Stream this part of the UK enjoyed some of the highest summer temperatures in North-West Europe, almost like the French Riviera, he claimed. It very much felt that he was right again.
I was quite surprised to see how different the English coast was compared to our Belgian seaside: very little sand but mainly pebbles, making it difficult to walk barefoot on the beach. Another thing that struck me was that long stretches of coastline were covered in a black, tarry substance blotting our swimming trunks – suspiciously pitch. The blistering August heat made it all the messier, and the sticky substance was soon all over the kids’ bodies. So we had quite a job trying to get these nasty stains off their hands and feet. By the end of the project many kids were still covered in these black smudges, almost as if they were suffering from some contagious skin disease. I soon learned from the locals that this was the visible result of the infamous oil disaster with the ill-fated Torrey Canyon, the oil tanker that had broken up off the coast of Cornwall some two years earlier (1967).
Jam and Jerusalem
A few times during our stay we were invited to a church fête, or found ourselves entertained by members of some local W.I. branch. Anyway, wherever we went people would stuff us with food as if we’d just returned from a long spell in a German POW camp. Obviously, in the days before, these ‘char ladies’, in gaudy floral skirts and grotesque Dame Edna glasses, had been baking all kinds of fanciful cakes for ‘these poor kids’ who ‘must be starving’. Pastry and pies were then put on display in their village hall as if they were about to be inspected by Delia Smith herself. To me, however, the whole do seemed more like a Barbara Castle look-alike contest than just another kids’ party.
The kindly ladies moved about from one trestle table to the other like ‘wallpaper on the march’ while the kids ate themselves to the brink of indigestion. As may be expected, on the return journey we frequently had to stop the ramshackle Bedford van to let ‘dear oh dear’ Dermot or ‘poor thing’ Lesley be sick by the roadside. Needless to say, the nauseating incidence had a knock-on effect on the rest of the willy-nilly witnesses, although in my case the effect was subject to the distance yet to be covered.
One thing was certain: on returning to the campsite volunteers were never queuing up to do the clean-up job (especially not that time when the sliding sidedoor got stuck with puke). So on a few occasions, yours truly had the honour of mopping up the repulsive remains of the previously wolfed-down ‘bridesmaids’ and other by now very obvious ‘upside-down’ cakes. And yes, once again I was nonplussed when they started calling Lesley ‘poorly’. Surely, money could have nothing to do with the fact she went on being ‘sick’, or was it ‘ill’? Gosh! Well, I suppose all downsides must have an upside, as eventually I learned the difference between these two, including one word I bet even Deconinck would never have known – ‘queasy’!
English as she is spoke
We volunteers had very little time for ourselves with such energetic children around. They also had a ready tongue for their age, and I soon learned many new – mainly rude – words from them. Especially when emotions ran high, their vocabulary turned to the four-letter version. These kids were simply devilish but at the same time they could be sweet and adorable. I distinctly remember sitting by their bedside at night, telling them a short bedtime story (well, as best I could) or reading a few pages from their comic strips. When I ventured into a fairytale, they would suddenly look up in surprise and say “No, no, it’s not the knight drew his sWord! It’s… the knight drew his SWORD – stupid.” Free teachers!
After the first week I felt absolutely knackered, as we’d had little sleep all week. First, there was always some staff-meeting laid on by the assiduous Alan, an assembly where next day’s activities were presented and discussed. Obviously, this happened only late at night when the kids were sound asleep. And after that, we often kept ‘socialising’ with the other volunteers.
When Alan took the address at these meetings he spoke at length about the past day and about what lay ahead for us and for the kids. Sometimes the other volunteers would interrupt him with a ‘hear! hear!’ exclamation (or was it ‘hear here’?). Again, Stephen and I didn’t know what to think of the use of ‘hear’ in this case. Alan spoke loud enough for us to ‘hear’ him clearly, and obviously the room was light enough for him to see that we were ‘here’. Admittedly, it took us some considerable time to solve the ‘hear hear’ enigma!
On the first meeting of the Project we were obviously the focus of attention for the other, mostly British volunteers. As most of the party knew very little about a small country like Belgium we had to tell them over and over again about our federal nation, about the Flemings and the Walloons and about Brussels as ‘pig in the middle.’
Only the names Bruges and Ypres seemed to ring a distant bell for some. Fortunately, sometime in the previous term, I had prepared an essay for my history lessons on the topic so I was pretty knowledgeable about the situation. We also told our keen audience about the difference between Luxemburg the country and Luxemburg the province; and how Leuven University had remained Flemish thanks to the students’ revolt of the previous year.
Everybody seemed to think that Belgians only spoke French (they’d never heard of Flemish) and that we were some distant cousins of the French. When we explained that in spite of everything the official language in Flanders was Dutch, this must have sounded like ‘double Dutch’, and when I added that we even had a third official language (German!), they simply drew a blank. Most volunteers were astonished to hear that we spoke at least four languages (well, just about). Stephen, who was reading the Classics at the time, added that it was not uncommon for some Flemish students to have a basic to good knowledge of seven languages (including one’s own dialect of course). When the volunteers heard his claim, they prompted him to say, “I love you” in every possible language he knew. When he finally managed ten, he was forever regarded as an expert linguist.
In return we took a test of their French, which turned out to be almost nonexistent. When they tried to speak it, it sounded like something from a Laurel & Hardy sketch, the French version that is; something in the range of “jai voudrai zavoir un verre de vain.” So when one of the female volunteers claimed she could do a French folk song everyone rallied round her in keen anticipation. But as she struck up the first notes, Stephen and I had the greatest difficulty to stifle our laughter as she sounded like a rusty Petula Clark rendering Frère Jacques… Absolutely impossible, if you ask me!
Twice a week you also were on ‘guard duty’, meaning that two of the volunteers had to sit among the kids’ tents at night and make sure that silence was observed after 9 p.m. Whenever there was some noise coming from a tent you had to go in and have a look. Usually, it was one of the kids feeling homesick, a misplaced teddy or someone wanting to pop out to the ‘loo’. If they didn’t keep quiet for no good reason you could always threaten them that they’d be sent off into the dark bushes where “the ‘orrible bogeyman” was lurking about… That usually did the trick.
I distinctly remember that when things went silent (apart from the sound of chirping crickets), David, a volunteer I teamed up with, and myself went on chatting all through the sultry night. In spite of being a staunch anti-Vietnam protester and a confirmed CND supporter, Dave was always dressed in a military jacket and crêpe-soled safari boots, which he called his ‘brothel creepers’. When we were on night shifts, Dave – three years my senior – used to gauge my ‘karma’ while burning long, thin jossticks that he let smoulder gently into a long, thin strip of ash. His typical ‘patchouli’ smell only added to his quintessential hippie charm. Dave had also brought his guitar on which he sometimes played ‘Where do you go to, my lovely’, Peter Sarstedt’s hit of that year. In spite of his placid nature he was quite a talkative chap, most willing to teach me an array of new and useful taboo words, including the various names for the female body parts, something even the progressive Deconinck had been loath to do… Dave’s catchphrase was ‘Jolly good, mate’, a sentence he used for almost every positive reply.
From him I also got to know the hidden meaning of more racy words like ‘Bristols’, ‘cleavage’, ‘gash’ and ‘cherry’. You never knew when these might come in handy, if I were to ‘land’ myself a British ‘bird’, dexterous Dave concluded. And there were quite a few to look out for… There was Pam with the pout, and Jill with the inviting smile. There was Ann with the big b******s who “gave us a couple of good points for discussion”, as Dave put it. But most of all it was the more mature Martine who caught our eye. With her doe eyes and her sylphlike figure she really was the pick of the basket. Even in her faded jeans and sloppy sweater she looked like someone from a lads’ mag. A real ‘stunner’, I was soon to learn. So it didn’t come as a surprise when Martine told me that she was an air stewardess with British Airways. She’d been flying between London and New York on the 747 Jumbo Jet, and was now in her final training for service on Concorde. This knowledge coupled with her glamorous looks made me realise that in this case ‘the sky’ was indeed ‘the limit’.
However, it was good old Dave again who read my thoughts and warned me not to “count” my “blessings”. One day, while we were out and about with the kids we came across some early blackberries by the roadside, and obviously we all started picking them. While I stood straddled across the ditch reaching for some juicy ones luring us on the high bank, Dave shook his head in disbelief. When I wondered why he looked so pensive he said. “Bert, don’t you realise that blackberries are like women?” Totally perplexed I enquired why he would make this sort of comparison. To which he said, “Don’t you know, the most attractive ones – they’re simply out of reach.”
And there were more wise words from ‘Jolly Dave’ – as he came to be known. He also warned me about the dark side of the blue moon, warning me against ‘French blues’ (though most other French expressions were ‘good fun’ he said), ‘purple hearts’, ‘black bombers’ and ‘funny fags’, things we had never heard of in a rural backwater like Poperinge. Anyway, I suppose I learned more about this perfidious lingo in that fortnight than I had done in the whole span of my secondary education.
Our conversations concentrated mainly around pop and rock music, which Dave seemed to be so knowledgeable about. He told me all about budding supergroups like Cream, Jethro Tull, The Who and Pink Floyd but we also reminisced about the past: the Beatles, the Animals and of course the Mersey sound that we both adored. He had also brought a number of copies of Melody Maker, which I simply devoured during my spare moments.
Dave had hoped to travel to Woodstock that year but the cost had proved a bit too high for his ‘meagre means’, and so a working-holiday had to be the alternative. Thus, he was saving for next year’s rock festival on the Isle of Wight where – he rightly predicted – most of the Woodstock bands and singers would converge.
One night as we were having a big bonfire on the campsite we rallied round Dave who taught us his favourite tune. Accompanied by his guitar and kazoo, he sang Don Partridge’s BLUE EYES, a simple busker’s song that matched his jolly nature. Soon, he had everybody singing along. This is how it went.
It happens every spring I hear this bluebird sing Love is here again to stay But now that I’ve seen you I know this time it’s true Love is really here to stay Blue eyes look my way Make today my lucky day Blue eyes looking at me Hope you’re liking what you see Hope you’re liking what you see Nobody ever saw This deep deep blue before Bluebells look up in surprise The sky admits defeat The sea will kiss your feet I could drown in those blue eyes Blue eyes shining down Everything is right somehow Blue eyes stay here with me Find my world in those blue eyes Find my world in those blue eyes It happens every spring I hear this bluebird sing Love is here again to stay But now that I’ve seen you I know this time it’s true Love is really here to stay Blue eyes look my way Make today my lucky day Blue eyes looking at me Hope you’re liking what you see Hope you’re liking what you see And the beat goes on… into the night
When your ‘buddy’ proved to be a ‘she’, the shift promised to be all the more exciting. Twice that fortnight I had guard duty with Angie, the traffic warden, and I was thrilled that we hit it off like the proverbial ‘house on fire’. She had everything I liked in girls in those days: of a kindly nature and very feminine, though a bit on the plump side. Besides, she proved to be a good listener with a bubbly personality, something that worked wonders with the kids. With her dark beady eyes, wavy hair and chubby cheeks, dressed in floral blouse and flared jeans she looked not unlike Margaret Ashton, the young actress in ‘A Family at War’, I imagined.
On a few occasions Angie told me about her frustrating job and how she wanted to move on to the proper police force, which she called ‘the Met’. She told me all about life on the beat in ‘the Smoke’. She seemed to be quite knowledgeable about historic criminals like Doctor Crippen and Reginald Christie, two infamous killers whose horrific murders were displayed at Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors. She also knew a lot about the Kray Twins, a couple of dangerous gangsters who had recently been convicted for a number of murders in East End gangland.
I must confess that apart from new words, she taught me a few other exciting things into the bargain… Many a night we spent in the open – back to back – looking out on the star-strewn Surrey skyline, talking the time away, with Angie’s crackling trannie tuned to 199 metres Medium Wave. The nights were chilly and the damp coolness of the soil beneath us made me realise autumn (and school!) was just around the comer. But the sky was spangled with stars, and the air was heavy with the scent of a nearby honeysuckle. And when one night she whispered those three well-known words, followed by a lush, lingering kiss…. I felt like in a Hollywood movie, as never before had anyone made that age-old declaration to me… in English. I suppose if Alan had known what was going on during our night shifts, he probably would have had second thoughts about teaming us up. Thinking back about those blissful moments, I’m sure I never felt happier in my life… though, with hindsight it was all very, very innocent indeed.
Booze-up! What booze-up?
On the Saturday of the first weekend, the kids’ parents were invited to come and visit their sons or daughters and see how things were ‘shaping up’ at the camp. There would be a party that night for all of them, and David and Alan’s parents with some volunteers were going to supervise the campsite. Alan had decided that Stephen and I could have the night off, as apparently we had done more than was expected in the past week. So it was decided to visit some countryside pub where live music was laid on. David and Alan disappeared with some of the female volunteers and promised to be back with some means of transportation to take us to their ‘drinking den’, as they termed it.
In the meantime, Stephen and I walked into Guildford town centre to make that long-promised phone call to our parents back in Belgium. As I stepped into the familiar red booth for the first time I thought things would work like in our public telephone kiosks, though I should have known better by now. I lifted the heavy receiver from its hook and inserted a few half-crowns. Not being familiar with GPO procedures, I had to recourse to a passer-by to help me out with this new enigma. I just couldn’t get through. The kindly lady who assisted me soon saw what was wrong. You had to dial the number first and only put your money in once the connection had been made after which you had to push the A button. Apparently, they first connected you and only then did you pay… What a country, I thought!
When we arrived back at the campsite we had a quick wash and a change of clothes, but apart from a pair of crackling-new Wranglers and a clean cotton shirt there was little else to wear for the ‘grand outing’ that we had been promised. So Stephen and I felt all the more embarrassed when a smart Cortina pulled into the courtyard and the four of them got out all dressed up to the nines: Dave and Alan both in drainpipes, roller-neck pullovers and suede jackets and the girls, well… they were simply unrecognisable: hair all done up in beehives, tight miniskirts, mascara and make-up, and smelling like English roses. Boy, what a transformation! We hardly recognised them.
The pub lay at a fair distance from the campsite, and so when we arrived there the ‘gig’ was already in full swing. Just as Stephen was about to enter, a brawny doorkeeper held his hand up against Stephen’s chest and said, “Sorry mate, but you’re not coming in like that”. When Stephen asked why, the answer came without delay “No jeans allowed!”
I thought it a bit odd that our hosts did not try to coax the man into making an exception for two ‘ignorant’ foreigners, as we ourselves would certainly have done in such a case in Belgium. But this was England and – as we were to joke – Britannia “never waived the rules…” And so we simply returned to the car park discussing where we could go instead. As I was wearing jeans as well, the odds were much against us ever being allowed into any other club.
But Stephen, a resourceful fellow in dire times, then came up with a bright idea. In order not to run the same risk again, we decided to turn our jeans inside out and wear our shirts casually over them. Sneaking behind the cream-coloured Cortina we both undid our trousers and so, in ‘reversed’ jeans, which looked not unlike a pair of grey canvas trousers, we entered the next establishment where – fortunately – nobody seemed to object to our ‘Belgian slacks’.
Inside ’The Hare & Hounds’, a cosy pub with bottle-bottom windows, a small band was playing to a capacity crowd: R&B and a touch of jazz. Stephen and I thought that this might be a dancing do or something, but our English hosts only seemed to be interested in the bar. Soon it appeared that they were intent on having us sample every possible beverage the pub had on offer. So we had lager, mild, bitter, half-and-half, stout, porter, real ale, draught Guinness… you name it… but none of these ales seemed to have much taste, we concluded. In fact, they all tasted pretty much like the time-honoured ‘near beer’ kids drank at lunchtime in Belgium, Stephen and I concluded.
Dave and Alan were quite impressed that this number of drinks didn’t have much effect on us. What’s more, we assumed that the pub’s fridge had broken down, as all of the drinks were served positively tepid. And, that in the middle of summer! There was nothing wrong with the fridge, Alan assured us; that was the way to drink it! The girls, for their part, drank even greater oddities: shandy (which – horror of horrors – seemed to be a mixture of lager and lemonade!), a kind of flat and weak cider, a Bambiish bubbly called ‘Babycham’ and a spicy tipple called ‘ginger beer’ which was anything but beer…
We thought little of the skills of the bartender as one, you never serve beer without a head (in Belgium this was a sign of stale beer) and two, you certainly didn’t fill it to the brim as this made you spill your precious drink all over the place. Some country! Beer glasses too seemed to be different from the ones in our Belgian cafés: big conical ones for pints and small mug-like glasses for halfpints. I also noticed a few elderly gents having their drinks from dull metal beakers that did not look unlike the pewter cups Belgian cycling champions are presented with. These – I learned – were called ‘tankards’, Dave explained, and were supposed to give the beer a smoother taste. He also informed us that it was quite normal for some customers to keep their personal tankard over the pub counter. What oddities, I thought.
Another thing that struck me was that English girls smoked so much more than their Belgian counterparts. In those days, cigarettes were still socially acceptable but it was quite unheard of for Belgian girls to be heavy smokers. Maybe it all had to do with the ‘emancipation craze’ of the day. Anyway, the universal ‘fag’ at the time was the golden Benson & Hedges for men, and the navy blue Rothmans for women. Just as we was getting in the mood, a loud bell rang out from somewhere above the counter. At first I thought there was a fire-alarm but, as Alan explained, it simply meant ‘last orders’, and so after a final hasty swig we found ourselves back in the car again.
Fortunately, on the way home we found a fish & chip shop still open. Dave got out of the car and ordered us each a helping of soggy chips (they looked more like sliced potatoes to me) and some tasteless fish in a batter, “the ultimate British meal” he declared. When we were handed our portion I was surprised to see it came wrapped in a newspaper… But Dave ensured that this was “the done thing” and besides, it kept the ‘grub’ hot, he claimed. Once again, we were not unduly impressed by this time-honoured British ‘delicacy’. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop Stephen and me from gobbling up the fatty food like greedy gluttons. And this… while The Surrey Advertiser was being printed all over our fingers and thumbs.
Close encounters of the hairy kind…
When we arrived back at the campsite, the parents had already left and “all was quiet on the Western Front”, as we used to joke. I staggered to my tent and, after having some difficulty unzipping a ‘reversed’ fly, fell asleep almost immediately. Some time later I woke up with a bulging bladder that was close to bursting. I gingerly crawled out on hands and knees, and hurried to the bracken bushes to answer the much-needed ‘call of nature’.
Just as I began to relieve myself, I heard a sinister grunting a few paces from where I stood. For a brief moment I thought the dreaded bogeyman DID exist after all, but I was still sober enough to see a hairy, pig-like animal run off at lightning speed. Anyway, that ‘close encounter of the hairy kind’ would result in one thing, in that the word ‘wild boar’ has never been deleted from my ready vocabulary since. The next day, the running joke was that “Bert had seen the Hog’s Back from close-up”.
The second week was very much a repetition of the first one; only time flew by even more quickly. On the final day it took us almost half an hour to shake hands and hug all those boisterous kids whom we had come to love so dearly. And, after we had said goodbye to our closest friends, Stephen and I publicly promised to come back the following year, a statement that was cheerfully applauded by the gathered crowd. Naturally, also Jolly Dave came over with a final piece of advice to keep our ‘pecker’ up. As far as Angie was concerned, she was probably too upset to see us (me?) off…
These boots are made for… bragging
After that, we went down to Guildford town centre for a hasty lunch in a gaudy Wimpy bar and a spot of shopping. As – by now – I had more or less run out of money I was thinking of changing some of my spare Belgian francs into sterling. To my surprise, Alan showed me into an office in the High Street that said ‘Building Society’. I was glad he had accompanied me there, as I would never have guessed that British banks hid behind such deceptive names. Perfidious Albion, I thought.
Later, while window-shopping, I suddenly spotted a group of bald, young chaps dressed in orange silk garments. They were walking down the High Street in a row behind each other, singing and chanting, and beating tambourines. They seemed to be singing the same plaintive song over and over again. Alan explained that they were Hari Krishna people, some kind of eastern cult, apparently.
Personally, I couldn’t understand why young people would want to shave off all their hair (while we did all we could to grow ours as long as possible!), then dress up like the Dalai Lama, and go walking the streets half in a trance for the sake of some obscure religion…
Still, it seemed to be the ‘in thing’ at the time. Alan went on to explain that he knew one of them, as they had once been in the same school. “Always was a bit of an oddball”, Alan concluded. “What ball?” I repeated, wondering if this was some kind of physical description of the man in question.
As far as our shopping spree was concerned, we were adamant to bring back something you couldn’t get hold of in Belgium, something that was to serve as the ultimate proof of our trip across the Small Divide. So Stephen bought himself a couple of ‘psychedelic’ batiked T-shirts and a sleeveless kashmir fleece jacket, both of which he got from the local hippie haunt. I for one found a bulky Chambers’ English dictionary (for the princely sum of £1) and a pair of smart black leather ‘Chelsea boots’, the sort that pop stars wore.
Besides, we were hoping that our purchases would – in some way – lessen the impending pain, since we were both due for school in a fortnight. In spite of this unpleasant prospect, I already saw myself strutting through the school gate, shod like a British beatnik, while Stephen was sure to be branded the first genuine ‘hippie’ in our school. Hopefully, if ‘Endive’, the rigid priest Prefect, would turn a blind eye to our outlandish attire, we were bound to be ‘the talk of the town’.
As far as the boots were concerned, I remember when I went into the shop, the sales assistant was a trifle puzzled to hear me claim that I took a 44! But, after some clarification it turned out that I took a 10. “Imperial size!”, he now stressed! The man kindly gave me a tin of dubbin grease as a bonus, and he further enquired if – perhaps – I wanted a pair of matching “shoe trees”. Once again, I was at a loss as I had no idea what ‘trees’ could have to do with ‘shoes’.
When he finally showed me a pair of the said utensils, my penny dropped for the umpteenth time. Unlike the shoes, which my mother was to condemn as ‘sheer dandy boots’, the dictionary proved to be a wise investment as it is still – in spite of its battered condition – one of my favourite reference works after all these years…
Anyway, we couldn’t linger on in the High Street as Bill was already waiting to take us back to Dover. The return trip was totally uneventful and both Stephen and I slept off our accumulated tiredness on the back seat of his speeding Rover. As soon as we were back on the ferry, I climbed to the top deck of the ship’s aft side and watched the White Cliffs slowly disappear in the dusk. This time the sea was like a millpond but the sky was slightly overcast with a hint of fog, like a thin shroud tucking up the land we were leaving behind us.
Can you tell me where my country lies?
I remember staring at this picture-perfect skyline where the sea touched the sky, wondering how anything could ever be so faultlessly level after our ghastly inward journey two weeks before. A few of the erstwhile menacing seagulls followed in the ship’s frothy wash like an airborne escort on our way out, almost as if they were waving us goodbye. For a brief moment I imagined they were albatrosses, as Fleetwood Mac’s namesake hit had been ringing in my ears over the past fortnight.
So, here we were, back on our way to our Flemish hometown with the prospect of a new – and final – year at secondary school. And although I wasn’t burning with anticipation for the new stint, I was now more adamant than ever that I wanted to become an English teacher. What’s more, I could hardly wait to tell good old Deconinck about our ‘outlandish’ experiences and about the countless linguistic oddities we had picked up over the past fortnight, which had proved him so right.
Clearly, I was in two minds about my first holiday in England. What a wonderful and unforgettable experience it had been. Yet, at the same time – and for the first time in my life – I felt homesick for a country that wasn’t mine! I didn’t know about Stephen, who was fast asleep on the deck by now, but as far as I was concerned I wondered whether I would be able to keep my promise to Angie, Dave and the others, and come back for a second spell… Little did I know that in the coming half century I would cross the Channel hundreds of times, hoping each and every time it wouldn’t be the last…
Time after time, when Neville Minas’ name appears in one of the Toc H groups on facebook, a flurry of posts appear from people who knew him saying what a wonderful man he was, a perfect gentleman. Certainly, whenever Neville was at Talbot House on one his wardening stints, the queue of local people waiting to see him stretched out the huge front door of the Old House. He was a dear friend of mine, if only for a few short years before his death, and I thought it was time his story was told. The later years, indeed the better part of his life, was quite simple because Neville was a devout and dedicated man. Dedicated to his work, his church, and Toc H. It was a simple life by many standards but then the life he had had before he was even 25 would have been enough for most people.
Neville Stephen Minas was born in Burma (Now Myanmar) on the 23rd August 1921 to Armenian parents who travelled to Burma in the 1880s. Neville’s father, John Isaac Minas, was a Civil Engineer working for the Burmese government which was still then under British rule. Neville was the youngest of seven children. Independence was on the horizon for Burma and although there was rioting in Rangoon by the Green Army, this had quieted somewhat by the thirties and Burma became a separately administered colony in 1937, with its own Prime Minister and Premier.
This road to independence stalled in the 1940s when the Second World War broke out. After the attack on Pearl Harbour on the 7th of December 1941 the Japanese fully entered the war and on the 23rd December bombed Rangoon for the first time. Burma quickly became a major front-line in the Southeast Asian Theatre. Singapore fell and the British administration in Burma collapsed. The army retreated as the Japanese troops advanced. Only the Indians and Anglo-Burmese remained in their civic posts. Neville told me he remembered seeing the flashes of Japanese planes reflected on the golden dome of the Great Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon as they flew over whilst he was fire-watching.
As a 20 year old young man, with aspirations to be an Anglican priest, Neville was moved by the firm he was working for to Mandalay. For the first time, he was separated from his family and with all that was happening around them, this must have been terrifying. Every day Neville went down to the docks to see if his family were amongst the refugees arriving from Rangoon. And for weeks he was disappointed daily. Finally they arrived on a boat and the family was reunited. It wasn’t for long though, on the 3rd April 1942, Good Friday, the Japanese bombed Mandalay. The Minas family sheltered in the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Mission School but finally loaded a bullock cart with all their possessions and moved out.
At Myingyan, one of Neville’s brothers who worked for the railways, found them room on a train, and they were transported to Myitkyina in the north of country. This journey would have been slow as one person’s account of a similar journey said the train stopped at every pool it passed to take on board fresh water. The trains were overcrowded and the steam engine must have been working hard. At Myitkyina Neville and his family awaited a flight to India. However, they were massively oversubscribed and Europeans and Eurasians were given priority so Neville offered to walk to Calcutta with thirty customs officers, and meet his family there. In fact Neville and the customs officers were just part of 300,000-400,000 mostly Indian evacuees fleeing through the jungle to India. One report suggests his brother Eric was with them but I believe Eric actually travelled separately of Neville.
The exodus, which became known as The Trek was, on the surface, an organised evacuation. Permits were required for the different paths to be taken and for any item not on the prescribed list. It was supposed to be a fair migration too but was anything but. Colonial racism was at the fore and as Indians, Burmese and other people of colour, trudged on foot or with a bullock cart, the white émigrés rode by in motor cars.
And the journey was not an easy one. Neville said later that the early days were like a picnic. They had fresh food and water and were given hospitality at all the villages they passed through on route south to Indaw. This wasn’t to last. They needed to aim west now but trying to avoid the interior of the jungle, they waded through the Chindwin River for three days attracting leeches which sucked their blood and left them covered in sores. This was the longer route – several hundred miles – but was considered safer than heading directly west over the mountains. However their food ran low and they had to cross the Naga Hills where both head-hunting tribesmen (The Konyak) and tigers roamed.
One day Neville picked up a charred stick, only to find it was the burnt arm of a child. He said:
We slept and walked among the dead. There was always a stench of death. We had never seen so many dead bodies – and I never want to see a vulture again.
According to the records I have seen, Neville finally arrived at the Evacuee Camp in Almora on the 17th May 1942 after a 400 mile hike. Although he could not find his family at first, he did eventually find his mother and an aunt alive. The rest of the family had been split up and it was years before the whole story could be pieced together.
His father and three of his brothers Haikki, George and Oscar had travelled together. Haikki died on the way and their father, John Isaac died on the 5th July 1942 in a British camp at Panitola fifty miles over the Indian border. George and Oscar survived and died in Australia in 1991 and 2008 respectively. Eric, also survived and died in Eltham in 1990.
In Calcutta, Neville joined the RAF as a Base Accountant with the rank of Corporal. This later entitled him to the Burma Star which he always wore proudly. After the war he returned to Rangoon; Burma was reclaimed by the British in 1945 but gained independence in 1947. However, Neville left there on a ship called the Pegu and arrived in Liverpool on the 5th October 1949. His profession was listed as an accountant and the address for where he was to be staying was in Morden in Surrey. The ship’s manifest did say that he intended future residence was to be Burma, but this didn’t seem to be the case as Neville appeared to settle in London.
He was soon living at the Brothers’ House in Kennington – Toc H Mark XIII. A staunch Christian, Neville began working in the Finance Department of The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (From 1965 the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) HQ in Westminster but Neville also became an honorary warden of the Mark. This house was of course presented to Toc H by Mrs Dilberoglue in memory of her sons Richard and Augustus killed in World War 1. Amongst other things Neville taught English to many young Belgian lads who came to stay in London. He lived – at least for a time – in the Poperinge Room and had a pair of black cats known as Sooty and Sweep.
He was much loved by all who knew him and that included Tubby. Neville was one of the walk on guests at the end of Tubby’s This Is Your Life in February 1958. I first met him at a North of the River Rally in Kempston in the early 2000s and visited him several times in Cambridge. He also joined us at Ely when Gualter de Mello’s Hackney Crew gathered each year for a celebratory weekend. Gualter was another of Neville’s many good friends in Toc H. They met when Gualter came to stay at the Brothers’ House for a short while.
Retiring in 1983, Neville moved to Cambridge living in the community housing project at Langdon House. He became a member and secretary of Cambridge branch remaining with it until his death. Neville was a member of the Burma Star Association and was very involved with St George’s Church in Chesterton, Cambridge.
However, he was perhaps best loved for his regular stints as a warden – he spent a month there once a year – at Talbot House, Poperinge where he made many friends – both Belgian and British.
He moved to own flat in Union Lane not far from Langdon House, Chesterton but returned to Langdon House – now a residential home – for his final few years and was very happy there. He liked nothing better than to receive visits and phone calls from his many friends and far flung family members. People were important to Neville and he was very important to a great many people.
Neville passed peacefully away at Addenbrooke’s Hospital on Sunday, October 17th, 2010, aged 89. Though he never married or had children, he had nieces, great nieces, and even a great, great niece. Of course, he also had his church and Toc H families all of whom speak fondly of this lovely gentle man.
This shorter and more visual biography is really just an excuse to illustrate some Toc H membership cards from over the years. By chance I acquired on eBay a set that once belonged to Reg Smith. Reg had caught my eye on many occasions during my research, firstly because he shares my dad’s name and secondly because he comes from Norwich. He also embodies the Toc H staffer sent from place to place to do a job although in Reg’s case he ended up back in his native city.
Born in Norwich in January 1906, Reg became a branch member in that city (Member number 13529) then in 1936 joined the staff. He was posted to the West Country and became the Western Area Secretary. He returned to Norwich in 1938 and married Joan Barley. They were to go to Australia where Reg was to take up a staff position there.
However, the impending war intervened and the posting was cancelled. Instead he was posted to Yorkshire and became Area Secretary there living in Harrogate. He became involved in the Service Clubs and from 1940 his address was given as Brotherton House, the Leeds Mark, although whether he and Joan lived there or it just his correspondence address is not clear.
In May 1941, his membership changes to the Western Area and this is likely when he became Western Area Secretary living in Clifton and Bristol until at least October 1949.
By April 1951 though he has returned to Norwich and is living on Constitution Hill and employed as East Anglian Area Secretary.
He and Joan also organised Toc H holidays to Farnham Castle, a former Bishop’s Palace and then (and now) a conference centre.
He was posted to the West Country again, living in Exeter but returned to Norwich on his retirement in 1972. He was living in Drayton on the outskirts of the city when he died in September 1993.
Having recently acquired a copy of one of the few books missing from my Toc H collection, namely In Flanders Fields (qv), I thought I’d put together a short, mostly visual blog about Toc H and the early pilgrimages to the battlefields and cemeteries of the Salient, and of course, to Talbot House.
The pilgrimages began before the war had even officially ended. Travel restrictions were lifted in July 1919 and civilians – mostly women – wanted to see where their loved ones had fallen and were buried. On the 1st and 2nd of November 1919 – still 10 days before Armistice – on All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, thousands of French families travelled on special trains to the battlefields to visit the graves of their loved ones and commemorate all the dead. A trickle became and stream and the stream became a river.
At first most of the tours were organised privately, often by motor car. They did give employment to some former soldiers. Before long they were commercially attractive enough for companies such as Thomas Cook to get involved. But as these tours were often out of reach of the working class, charitable organisations also began to arrange pilgrimages. The Canadian Red Cross brought several Canadian widows and bereaved mothers to London in January 1920 before taking them on to France and Belgium; the Salvation Army took over their first party in April 1920; and St Barnabas, began opening hostels on the Continent and would soon begin their own trips, the earliest of which were arranged with the full support of Toc H before they began their own independent pilgrimages with their members.
And to accompany these tours, a number of guide books began to appear. The earliest are probably the The Illustrated Michelin Guide to the Battlefields series which began publication in September 1919 with Marne, Amiens, Soissons, and Lille, and were followed in January 1920 with Ypres and Rheims.
A Short Guide to the Battlefields by the Revd. J. O. Coop, D.S.O., T.D. Senior Chaplain of the 55th Division was published in April 1920 and then in July, Toc H got in on the act with The Pilgrim’s Guide to the Ypres Salient
Officially the follow-up to Tales of Talbot House, The Pilgrim’s Guide was clearly launched to both promote and raise funds for the fledgling Toc H. It was printed by Herbert Reiach Limited of Covent Garden, and an editorial note says that it was put together entirely by ex-servicemen. The names of the contributors include Charles John Magrath, a YMCA colleague of Barclay Baron who joined forces with Tubby at Talbot House (and Dingley Dell) in 1918; Captain Hugh Pollard, the firearms specialist later credited with starting the Spanish Civil War; Boyd Cable, the pen name of wartime propagandist Ernest Andrew Ewart (who also wrote Front Lines and several other titles about life in the trenches); and several others. Illustrated with sketches and maps, it is a lovely work and was often overlooked until reprinted by Talbot House. You can buy a copy of the reprint from their website. The Pilgrim’s Guide to the Salient (2019 reprint)
Other early guides include Lieutenant-Colonel T.A. Lowe’s The Western Battlefields. A Guide to the British Line. Short Account of the Fighting, the Trenches and Positions and the Ministerie des Chemins de Fer’s Aux Champs de Gloire Le Front Belge de L’Yser.
The market was soon flooded so the rest of this blog will focus purely on those tomes connected closely to Toc H. It is worth mentioning the mentions in Henry Williamson’s Wet Flanders Plain, the relevant extract was published here previously.
The next pertinent book was originally published as a supplement to the December 1930 Journal. The Old House was described as a Handbook for Pilgrims to Talbot House at Poperinghe. Remember, it was around this time that, finally exasperated by the constant knocking on the door, M. Coevoet Camerlynck succumbed to Lord Wakefield’s offer and sold Talbot House to Toc H (through the specially formed Talbot House Association).
The guide, which is available either as a thin hard cover book if you can find it (as pictured in the group picture) or the paper cover supplement, is a lovely descriptive record of the House and area with many photos, sketches and maps as well as extracts from notices and a list of all the books once held in the Talbot House library.
The acquisition of the Old House led to renewed vigour in the pilgrimages though now smaller groups went and stayed in the House itself. This prompted two new publications. Firstly, Tubby and the Rev. Geoffrey Harold Woolley issued the sparse booklet The Salient Facts under the Bangwent Series (Other titles included the thumbnail sketch of Pettifer and Tubby’s Fishers of Men). Woolley was an officer of the Queen Victoria Rifles who served in the Salient and was ordained after the war and joined Toc H. Little more than a pamphlet – Tubby describes the 16 page booklet as a ‘miracle of compression’ – it adds little to the reader’s knowledge but should be part of any serious collector’s library.
In 1935, Toc H republished The Old House in a condensed booklet called Over There – A Little Guide for Pilgrims.
The final booklet in our round-up was Barclay Baron’s In Flanders Fields, published by Toc H in 1954. Another small offering subtitled A little companion for the visitor to Poperinghe and Ypres, it is precisely that and perfect for popping in one’s pocket. Which is the perfect place for us to pop off and finish this short blog.
Today’s blog is a guest post by Ray Fabes, a former Toc H staff member and academic with a special interest in youth work. This article is a paper written in 2008 about the Talbot House Seafaring Boys’ Residential Club in Southampton, for many years a classic piece of Toc H work with young merchant seamen.
Unfortunately the article has only survived on paper so has been scanned in (thanks to Ray’s daughter Nicola for that) and rather than retype it, I have decided to post it as a series of images. I hope this doesn’t detract from the writing in any way.
During the Coronavirus outbreak, many communities have started schemes that are varieties of putting something – a coloured card for instance – in your window if you need help. Nothing new here! Such schemes go back at least seventy years. However Toc H were one of the prime-movers in developing these simple systems in such a way that it altered how Social Service departments worked and is still integral to care in the community today. This is the story of the Toc H Flashing Light.
No one should claim that Toc H were the instigators of the Emergency Call schemes as so many similar ideas seemed to appear at much the same time. In the late fifties numerous such projects sprung up. There is anecdotal evidence that the church started the ball rolling by getting old and vulnerable people to put a Christian Fish symbol in their windows if they were lonely or needed a visit. However, I have uncovered no factual evidence to suggest these schemes predated the more general ones here.
The earliest examples I can find include some Worthing neighbours who in July 1951 had an agreement to put some paper on the landing window if they needed help; in September of that year vulnerable people in Shoreditch were issued cards (The report doesn’t say by whom) with SOS in 4” red letters on them to use if they needed help; and in 1957 the WVS in Uxbridge were issuing cards with an ‘H’ on them to all elderly people living alone.
By early 1960 one Toc H instigated scheme in South London had a name, Lifebelt, and the emblem on the card was indeed a lifebelt.
New Addington branch are cited as being pioneers though it spread to branches at Beckenham, West Wickham, Shirley and Penge, and, in the February 1960 Journal, it was rumoured that Croydon Branch was soon to initiate the scheme in other parts of the County Borough.
However, all systems up to this point were ‘manual’. The biggest flaw was they required the vulnerable person to get to their window and place the card somewhere where it could be seen. The second drawback was that a card sitting in the window hardly drew attention unless you were actively looking for it.
Although identifying the very first flashing light variation of the scheme across the country is very difficult, we do know that in the Redbridge district of Toc H, they became pioneers. Switching out the card for a flashing light and putting a button near the chair or bed the vulnerable person for them to operate revolutionised it. They went on to design the system using parts you could find around the house, or at least at the local car-breaker’s yard. The original utilised a car battery, a car indicator light, some bell wire and a simple switch. The indicator light was fixed up in the window, the battery stood on the floor and the bell-wire was taped around the wall and connected to the switch by the bed (or chair). Importantly the bell-wire was only loosely taped so if the person fell down in the middle of the room they only had to get to the wire around the wall with their hand or stick and tug it. It would come away from the wall and they could pull the switch towards them.
Of course this was only part of the system. Integral to the scheme working was publicising it the local area. Neighbours and passers-by alike needed to ensure that if anyone saw a light flashing in the window they both knew what it meant and what to do. So Toc H created letters, posters and cards and flooded the local area and the press.
The second thing was even more of a genius idea. Toc H branches set up regular maintenance calls, not just because the equipment needed to be checked but because it meant the isolated individual was benefitting from some company. A check that could have taken a couple of minutes often lasted an hour.
Very quickly the systems improved and the more technical members created custom built components rather than junkyard scraps. Car batteries could be replaced by small batteries inside the unit itself. They also engaged with schools and other organisations to build the units. Schematics and instruction manuals were created and distributed.
As early as 1964 the National Council for Social Service had put together a booklet, Emergency Call Schemes for the Housebound, to promote the various projects then in July 1967 Toc H issued a booklet in association with the London Borough of Redbridge. Toc H even set up a separate organisation, Lend-A-Hand, to manage it. In 1968 they were filmed by Pathe News. Toc H even persuaded Ever Ready to design and make a special bulb and bracket for the system.
Nearby in West Essex Loughton branch also make huge strides and soon became the undisputed champions of the scheme. They made their own film, Emergency, in 1968.
By 1973 Loughton had installed 132 units. The scheme had spread locally to Barkingside (100 units), Hoddesdon (100 units), Woodford (25 units), and Buckhurst Hill (5 units).
In the early seventies, Mitcham branch in Australia had even wired up a 12 story block of 207 flats for older people. In New Zealand the scheme was known as Lightline.
According to a 1982 survey, Toc H were involved in at least 66 schemes (Not all branches returned questionnaires so the figure may have been higher).Not all went for the flashing lights; a buzzer was also popular (both occasionally) and some just used cards. Some branches ran the scheme alone, others worked in partnership with other organisations. Perhaps most interestingly, several schemed initiated by branches were taken over by the local Social Services department.
Ultimately, this is what happened. Social Service departments across the country took over the schemes and as electronics improved rapidly in the seventies and eighties, systems that could be worn as pendants or on the wrist took over from the buttons and bell-wires. More radically, the flashing light buzzer was replaced by a system that could dial an emergency telephone number. Still further developments continued until we arrive at the telecare systems we use today – which are largely down to the innovative work of Toc H in East London.
I said recently that it is my intention to tell you the story of Barclay Baron both here in blog form and later as a full biography. That puts me in kind of a predicament. How do I relate such an important life story respectfully here whilst keeping my powder dry for the book? Can I do justice in this blog without undermining the greater venture? I guess we are about to find out. Please consider the story of Barclay Baron as a movie and this blog is the trailer. Not the first, 30 second teaser trailer that comes out six months before the film but the fully developed three minute preview that gives you enough of the plot to guarantee you will be queuing up at the box-office to find out all the details. I hope the next few thousand words will whet your appetite enough for you to eagerly await the book next year. I know I’m looking forward to it immensely, but then I’ve seen the script!
The Story of Barclay Baron
Our first scene opens on a book. Published in January 1922, Half the Battle is the first significant piece of literature Baron has produced for Toc H since he arrived there the previous summer. On the inside front cover is a quote written by Baron.
“To conquer hate would be to end the strife of all the ages, but for men to know one another is not difficult, and it is half the battle”
If these words were Barclay Baron’s only legacy to the world it would be right to extol him for them alone. However, Baron achieved so much more in his life for such a variety of good causes, not least Toc H. No-one captured the history of Toc H with quite the detailed artist’s eye of Baron. Though its founder, Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton’s flowery writings were a great promotional tool they – despite their passion and inspiration – frequently lacked accuracy. It was Baron’s essays that helped me understand the history of Toc H when I first became interested in that side of things but it was several years later before I started to look into Baron’s own story, and what a story I found.
The Baron family’s roots are in Cornwall though a phrenologist once claimed that Baron’s father had a fine Phoenician head – inherited by Baron himself – quite possible since those ancient explorers and traders venerated the tin-mines of Cornwall and were regular visitors. The Barons also had Quaker roots which might well have had a bearing on Baron’s later compassion and humanity. He was about 13 when the family were all baptised into the Church of England.
Our leading actor was born in Clifton, Bristol on the 28th February 1884, just avoiding that devilish Leap Year trap that condemns you to only one true birthday every four years. He would be followed by three younger sisters in 1886 (Freda), 1889 (Muriel), and 1892 (Vera). Their father Barclay Josiah Baron, was a noted Ear, Nose and Throat Consultant and their mother, Jane Robinson, a grocer’s daughter from Liskeard in Cornwall.
His childhood was blessed by the comfortable circumstances afforded by his father’s success and by the beautiful environment of the West Country. Baron was interested in all things flora and fauna and later described a typical exploration with his sister Freda,
“Fortified with wedges of home-made cake in a little basket and with threepence between us for two bottles of lemonade at a village shop, we roamed fields and woods, named the wild flowers one by one, discovered a blackcap’s nest and fished in muddy ponds for water-boatmen to take home in a jam-jar.”
Home was a large house in Whiteladies Road, Clifton. Here Barclay Baron senior ran his private practice and the family went about their lives. For Baron it was school, and it was at Clifton College where he developed his interest in the natural world. He even said that he joined the school Scientific Society just so he would be let out with a butterfly net and a geological hammer.
In the autumn of 1902 he went up to University College, Oxford where his vocation would develop. Baron met Alec Paterson on the night he arrived and they would be friends for the next 45 years until Paterson died in 1947; Baron visiting him just a few hours before his death. They had many mutual interests in particular social justice. Baron had spent much time thinking deeply about religious, liberal and social issues. Despite their different characters – Paterson was serious and intense, Baron charming and apparently light-hearted – they gelled together well.
They also shared a love of the outdoors and spent holidays together – with others – in the Lake District. Baron’s love of nature was transferring into a general love of the outdoors, in particular walking. Sandals would later become his footwear of choice – except those times when he could go barefoot – and he is frequently pictured wearing them, even sitting at his desk working.
Paterson already had a well-developed social conscience and wanted to share it with his new university pals. He took some of them into the slums of Oxford twice a week where they worked with the regulars in the local doss house.
Then during that first term, an incident occurred during that changed all of their lives.
“One day in 1902 a group of freshmen loitered in the College quadrangle after ‘Hall’, when a third-year man invited them to take coffee with him and a visitor from Town.”
The freshmen included Baron and Paterson and the visitor was Dr John Stansfeld. Some of them were won over by Stansfeld’s enthusiastic evangelising about a Boys Club and Medical Mission in Bermondsey and vowed to spend a fortnight there at their next vacation. This was the Oxford Medical Mission founded by Stansfeld in 1897 (later the Oxford and Bermondsey Boys’ Club.)
Paterson said afterwards,
“He insisted we come and ‘live the crucified life in Bermondsey’. We shrank from the words rather: they seemed to push the thing too far. Yet the words stuck………The meeting seemed rather a failure, only seven men there and none of us at all heroic. Yet all seven came to Bermondsey sooner or later and five became residents.”
For Paterson it was the beginning of a 20 year stay in Bermondsey but for Baron it was the inspiration of a lifetime. Although his path would lead him out of Bermondsey, he stayed close spiritually returning when he could and the lessons he learned there stayed with him all his life.
Now we like to think that Toc H began in Talbot House in December 1915. However there is a school of thought that it truly started in Bermondsey which Tubby often called the cradle of Toc H. Indeed in Bermondsey Baron first met Tubby. Here too Baron worked with many of his Oxford contemporaries like William Temple, Neville Talbot, Cecil Rushton, Donald Hankey, Henry Scott-Holland, and Clement Attlee. These men, at least those who survived the Great War, would be the building blocks of post-war Britain.
He would also meet his future wife in Bermondsey. But that is later; first Baron had some ‘wanderlust’ to attend to.
In 1905 he left university and in the late summer arrived in Germany for a year in the pursuit of art. He lived with a German family in Charlottenburg, Berlin (but later moved to Munich) studying at the universities of both cities. His first impressions of the country were of orderliness and thoroughness “admirable but often irksome to a casual Englishman”. He developed a great love for Germany and for its contribution to Christian life.
In 1906 he returned to London – his father wrote indicating it was time he got serious about a career. So Baron set out to do an Art Master’s Certificate at polytechnic but also struck out for independence. No longer wishing to be financially reliant on his parents he took cheap lodgings in Bloomsbury close to the British Museum and within walking distance of the polytechnic. He spent much time in the Print Room of the British Museum where Laurence Binyon was one of the staff, and he painted in Hyde Park in the mornings. He exploited his talent as a wordsmith with freelance articles and reviews for several journals and also offered his services as a private tutor. His weekends were spent volunteering at the OMM and he went away on camps to their rural retreat at Horndon in Essex.
Clearly though, his ‘wanderlust’ was not yet sated. Expanding on his experience as a private tutor, in 1907 Baron went to Italy for eighteen months to be a private tutor to a boy in Verona. He learnt Italian and painted. He had much free time and explored the city’s 40 churches and travelled across Italy. When it was time to go home he sent his copious drawings, photographs and notes along with his luggage ahead to England then cycled across the Alps to Germany, working his passage along the way. He was certainly attracted to life on the road.
Back in London he lectured at the National Gallery for the WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) and provided articles and cartoons for the Daily News. However, the pull of Bermondsey (or probably the persuasive talents of Alec Paterson) led Baron to relocate to Bermondsey. Here, according to his family later, he probably had the happiest days of his life.
Bermondsey was one the archetypal slum districts of London. Sprawling along the south bank of the Thames with its many wharves and quays and right next to the docks of Rotherhithe, most of its inhabitants worked in the port. Those that didn’t may well have worked in the tanneries that gave Bermondsey both its nickname, the Land of Leather, and the hideous smell that pervaded the air. Families were crowded into tenements that were packed into closely laid streets. One particularly jam-packed area by St Saviour’s Dock was known as Jacob’s Island and was where Dickins set Bill Sykes’ demise.
Baron was there to work with the boys of these inhabitants at the various clubs run by the OMM. He took paid work as Private Secretary to Herbert Samuel, a Liberal Cabinet Minister under Asquith (The first nominally-practising Jew to become a Cabinet Minister, and later leader of the Liberal Party). Baron worked at Samuel’s home in Bayswater and in the summer recess travelled with him to his Yorkshire constituency. This allowed him to know Samuel professionally and personally. As Baron later said, “we picnicked, played and swam together, as well as worked together.”
Alec Paterson, a relatively minor Civil Servant at the time, also became known to Herbert Samuel who was drafting what became the Children’s Act 1908. As a result Paterson wrote more than twenty amendments to the draft – all of which appeared in the final Act. Amongst other things, it brought in juvenile courts and helped develop the growth of borstals – which, after the war, would become Paterson’s true field of expertise.
Baron was becoming quite an expert in the subject ‘working boys’ and in October 1910 gave a lantern lecture at Streatley (Berkshire) Reading Room on ‘The Conditions of life among working boys in Bermondsey’. He was also writing a text on the subject. The Growing Generation: A Study of Working Boys and Girls in our Cities for the Student Christian Movement was published in 1911 and has been described as a manual for youth work. It has been quoted in many an academic treatise since. Paterson was, by 1910, working on his book Across the Bridges (Published March 1911), which he used Baron as a sounding board for.
The following year Baron took over as Warden of the Oxford and Bermondsey Boys Club. John Stansfeld had trained as both doctor and priest and had left the mission taking with him the OMM’s medical qualification, hence the name-change. At this time, Baron was sharing rooms nearby the Abbey Street HQ of the OBC, with Donald Hankey. Together they wrote a version of Julius Caesar for their club members to perform. Playwright was another skill Baron would later reemploy frequently.
Baron – who seemed to live in several addresses in Bermondsey during his time there – also lived with Cecil Rushton around 1912, who was introduced to them by Tubby. Rushton and Baron shared an attic room in a tenement overlooking the Thames. The room had a big wooden balcony on which Baron and Rushton slept when they could. Though often the pair went off for late night (early morning) walks that began at the ‘crack’ – the place in Tower Bridge where the two leaves met. The pair then wandered around Billingsgate or Chinatown until the early hours. Sadly, neither Hankey nor Rushton returned from the war.
It was in 1912 that Baron also met Rachel Caroline Abel Smith, a woman five years his senior, who was working for Time and Talents, an evangelical mission for women and girls which her mother co-founded. Both Baron and Rachel obviously shared a common outlook on life – they were both committed Christians and staunch Liberals. And both it seems, were trying to leave behind their privileged upbringing: Rachel was daughter of Abel Smith MP of Woodhall Park, Hertford, and Frances Julia Hart Dyke of Lullingstone Castle.
Early in 1914 Baron was asked by his friend William Temple, to get involved in a new Christian periodical he was starting called The Challenge. His first few months were spent raising funds for it but he was also made editor for the first issue published in April. Then Temple took over the editor’s chair as Baron’s personal life took precedence for a change and in May he and Rachel were engaged.
Then on the 25th July 1914 they were married at Southwark Cathedral by the Reverends Canon Woodward and John Stansfeld himself. Alec Paterson was best man and Rachel was given away by her brother, Abel Henry Smith.
The Saturday afternoon wedding and reception in the Chapter House was notable for the mix of the couple’s well-to-do relatives and their friends and colleagues from Bermondsey. Baron recalls an abiding memory of an uncle, Sir Charles Fremantle, sitting on the floor in his best wedding suit whilst Fred Brent’s Bermondsey baby played with his gold watch chain.
The newlyweds left for Scotland but world events were to spoil their plans. Three days after the wedding Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and the conflict that would engulf the world and change the lives of so many of our protagonists would begin. Honeymooning in Balmacara, they returned to London, though not easily. Everything went into lockdown and they were stranded in their Scottish paradise until a local boatman rowed into the path of one of the Fort William ferries virtually forcing it to slow and take the Barons and their luggage on board.
Baron tried to join the military but was rejected on medical grounds so settled down to married life in a new apartment in Trinity Square, Southwark and prepared for the arrival of their first-born. David Whinfield Barclay Baron arrived on the 11th April 1915. His Godfather was Alec Paterson.
Meanwhile, Baron was still working for The Challenge and, voluntarily, at the OBC but wanted to do his bit for the war effort. After all, back home in Bristol his father, now a councillor (and soon to be mayor), and mother were both doing plenty. Baron – and Paterson – were members of the Cavendish Club, a London club favoured by those involved with social work. It attracted the workers in the school and college settlements and missions and unlike most London Clubs it had its own chapel and resident chaplain (The later well-known Dick Sheppard of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and a great friend of Toc H.) The Club had a brief to get young people, particularly those of the public schools, interested in such work. A spin-off committee, the Cavendish Association, had been formed as a bureau of work placing people into appropriate roles. This led to the YMCA asking them to find a suitable man to set up and run an officer’s club in Le Havre. Baron was approached, accepted, and arrived in France on the 18th August 1915.
Baron established the club in Le Havre and, after a week’s leave to spend time with Rachel and six month old David, returned to replace Pilkington as the General Secretary in the district. He remained in this position for two years.
In April 1917, after a short spell in hospital, Baron was transferred to the Somme, then in June 1917 the Fourth Army began a move to the coast and Baron and some of his YMCA colleagues headed north with them. He mentions a detour across the Belgian border to have tea at Talbot House with his old friend Tubby Clayton, during the journey en route to Malo. This was almost certainly Baron’s first visit to Talbot House.
In the autumn of 1917 Baron found himself attached to Plumer’s Second Army as they moved east to Italy but Baron and the YMCA got no further than Poperinge. They set up base in the Catholic Club in Rue de Boescepe, just round the corner from Talbot House which Baron visited most days.
In March 1918 Baron and the YMCA relocated to Mont des Cats when Poperinge evacuated. They took over the deserted village school. On the 21st of April Baron got word that Dr Charles John Magrath (otherwise Mac) was evacuating the YMCA in Ypres and drove out in a car to find him. He met him and his orderlies pushing a handcart towards Poperinge loaded with various bits and pieces. Transferring them to the car he took them to Talbot House where Mac and padre Harold ‘Goodie’ Goodwin (From Little Talbot House) joined forces with Tubby (who had resisted an order to close Talbot House).
A week later, whilst touring what YMCA huts remained on the Salient, Baron visited the deserted Poperinge to find Tubby stubbornly remaining in situ. Discussing the advancing German army, Tubby stated that “they’ll be in Poperinghe by the morning.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Baron.
“O me? I’m stopping here to give the Kaiser his breakfast.”
Baron also asked what he could do for Tubby and soon found his car loaded with the smaller furniture and fittings all covered by the black and gold carpet from the chapel and topped off with a peal of tubular bells in a six foot wooden frame. As they shook hands and bid each other farewell, Tubby scribbled a few words into a copy of Weymouth’s New Testament in Modern Speech and thrust it into Baron’s hand. The words were “Barkis from Tubby. T.H. 28 April 1918.”
The German’s didn’t take Poperinge although on Whit Tuesday when the town was closed to troops, Tubby and Mac shuttered up Talbot House and retired to ‘Dingley Dell’ by the airfield in De Lovie. They scrounged two huts for their accommodation which Baron later admitted belonged to the YMCA.
The YMCA then moved their local HQ down into Godewaersvelde then later to Roubaix where they were on Armistice Day. After which Baron took off on a recce in the car with his driver Dickie which took them to Cologne in time to see the Allied troops arrive and cross the Rhine.
Soon after Armistice, the Baron’s family was completed by the arrival of Lancelot Donald Abel Baron (Usually known as Donald) on the 15th December 1918. An auspicious date in that for several years the 15th December was celebrated as the opening date of Talbot House until it was shifted to the 11th after some letters from Tubby were found at his mother’s house.
And then, just a fortnight later in the New Year Honours List of 1919, Baron was awarded an OBE for his service in charge of Fourth Army Area Centres, YMCA. This was exactly a year after his father was knighted.
Sadly it was just a few months later that Baron lost his father in tragic circumstances. On Sunday the 25th of May Sir Barclay was in his garden tugging a branch off a tree when it suddenly broke and he fell heavily on some stones. He was confined to bed with suspected fractured ribs but a ruptured spleen went undiagnosed and Sir Barclay died on Saturday the 7th of June. Barclay had been in Germany with the YMCA when his father died and returned home after three days travelling. The funeral was held at Bristol Cathedral on the 13th of June. Baron’s mother, now Lady Baron, moved just round the corner into 60 Pembroke Road which would remain the family home for many decades.
In late 1919, with his war duties discharged, Baron became Travelling Secretary with the Cavendish Society visiting public schools to promote social service amongst boys. When not away, Baron was based in their offices in New Cavendish Street where he worked with Rob Shelston.
As well as travelling for his employer and giving talks about their work, in the first few months of the year he also spoke on the work of the YMCA and for an appeal by the OBC. He continued to provide freelance articles – notably to William Temple’s new project, The Pilgrim: A Review of Christian Politics and Religion, a quarterly launched in autumn 1920. He also made a trip to Nuremburg to see an old friend.
However 1921 would see further developments. The Cavendish Association was struggling, the war had damaged its momentum. And now there was a new Movement building a head of steam. Some of Baron’s friends like Alec Paterson had a foot in both camps and Baron knew many of its leading lights, including the tubby little padre who led and inspired it. Toc H was on its way up and it shared many of the aims of the Cavendish Association thus it was no real surprise that the two organisations should join. Whilst technically a merger, the Cavendish was effectively subsumed by Toc H and in the late spring of 1921 a wagon-load of furniture left New Cavendish Street along with Baron and Bob Shelston, to Mark II in Pimlico where Toc H had its HQ.
Shelston took charge of the Social Service Shop, an early centralised bureau for Toc H work mostly with Boys Clubs. Baron kept his job title of Travelling Secretary and was sent around the growing bands of Toc H men to give speeches of encouragement, or to others like Rotary Clubs to encourage them to start a Toc H branch. However, when not on the road, he shared an office with Lionel Bradgate, editor of the Toc H Newssheet (later The Journal) where he watched him put the magazine together each month. He eventually became his assistant. In late 1921 he also put his literary talents to use by writing the aforementioned Half the Battle which was published in January 1922. Telling the story of Toc H in the first two years of its rebirth, it is the perfect companion volume to Tubby’s Tales of Talbot House.
One of the key expressions of Toc H’s work in those first two years was the establishment of new Talbot House hostels – Marks – in London and provincial cities. In May 1922 Bristol was in Toc H’s sights and it was only natural that Baron would be involved given it was the city of his birth and he had many connections there. An appeal was launched by the Rotary Club to raise funds and Baron was established as Appeal Director. It was almost certainly in relation to this appeal that he and Tubby came to be sat waiting in a Bristol stockbroker’s office for an appointment. Whilst waiting they discussed the idea of a symbol for Toc H. Baron suggested an oil lamp similar to those used by Christians in the catacombs under Rome. He sketched his idea on a scrap of envelope.
The idea was well received and a model was made by Wippell, the church furniture and fixtures specialists and by December the first forty-four were given out to branches and a further eighteen to schools. The Toc H lamp would be the most iconic representation of Toc H and used constantly in its logo (It was replaced briefly in the early twenty-first century with the rugby posts/TV aerial logo but the membership revolted and the previous logo was quickly restored).
1922 was an annus mirabilis for Toc H and Tubby (They received their Royal Charter, Tubby was appointed vicar of All Hallows etc.) but it was a special year for Baron too. In the summer he was given the opportunity take a party of over 100 Toc H members to Oberammergau for the Passion Play. Postponed from 1920 due to the aftermath of the war, this was the first performance here since 1910. Although spiritually led by Tubby, Baron’s knowledge of the country and command of the language made him a natural choice for organising everyone.
The party assembled at Mark I for supper on Saturday the 12th of August then divided into four groups which departed after Holy Communion in the Mark I chapel of the following day. Crossing by boat to Ostend they caught a train to Brussels, thence to Cologne and breakfast at the YMCA there.
A final leg to by train to Munich and then “a most leisurely cross between train and tram” to Oberammergau. After some exploring – they were out for a holiday not just the play – and meeting locals they witnessed the performance on Sunday the 20th of August.
There would be a further trip to continental Europe in 1923 that would require Baron’s skills too. The first trips to the battlefields of Europe (and beyond) had started even before Armistice Day. These however were small privately arranged trips, most usually for widows and family members to see where their loved ones fell. These trips could be expensive so around 1920, the charity St Barnabas established hostels in the old war zone so people making their own arrangements had somewhere to stay. This naturally led on to the organisation of trips but not small trips, rather huge pilgrimages catering for hundreds of people. For the first of these in 1923 they enlisted the assistance of Toc H and though they were advertised as St Barnabas’ Pilgrimages, Toc H were much involved, as was Baron. Most markedly for Toc H, Baron was one of the three-man party who presented a Silver Lamp to the Burgomaster of Ypres on the 25th of March.
The following month Baron was appointed to Central Executive by Central Council (Previously he had attended Council meetings by invitation and was not entitled to vote). In fact he would only remain on the CE for one three year term, after which he went back to attending meetings by invitation only. Although he remained on Central Council for a few more years, he would not hold a major governance office in Toc H again until he was made a Vice President after his retirement. This was typical Baron, unambitious in the eyes of his father but happy to operate quietly in the background.
However, in June 1923 he did take another committee role when he became one of three members (With John Hollis and Tubby) of the first Guards of the Lamp. These were the officials who decided whether a Branch’s application for a Lamp was accepted or not and also had the power to divest a Branch of its lamp and thus its Branch status. The same group also became the primary arrangers of the Birthday Festival given that the lighting of new lamps formed the centrepiece of the celebrations.
And later that month, on the 22nd, Baron’s fundraising work in his native Bristol paid dividends when Toc H Mark IX opened on St Paul’s Road, Clifton, just 200 yards from the former Baron family home in Whiteladies Road.
It was back to the Continent again in August as Tubby and Baron led a hiking party over the Pyrenees in Andorra, a trip Baron had done himself back in 1913. Then at the end of September, he was playing a leading role in the second St Barnabas’ Pilgrimage.
He had just returned from that trip when the next Toc H Mark was opened. Although not directly involved, he would have had a great interest in Mark XXII (Named not in numerical order but in tribute to the 22nd (Queen’s) London regiment whose HQ was opposite) for this was the Bermondsey Mark. It was established in conjunction with the OBC, and Charlie Thomson – a worker in both organisations – was installed as Warden. Also known as Alexander Paterson House, it stood on Jamaica Road and remained there until 1927 when it was condemned and they relocated to Denmark Hill. The local Toc H unit used it as their HQ and in 1924 when they were awarded their lamp it was dedicated to the memory of Cecil George Rushton, Baron’s old OBC colleague and sometime room-mate.
1923 also saw the publication of a second, much revised, edition of Half the Battle. This time it was generously illustrated with Baron’s own pencil sketches. Many of these can be seen in a previous blog History in Sketches. The establishment of Baron as Toc H’s resident literary guru was a portent of things to come as from the April 1924 edition Baron became editor of The Journal; a post he would hold for the next thirty years.
Baron, the playwright, came to the fore at the December 1925 Birthday Festival. His play in seven parts, first published in the 1923 Annual Report was radically revised (by Baron himself) as a masque performed at the Albert Hall. It was no small thing; a large cast, elaborate scenery, musicians and 400 members of the Royal Choral Society. The original play included a hymn with words written by Baron. The Hymn of Light would later have an arrangement of The Londonderry Air put to it and become a firm Toc H favourite.
In 1926, now working out of Toc H’s new HQ atNumber 1, Queen Anne’s Gate, Baron annotated some letters from Tubby to his mother. Originally published in The Journal they are later turned into the book, Letters from Flanders.
On Saturday the 28th August another Toc H pilgrimage set off for Flanders with Baron amongst them. The highlight of this tour was undoubtedly at 10.00 on the Sunday, when thanks to the efforts of the Belgian Embassy, the entire party was admitted by M. Maurice Coevoet Camerlynck – the owner – into Talbot House and twenty at a time, up to the Upper Room. Although bare of its furnishings – which were back in London in Mark I – the Upper Room was much as the men had known it.
In a 1927 Journal, whilst discussing the idea from a member of a Camera Circle to collect photos of Toc H activities, Baron noted that he has, somewhat belatedly, starting putting aside copies of literature, pictures and notes as an archive of Toc H. This forethought gave us the beginnings of what is now the archive at Birmingham University.
Baron was on the 1927 Pilgrimage (9th – 11th July), by now Toc H without St Barnabas. After lunching at Skindles, he headed over from Ypres to Poperinge on the Saturday afternoon. His mission was to ask M. Coevoet to once again allow some 120 pilgrims to enter his private home. This time, the request was refused but he did allow Baron to ascend the steps to the deserted Upper Room which he sketched.
In March 1928 – along with fellow German speaker Paul Slessor – Baron responded to a request from the Quakers to help billet a group of German schoolboys visiting London. In a rash moment Toc H agreed to take over the entire programme for the boys and they were met by Toc H when they arrived in Southampton on May the 12th. The boys were from the Kaiser Friedrich Real-Gymnasium, an incredibly progressive co-ed school drawing its students from the working class Neukoelln district of Berlin. Baron knew that area – as Rixdorf – from his time in Germany and compared it to Billingsgate or Limehouse. In return Baron and Harro Jensen, his friend and the first German member of Toc H, arranged to take a party to Germany in August.
An article appears in the May Journal, written by someone called Bish, extolling the virtues of walking holidays in Germany staying at Jugendherbergen (Youth Shelters). The writer suggests that England should have its own similar system and suggests that Toc H should run it. This was a subject very close to Baron’s heart as he knew Germany well and was a great walker and fan of the outdoor life. He was himself a proponent of the Jugendherbergen movement, which had been started by teacher Richard Schirrmann in 1912. The movement would soon become a major part of Baron’s life.
Meanwhile, in the August/September 1928 Journal Baron publishes a lengthy article of his own (The Next Step) about the relationship between Toc H and Germany. The following month he publishes (and translates) a reply by his friend Harro Jensen. Baron goes on to highlight a few successes of the ‘exchange’ trip to Germany and how they used the Jugendherbergen whilst they were out there. He refers to Bish’s article in the May Journal and also to a piece published in the Spectator on September 15th. You can almost hear the wheels turning in his mind. His final note at the very end of the article reads,
“There is emphatically need and room for a similar development in England, and I am already in touch with a few people about it.”
Baron’s new masque, The Four Points of the Compass, is performed at the Birthday Festival at the Albert Hall. Original music is again by Christopher Ogle, who composed the music to Baron’s previous masque. Christopher Ogle was a member of Reigate branch. He died 11 January 1951. An accountant by profession but a talented musician. He was invited by his brother-in-law, Ronnie Grant (General Secretary of Toc H at the time (Grantibus) to compose the music for In the Light of the Lamp
The poster designed for the Masque was done by Baron in the studio of Cecil Thomas who gave his help and advice (Thomas had already designed the Forster Memorial for All Hallows and would go on to do much more). The picture, which owed much to Blake, was lithographed in three bold colours. It was available as a poster to branches
1929 was a year of expeditions. This included five Summer Tramps through Germany staying in Jugendherbergen (These were actually organised by E.W. ‘Sago’ Saywell but you imagine Baron had a hand in things) and, at the Schools Conference in January, Baron spoke about a forthcoming tour of Germany by English schoolboys in response to the tour of England by German schoolboys in 1928.
In April Baron travelled to Germany on behalf of the School’s Section with the boys. There were a dozen boys from each of four schools led by Baron. The schools were Christ’s Hospital, Greshams, Cheltenham, and Wellington. They sailed on a steamer on the 8th of April for a momentous tour ably described in Baron’s article in the June edition of The Journal (Crossing the Frontiers). The boys met their German counterparts and learned about their way of life, they explored Berlin and narrowly missed rioting in Neukoelln. They travelled to Saxon Switzerland where they rambled and discovered the Jugendherbergen culture.
On Friday the 30th August Toc H were once again off to Flanders for the pilgrimage – first two days around Ypres then down to the Somme. On the Saturday afternoon tour Baron gave a talk around Gilbert Talbot’s grave (as he had done on previous pilgrimages). At the last Post Ceremony that evening, Baron laid a wreath of bay leaves and Haig poppies given to him by a German member of Toc H (Presumably Harro Jensen) in remembrance of the British dead.
On the Monday morning they stopped at Talbot House and, this year were allowed inside and upstairs in groups of twenty. Baron said the words of Light (They had no Lamp but the Silver Chalice was returned to the Upper Room for the first time in 10 years) and the Toc H Prayer. Then it was on to Albert for two days on the Somme. A small party led by Ormond Wilson continued on to the Rhine.
Immediately after the Salient tours, Baron and a small Toc H party visited the group at Brussels, then travelled to Cologne on the 5th September then Berlin (via Harro Jensen in Marburg) to meet the Grope and were greeted by Hans Arheim, the earliest Berlin member. A meeting was convened where about thirty people who represented both the left and the right of politically divided Germany came together. Baron spoke to them in German about Toc H.
Toward the end of the year, Baron became involved with Wayfarers’ Hostels Association, which was looking at setting up roadside hostels (essentially for men of the road, or tramps). In Liverpool another group were looking at hostels for young people, in fact across the country that winter, various groups were having initial discussions about some equivalent of the Jugendherbergen movement. No one group was making particular progress until the National Council of Social Service stepped in. They “offered,” Baron later said, “not to organise our effort in any way, but to sponsor it.”
Thus in early 1930 a coalition of six organisations was formed. Leading the attempt was Captain Lionel Ellis, the secretary of the NCSS and a member of Toc H. The Co-operative Holidays Association, the YMCA, the Holiday Fellowship, the National Adult School Union, the Workers’ Travel Association, and the British Youth Council were invited by Captain Ellis to a meeting on Thursday the13th of March. Twenty-eight people met at the council’s offices in Bedford Square. Ronald Norman, vice chairman of the NCSS and chairman of the London County Council, started the meeting. He then invited Baron to speak.
The complete story will be told in the full biography but suffice to say, this was the beginning of the founding of the Youth Hostels Association and at a later meeting, Baron was appointed Chairman. He afterwards said how “asking a simple question at the meeting caused seven years of hard labour.” For much of those seven years Baron, and Jack Catchpole, the man appointed secretary of the YHA, travelled the length and breadth of the country establishing regional associations and generally extending the movement. And Baron still had a day job with Toc H!
Speaking of Toc H, it was decided that a book chronicling the history of the Movement to date was required and a Standing Book Committee comprising Baron, the Revd. Leonard George Appleton, Geoff Martin, Arthur Lodge, Monty Callis, Alec Churcher and Rodney George Collin Smith was established.
In August Baron returned to Oberammergau for the Passion Play. Of the 98 who went, he was one of only three Toc H members that had been on the previous trip in 1922. They left Victoria on the 23rd of August in four parties. Baron leading the Yellow party (waving the flag of Scotland because it was yellow not because it was ‘Scotch’). The first night was spent in Brussels with a huge guest night with the Branch there before catching the train to Cologne after a day spent wandering Brussels. From Cologne they headed to Munich and finally a third train into the valley of Oberammergau for the play.
But the most special trip of all was saved until the end of the year. Thanks to the generosity of Lord Wakefield, Talbot House now belonged to Toc H (Well actually a special Anglo-Belgian Association) and was to be used by the Movement as a centre for pilgrimages. But for now, as the World Chain of Light and Birthday Festivals approached, on Thursday the 4th of December Baron was among 55 assorted Toc Hers assembled at St Pancras. Unfortunately dense fog prevented their boat-train from docking at Tilbury and they were forced to find overnight accommodation at 42 Trinity Square, Pierhead House, and the Brothers’ House. The next day they crossed instead from Folkestone to Boulogne and drove to Poperinge in buses and cars. Joined by members of the Ypres group some of the party assembled on the Upper Landing around where the altar first stood then they relocated to the Upper Room, joined by René and Mademoiselle Berat, the house stewards, for the World Chain of Light vigil to begin.
The party then dashed for England for that evening they had to be at the various Regional Birthday Festivals that were taking place across the country. Baron was in Nottingham. To cap it all, the following Friday he was in Birmingham for a YHA meeting followed by the Birmingham Area Festival on the Saturday!
Determined to extend their work in getting young British school groups the opportunity to know other cultures, at the Schools conference in January 1931 Baron and Slessor introduced School trips to Talbot House. The first training visits for trip leaders were arranged for the 12th–15th April (the week after Easter) with the school trips themselves beginning soon afterwards. School parties remain one of the most important visitors to Talbot House to this day.
Easter 1931 saw the formal opening of Talbot House and Baron was of course there. This was a huge moment in Toc H’s history and happened just ahead of what was to be their biggest Birthday Festival yet. Shifted to the summer so that outdoor venues and activities could be utilised, the main party was moved to Crystal Palace because the previous venues for the Birthday Festivals were now too small for the massively grown Movement. The Crystal Palace event took place on the 6th and 7th June and central to both days were performances of The Thorn of Avalon, Baron’s latest and most extravagant pageant yet. Billed as an opera, it featured a score by Martin Shaw, the well-known composer and conductor.
If the following 18 months were something of anti-climax after the excitement of the spring and summer of 1931, then 1933 began with some events which must have caused Baron personal consternation. In January 1933 Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Then the Reichstag was set on fire leading to the introduction of the Enabling Act and the consolidating of Hitler’s power. The Third Reich had begun.
But back at home in June, the outcome of the Standing Book Committee came to fruition. The Years Between was issued as a supplement to The Journal and was a detailed look at the factual history of Toc H. It was so detailed that Baron says that he was later summoned by Peter Monie’s office (Toc H’s administrator) demanding to know why – without telling anyone – instead of the normal 48 page Journal he had produced a twelve page Journal with a 104 page supplement at great cost to the impoverished Movement.
In fact that issue of The Journal sold out, became a much sought after rarity and was later published (abridged) as the booklet, The Birth of a Movement. Baron was told never to do such a thing again – though of course, he would.
A slightly different destination for Baron in December 1933 when he left for Gibraltar on the 15th with Tubby and Geoffrey Batchelar. They were to spend some time on the Rock with Tim Harrington then travel on to Malta to spend the New Year with the Royal Navy. They sailed from London on a full-size ship and Baron admitted it was the first time he had been on anything larger than a Channel steamer. On board, by chance they met fellow Toc Hers Lord Cavan and Lady Warwick and arranged Toc H meetings on board with information stalls of course, during the four day crossing
After several days in Gibraltar, Christmas Day was spent in Spain at Jerez de la Frontera as guests of the Sherry importers Williams and Humbert. It was Baron’s first Christmas away from his family since the war. Baron and Batchelar (Tubby was feeling the cold and retired early) enjoyed a Catholic Midnight Mass and the next day Tubby led an Anglican Communion for the ex-pats in Jerez.
On Boxing Day they sailed for Malta. They were booked on to a P&O Liner but at the last moment Tubby discovered HMS Acasta was also leaving the Rock for Malta and he and Batchelar hitched a ride with the navy leaving Baron to accompany all baggage and vast amounts of literature on the Rawalpindi. Five days at sea – including a layover in Marseilles – and Baron was in Valetta. The party were guests of Admiral Sir William Wordsworth Fisher, a delightful man with a great sense of humour who rapidly applied nicknames to his guests – Baron was the Marquis.
Baron returned home leaving his colleagues in Malta for a few more days. On Tuesday the 16th January he sat on a train in Paris on the last leg of his return. He reflected on an overnight stop in Rome about the effect Mussolini has had on the country and seems astonished how revered he is by the Italian people. His closing paragraphs talk about the clouds rolling over Europe, forebodings and fears succeeding each other. He notes an Italian newspaper article relishing the prospect of Oswald Mosely possibly winning England “to the true cause” in the next general election. For the first time, Baron seems to be airing his fears over what is happening to his beloved Germany and Italy. However he also reflects on some of the wonderful individuals he encountered on his month away and closes his article with the following line:
“If world politics looks despairingly shabby, most of the world’s people are just awfully decent”
1934 was a watershed year for Germany. First on 30th June (The Night of the Long Knives) Hitler rid himself of his detractors in a blood-stained clean-up. Then on the 2nd of August Hindenburg died and Hitler became Head of State as well as Head of Government
A fortnight after that Baron and others got to see the new Germany first hand when they travelled to Oberammergau once again. Normally they have to wait ten years between Passion Plays but 1934 is the tercentenary celebration and a special performance was being put on. So on Wednesday the 15th of August, ninety-seven Toc H members assembled at Victoria station. They crossed to Ostend and travelled by train and Rhine steamer to Wiesbaden where Baron noted it was “gay with thousands of swastika flags [and] portraits of Hitler” for it was around the time of the plebiscite (the referendum that rubber-stamped Hitler’s appointment as combined Chancellor and President) After a morning in Munich they caught the train into the valley and found their lodgings.
On more pleasant ground Baron goes on to describe their lodgings – as always at The Rose pub – and later the play itself. Interestingly, he also describes his favourite stick a five foot hazel cut ‘years ago on a walking tour in Dorset’. The tip is shod with iron, the top ending in a long curving knob.
Back in the UK and between the 3rd and the 8th September Toc H hold their annual staff conference. Baron is one of only four members of staff still present from the original conference in 1925. As usual at staff conferences, Baron is chairman. He is usually in his trademark sandals and occasionally in lederhosen too.
Given all that is going on in the world and Baron’s own personal interest in it, it is interesting to see him tackle it in the lead article of the November 1935 Journal in a ten page article entitled The Mind of Toc H. Of course, we know Baron’s fairmindedness means he will not use the article to espouse his own views. Instead he makes reference to Peter Monie’s 1925 essays to establish Toc H as an open-minded Movement not trying to take any side and being home to people of very differing views. He urges members to think fairly. He questions, “Have we perhaps merely repeated the views of the Daily Mail or Daily Herald…..as our own convictions?” Instead he refers readers to a number of useful publications and books that explore the subject including A.A. Milne’s Peace with Honour. It is clear that Baron has himself consumed all this literature. Such wisdom truly stands the test of time. He later summed up his thoughts succinctly:
“It is not the job of Toc H to found one more Peace Society., whether “socialist or pacifist”, or otherwise. It is its job to train men to understand each other better, to think such problems out for themselves, and to work for them as they believe right in a spirit which is, as each man understands the term, “truly Christian.”
1936 saw Toc H celebrate its Coming of Age with the biggest festival yet running from the 15th of June to the 5th of July, centred around a Festival Evening at Crystal Palace (Saturday 27th June) but including trips to Poperinge and events in London and across the world. Friday 26 June saw the first performance of the new masque (Master Valiant) by Baron and Shaw.
This particular Festival included an art exhibition organised by Paul Slessor with help from Cecil Thomas and others. The winner of the Class 1 (Oil Paintings) category was none other than Baron with a landscape of Blakeney, Norfolk. Describing his own winning entry Baron was his most self-deprecatory describing many of the entries in the class as “in the seaside lodging house category.”
In the autumn of 1936, Baron handed over the editorship of The Journal to a colleague and he and Rachel departed Southampton on the 19th of September for South America accompanied by Howard Dunnett. Baron, whose foreign travel has thus far been limited to Europe, writes amusingly of his trip. He is clearly not enamoured with life on the ship and their stop at St. Vincent (Cape Verde) left him underwhelmed.
“Everybody keeps telling us they have a golf course on the island now – clearly because it is the only resource deserving mention………..When, if ever, I ‘retire’, it will not be to St. Vincent”
Baron and Dunnett had hoped for a peaceful cruise with some time away from Toc H matters until they arrived. It was not to be as they soon discovered several of the ship’s ‘boys’ belonged to the Toc H Seafarer’s Club at Southampton and the pair were asked to give a talk to them.
The party stayed over in Brazil for several days and in his account, Baron is complimentary of the scenery but less so of Brazilian politics. He even claims that he has torn up five pages he had written for The Journal as it would have been undiplomatic to print them. Needless to say his comments didn’t go down well with the Rio de Janeiro branch (mostly if not wholly in those days, ex-pats living and working in Brazil) who wrote a strong letter of complaint to The Journal. Baron responded that he greatly regretted hurting any feelings but stood by what he wrote. His closing sentence revealed much of what he must have been feeling:
“Trying to tell the truth as one sees it is often a risky business.”
On the 16th October they left for Buenos Aires where they stay for two months including a spell in the German-Swiss influenced part of Argentina and a stay in Peru. Howard Dunnett would remain in the Argentine as Secretary of Toc H for a year whilst the Barons went on to Antofagasta (Chile) via a boat, the Condor, through the Chilean lakes. Once in Chile proper Baron climbed the Campana.
Rachel returned to England for Christmas but for the second time in four years Baron celebrated away from home. This time in the house of his host in Chile, Pat Johnston, Vice Consul at Viña del Mar. He finally arrived back in England on the 21st February 1937 via the Panama Canal and Jamaica.
In April Baron resigned as Chairman of YHA but became a Vice-President. He was clearly still in love with the concept and in an article in The Journal in June (A Great Idea) he examined the whole movement’s progress from its first great growth in Germany from 1910 to 1934. However he admits that it is no longer the same as it is very much the playground of the Hitler Youth and the hostels are bedecked in swastikas. Baron then went on to summarise the growth of Youth Hostels in Britain and encouraged Toc H members to get involved.
In November 1938, in an article entitled the Armistice of 1938, Baron writes more about events in Europe. This was of course in a period where it was felt that war had been narrowly avoided. Baron reiterated that Toc H held no official view on the matters but this time admitted that if bias showed in the article it is likely to be his own personal opinion showing through. The way the article developed though is most interesting, especially given recent years. Baron talks a lot about how we have become not just British but European as the threat of war loomed over the Continent. He lamented the fact that most Brits who travelled across the Channel took England with them and demanded tea and bacon and eggs but pointed out there is a growing stream who don’t. That stream – Toc H members amongst them – “travel on the Continent in order to learn about the people who live there, to make friends with them, to study and appreciate their ways and ideas and institutions.”
Then the tone of Baron’s writing becomes more sombre. He reflects on the lessons learned in the last war, finally asking “Did our friends then die in vain?” His answer is inconclusive but he says “They have taught us that war has no splendours whatever, except their own willingness to die, forgetful of themselves, for something they esteemed worth dying for.”
At the Birthday Festival in December the Lamp lighting was preceded by three short and simple dramatic episodes written by Baron. Rather than lavish productions featuring scores of choristers and musicians, they comprised a few dozen people in modern dress. The reason for this of course was that until a few weeks earlier the Birthday Party didn’t look as if it would be going ahead due to the threat of war.
Germany was still uppermost in Baron’s mind in the spring of 1939 when he wrote two articles that looked at Germany’s plans to expand their borders. For perhaps the first time in print, Baron is unequivocal about the danger of Mein Kampf and the great difference between ‘ordinary’ Germans and the leaders of the National Socialist Movement. And he offers some direction to Toc H members:
“Think fairly, as best you may, about the totalitarian view of life and the methods it allows, and you must still, I believe, see it as a step back into the dark, condemn it as a ruthless opponent of the Christian good news, and do everything in your power – by whatever method you believe in – to save the world from its domination.”
He is also anxious for his friend, the man who started the Youth Hostel movement, Richard Schirrmann. He was of course Jewish and had been forced to resign in 1936. In 1939 he was believed to be in a concentration camp though in fact he had settled in the village of Grävenwiesbach and for the duration of the war, was allowed to resume work as a teacher in the village school.
In July Baron made what would be his last pre-war visit to the Continent when he holidayed in France (Veules-les-Roses)
Once war broke out Toc H soon found its most suitable war work. They started to open Services Clubs around the world to give Service men and women that home from home experience the original Talbot House offered. In April 1940 Baron was put in charge of St Stephen’s in the old Conservative members’ club opposite Parliament. Principally to provide hot food and accommodation to troops leaving for or returning from France, the old cocktail bar became a chapel and the lounge was made into a recreation room with billiards tables on the immense landings. The club was connected by an underground passage to the House of Commons but this was made into a kit and rifle-room. Baron remained working in some form or other at the club for five years.
He didn’t see his own home – near Earls Court – too much as he often worked nights at the club and days at Toc H HQ. In the third week of the Blitz (Presumably around or soon after 21st September 1940) he slipped home for a short visit. He found the house slightly damaged and spent an hour patching holes in the roof before grabbing some books. The next day a neighbour phoned him at breakfast time with the news that at 1am that morning an incendiary bomb had hit his house. He hurried there, as quickly as one could hurry through blitzed London, and found his door slashed by a fireman’s axe but still able to open. Let’s let Baron describe what he came across in his own words:
“The air was heavy with the sickening smell of fire. There was no sound save the dripping of water in a dozen places. The stair carpet was slimy black, with a glitter of glass here and there. In the first room the fire had made no mark, but water dropped slowly through the ceiling on the warped bedsteads, and the carpet showed at the bottom of a pond of brownish water where the floor had begun to sag in the middle. In the next room there was ruin, the ruin of charred timber and burnt paper and plaster and roofing slates, tumbled together from the upper storey through the black and broken joists, and the almost equal ruin of the bookcases and other furniture, still intact around me, on which the hoses had played.”
Books, prints, papers all destroyed. How very heart-breaking that must have been for an artist, wordsmith, and collector like Baron!
Destruction was everywhere of course and for the greater part of World War II Toc H believed that even Talbot House had been destroyed in the fighting. In an article in the March 1941, Baron chose to express his view that he would not like to see it rebuilt after the war rather he wanted a modern home for a Belgian family built on the site.
“Talbot House to me does not now stand in Flanders. It must stand, in spirit and in truth, henceforward all over the world, wherever Toc H is true to its vision.”
Without going into the ins and outs of his argument in this short blog, I just wanted to use this as an illustration of how Baron and Tubby didn’t always agree. In a letter to Baron in The Journal written on the 26th of March 1941, Tubby opens with the line “I may be most unwise to disagree with you” then of course, he does. His lengthy discourse gets an immediate response from Baron (Equally lengthy, he even drops the size of the typeface to squeeze it all in). The two opposing views are both forthright but there is no malice. This is a good example how Baron and Clayton didn’t always see eye to eye and yet always worked well together. Of course, in the end, the happy discovery was that Talbot House had not been destroyed at all.
As the war started to draw to its conclusion the St Stephen’s Service Club closed on the 12th April and was taken over by United States Army authorities thus freeing Baron of this responsibility. Eyes were already turning toward that most important Service Club of all and at the end of 1944 as soon as they were allowed, Baron and Slessor flew to Belgium to help restore Talbot House. They spent ten days there working with Charles Young (who had already spent the previous fortnight clearing up) and were there for the World Chain of Light on the 11th and 12th of December. Tubby joined them for this and then the group flew home on the 16th.
Inevitably, Baron was seen as Toc H’s German expert and in this post-war climate, he would be looked to for advice and opinion. Thus in October and November 1945, Baron spent two weeks touring Germany and looking at the Clubs and Circles of Toc H with BAOR (British Army On the Rhine). Baron admits to being anxious about how he would find his beloved Germany but once over the border he seemed relieved to see “bright dahlias leaning over a well-painted fence, men (usually in the remnants of grey-green uniform) ploughing the fields with a lean horse and an ox harnessed together, women picking potatoes, children, not badly dressed, playing here and there..”
And then they reached the industrial Ruhr. And the war struck home; “mile after mile of desolation, in extent utterly beyond anything the bombed cities at home can show.”
Baron visited a number of Toc H centres including Fallingbostel where Vic Martin and his wife ‘Bill’ late of Warden Manor were in charge (Warden Manor having been requisitioned as an Anti-Aircraft Battery). Vic and Bill started a playground for German children, the first such post war project and a strong pointer of the direction Toc H would take in BAOR. The legendary Jock Brown set one up in Hildesheim in 1948!
Here too was Stalag XI B where a number of former Allied Prisoners of War first joined Toc H. And Baron spent an hour at the Belsen trial in Luneberg where Josef Kramer and Irma Grese were amongst those being tried.
On to Berlin, a city already carved up and divided. Only on Sundays between noon and 2pm was it possible to pass through to the Russian sector to see Hitler’s ruined Chancellery. This Baron did and swapped five Woodbines for a 1939 Polish Invasion medal from a German policeman.
A year later he would do the tour again, three weeks this time or 2006 miles in a Volkswagen as he later recalled. Baron examined the living conditions for Germans whilst travelling to places like Harburg where he met his old friend Brother Douglas, Prior of the Anglican Society of St Francis and now working for the YMCA at the Schwerkriegsbeschadigtenheim (The home for badly war disabled men).
In May 1948 Baron made his third trip to Germany since VE Day. This time though, it was for a five day conference in Hanover of British and German educationalists. Baron served on the German Educational Reconstruction Committee. One of about twenty British representatives on the trip he found himself chairing several meetings. He also took the opportunity to visit Toc H Clubs near Hanover and returned home in June.
Whilst the Birthday Festivals had been suspended for the duration of the war, they returned in 1948 and Baron again provided a masque. This one was called Credo – I Believe and was performed on the 11th December at the Royal Albert Hall. Rather than have new music written, Baron utilised popular tunes and stuff borrowed from previous masques.
It was back to Germany inMay/June 1949 for another German Education Reconstruction Conference. The first week spent mostly at Odenwald School (in the American zone) but afterwards Baron travelled to the British zone to spend Whitsun weekend (4th – 5th of June) at the Toc H Services Club in Göttingen. He visited the Friedland camp (with John, warden of Services club) where German Prisoners of War are returned from Russia. Then travelled north to Celle where he spent the night with Horst Wetterling and his family (“our Toc H Guest in England last year”) and a night with Ken Oliver, deputy Chaplain General (Chaplain to the 7th Armoured Division) and former Toc H London padre
Meanwhile in Nairobi, where his son David and wife Julia (née Morley) lived and worked Baron was gifted his first grandchild. This, one imagines, was the catalyst for Baron and Rachel to plan a trip to Africa. In November he hung up his editor’s hat for six months with Frederick Gladstone Chesworth (aka Ches), his assistant of two years taking up the reins, and the couple left for Mombasa. They planned to visit David, Julia and their grandchild, and also their other son Donald who was also in Kenya. At the Central Executive’s request, Baron extended his trip to Rhodesia and South Africa to visit the Toc H units. During March and April 1950 he visited fifteen of the 74 Toc H groups and Branches in those countries. Baron returned home in May 1950 after an epic six month or so tour which he wrote about in the book An African Transit. It is a fascinating picture of a continent undergoing change.
Talbot House now took precedence in Baron’s life for a while. On the 26th of March 1951 (Easter Monday) Baron and seven others travelled to Poperinge for a working party to clean and decorate the Upper Room. Around this time Baron became President of the Talbot House Association, a post he would hold for the next six years.
August was marred by the death of his mother, Lady Baron, though at a respectable 91 years of age. She was described in The Journal as a friend of Toc H from the early days and certainly she helped with fundraising and contacts.
Much of the year was spent working on his new book and in 1952 The Doctor was published. It was Baron’s telling of the story of John Stansfeld and the Oxford Medical Mission/Oxford and Bermondsey Boys Club. It is an important and well-crafted biography frequently cited today.
Toc H had been lucky to have a string of highly experienced and competent Honorary Administrators at its helm. Peter Monie, Hubert Secretan, William Lake Lake, and Harold Howe had all guided the Movement well since 1922. Ranald MacDonald however, who was appointed Administrator in April 1952, had not worked out quite so well. One day I hope to explore his short reign in my blog but for now, suffice to say, he simply didn’t fit! He was asked to stand down after one year and in April 1953 Baron, as senior member of staff was appointed Acting Administrator from the 20th of April until the next Central Executive meeting in April 1954, or until a successor was found – whichever came first. On his appointment at Council Baron spoke:
“I have enjoyed thirty two years on the staff and have seen a good deal of the ups and downs of Toc H but never thought I would get so low as I am now! After the first shock I am beginning to recover……..I have never been afraid of change; I hope that none of us at Headquarters ever will be. I am now in my seventieth year, the beginning of middle age, when one is apt to get a little static, but I still remember my nurse calling me ‘a little Radical’. That word then had the exact connotation of the later word ‘Bolshie’: each meant that the person who used it was in a state of frustrated anger, fear and contempt. I have never since that day voted conservative, and so if there are new things to be done in Toc H I am with you in them. We shall not be doing new things for the sake of it but because our history is just beginning. We are still pioneers and ‘the first fine careless rapture’ may come back…….It will be the job of the Central Executive and all the members to find an Administrator who can measure up to this new work – until then we will hold the fort and do our bit, God willing.”
The 1953 Toc H Festival took place at the still almost new Royal Festival Hall on June the 13th and 14th. Baron provided yet another new masque called The Bridge in which he performed St John the Divine who opened and closed the drama. It consisted of four episodes with acted interludes between each episode where Baron reused songs from previous masques.
In late December John Callf accepted the position of Acting Administration pending appointment by Central Council in April and Baron stepped down the 31st of December 1953 with the thanks of the Central Executive. His health was described as ‘indifferent’ at this time, nevertheless it was with much sadness when in March he stepped down as editor of The Journal after thirty years. Ches took over. Baron remained as Editorial Secretary and devoted his time to publications and special writings as well as contributions to The Journal.
In January 1955 Baron was ill and off work. He had to undergo an operation for stomach cancer, however in the April Journal it was reported that he was making good progress towards what promised to be a complete recovery. He was certainly fit enough to travel by September as he went out to Talbot House for the unveiling of a plaque in memory of his friend the late Paul Slessor. Slessor’s son Philip, a well-known BBC Light Programme announcer was also present.
And then, in the spring of 1956 Baron lost his closest companion when Rachel, his wife of over 40 years died suddenly on March 24th in her sleep. She had a fatal coronary thrombosis due to a ‘peculiar condition of the heart’ that they were previously unaware of. Her ashes were placed in the Columbarium at All Hallows.
In November 1957 Baron’s most personal Journal article, One Man’s Pattern, was published. Autobiographical in nature, reflective in tone, entertaining in reading, it was later reissued in booklet form. It was Baron’s way of marking his retirement which he now announced. His long service for Toc H was celebrated with a dinner on the 6th of November held in London in his honour. The Central Executive and many of his friends were present to make presentations and provide spoken tributes.
Shortly afterwards, he set sail for Hong Kong where his son David and his family were now based. But he was not yet done with Toc H, not even the Birthday Festival that took place whilst he was away – his voice featured in the masque courtesy of a pre-recorded message.
Furthermore, he sent articles to The Journal sharing his adventures. He was in Hong Kong for the Chinese New Year on the 18th of February; helped out at a Kowloon Toc H party for Street Sleepers; and came home via Singapore where he was guest speaker at a Toc H Guest Night there. On the 1st of April he visited the naval base, went to Johor Bahru to see Padre Jack Thistle at the barracks, then back to Kranji War Memorial to visit Padre Gerry Chambers’ grave then more meetings including one at St Andrew’s Mission Hospital for Children before getting back on his ship. All that in one day!
In May 1959 Baron became engaged to a Toc H secretary, Dorothy King, and they wed on her 51st birthday on the 3rd July 1959. One of the events that Baron and Dorothy would be remembered for at the time was playing Romans in the annual pageant organised on Tower Hill by Tubby. As a tribute to Julius Classicianus, the Roman Procurator who stopped the Romans from ravaging Norfolk after Boudicca’s rebellion, Tubby created a pageant where the Iceni were represented by Norfolk’s Scouts and Guides and the Romans by the London Marks.
In 1960, Baron made what would prove to be his last trip to the Passion Play in Oberammergau though not as a leader.
By then, he and Dorothy were living in Hampstead and he was a Vice President of Toc H. Time was catching up with the pioneering Foundation members like Baron. At the very end of 1962, Tubby announced his retirement from the living of All Hallows with immediate effect.
In July 1963 Baron and Tubby’s old friend, Pat Leonard, lately Bishop of Thetford, died and two months later, Alison Macfie, founder of the Women’s Movement also passed away.
In February 1964 Baron celebrated his 80th birthday and the April edition of The Journal includes a greeting to him. It notes that he has taken to wearing a beard which makes him look more Phoenician than ever and – if such a thing were possible – more distinguished.
However, before the issue had even been opened by many of its subscribers, on the 11th of April 1964, Barclay Baron died at his home, now on Kingston Hill opposite the hospital.
Baron’s funeral was held on the 17th of April at St Mary the Virgin in Primrose Hill followed by private cremation. Unfortunately Tubby was away on a tour of Australia and New Zealand at the time but had returned in time for the memorial service at All Hallows on Wednesday the 27th of May. Hubert Secretan and Henry Willink spoke. Secretan also wrote his obituary for The Journal. Baron’s ashes are with Rachel’s in the Columbarium under the church.
He received many tributes but one letter from his friend and sometime travelling companion, the Revd. Geoffrey Batchelar summed things up simply:
“No Guest Night was more rewarding than when Barkis was the speaker”
And that is end of the beginning. Just writing this précis has made me want to get on post-haste with a full-blown biography where I can fill in the detail and explore several themes at length. I shall start straight away, I only hope I don’t neglect this blog whilst I am doing it!
I couldn’t have written this piece without the help of Barclay Baron’s family. I look forward to working further with them for the full biography.
Otherwise my sources are broad but of particular use were Baron’s own many articles in The Journal; and the books he wrote for Toc H in particular
One Man’s Pattern.
Half the Battle
The following books were also most useful and will continue to be so;
The Back Parts of War – Edited by Michael Snape
Richard Schirrmann. A biographical sketch – Graham Heath
Open to All: How Youth Hostels Changed the World – Duncan M Simpson
The Doctor – Barclay Baron
Works by Barclay Baron
The Growing Generation (1911) Christian Student Movement Half the Battle – Toc H (1922) Toc H (Available online here) The Years Between (1933)* Toc H (Originally a Journal Supplement) Asleep or Awake (1944) Toc H (Originally in July-Oct 1944 Journals) The Birth of a Movement (1946) Toc H (Revised The Years Between) Simple Things (1947) Toc H (Originally a Journal Supplement) Four Men (pre 1949) Toc H (Originally published in The Journal) An African Transit (1950) Toc H The Doctor (1952) Edward Arnold & co. In Flanders Fields (1954) Toc H Green Rushes (1956) Toc H (Originally a Journal Supplement) One Man’s Pattern (1964) Toc H (Originally published in The Journal)
*Although the subsequent book carries Baron’s name as author, he credits Rodney Collin-Smith with much of the preparatory work on the original supplement.
Pageants, Plays and Masques In The Light of the Lamp (1923)* The Four Points of the Compass (1928) At The Sign of the Star (1929) The Thorn of Avalon (1931) Seeing’s Believing (1934) Master Valiant (1936) From Darkness into Light (1938) Credo – I Believe (1948) World without End (1950) The Bridge (1953)
Hymns (Words only) The Hymn of Light* To the tune of Londonderry Air Father, who hast made us brothers Go forth with God, the Day is Now** Music by Martin Shaw The O.B.C. Hymn***
*Originally written for the In the Light of the Lamp play, it was replaced for the Masque but subsequently set to an arrangement of Londonderry Air by George Moore and used as a standalone hymn. ** From Master Valiant ***Dedicated to the Oxford and Bermondsey Club
Film Over There Commentary by Baron The Lamp Burns Commentary by Baron
I’m currently researching for a future blog about Barclay Baron, to my mind one of the most important figures in Toc H history. If you don’t know much about him then you’ll have to wait a few weeks for that blog to appear. However, in the course of my research I came to realise just how prolific an artist he was. So now, for the first time ever, I am able to bring you a collection of some of his works together in one place.
Toc H Buildings
The following group of pencil sketches depict various Toc H premises from the Upper Room in Talbot House (Sketched when Baron visited it between the end of the war and the purchase of the house for Toc H); Little Talbot House in Ypres (Baron worked for the YMCA in France and Belgium during the World War I and knew both Talbot Houses); the UK and Canadian Marks that were acquired in the 1920s; Queen Anne’s Gate where Toc H had its HQ from 1926-1930; and Pierhead House, Wapping which was a training centre for several years.
Festivals and Masques
This next group depict Baron’s sketches of Birthday Festivals and Masques. Baron was heavily involved in the organisation of the early Festivals and wrote all of the Masques or Mimes that were performed.
Here we see some illustrations of the Masques he wrote along with some Festival venues (the Albert Hall, Crystal Palace, the Guildhall, and York Minster) and the earliest banners used at the Lamp-lighting.
And below is a rare surving colour image of a Baron illustration from a Festival brochure
Since Baron was the one who thought of the idea of using an oil lamp as the symbol of Toc H and who designed the Lamp and Casket used, it is not surprising he made several sketches of lamps and their settings.
Here are just a few as some others appeared in my last blog. The original Lamp and Casket design; Herbert Fleming’s Silver Lamp in the chapel at Woolwich (See A Lamp Miscellany for details) and in its earlier display the the British Empire Exhibition; and Forster’s Silver Lamp in the Warrior’s Chapel in Newcastle Cathedral, Australia.
In 1936 Baron won first prize in the oil painting class of a competition held for the Festival that year. Unfortunately I don’t have a colour copy of his winning entry but this is it in monochrome
In 1952 Baron published his biography of John Stansfeld and the Oxford and Bermondsey Mission. It was illustrated by Baron. The top picture is the image from the hard to find first edition dust jacket (My torn copy I’m afraid) whilst the couple below are from inside the book. There are many others in the book but they are not signed so I haven’t included them even though they are almost certainly Baron.
Baron provided countless maps to illustrate his and others articles in The Journal. Here are a selection
This is a monochrome reproduction of an oil Baron painted from the YMCA HQ in Poperinge during the war.
A few images from Baron’s tours of Europe
Some images not otherwise categorised. From top left to right: The chapel of HMS Courageous (sketched from a photograph); an unspecified Branch chapel; the retreat of St Francis Place in the West Country (run by his friend Father Duncan); St Martin’s Exeter; Tubby’s pyx; the Coat of Arms of Ypres; St Edward’s, Cambridge; St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell; St Augustine’s College, Canterbury; interior of St Edward’s, Cambridge; a very moving piece from Half the Battle; some Priory seals; Toc H ‘furniture’ in a Prisoner of War camp; the Toc H Initation Ceremony choreography; the chapel of the Decima Club in Bermondsey; and Edmund Street’s sword in All Hallows.
This article was written for and first published by Talbot House as part of their appeal for funds due to the Covid 19 crisis. I republish here so we can get the biggest possible audience for this very good cause. If you enjoy reading this article, please make a donation to Talbot House and help save it.
Thirty years ago this summer – 26th July to be precise – I arrived in Poperinge with a minibus full of young people. For the first time ever, I pulled up outside that huge front door and began depositing suitcases on the pavement outside Talbot House. Within a few short hours I was wrapped up in the magic of the place. The friendly welcome from the warden Bert; the beautiful and peaceful garden; and the history, the glorious history of the place. Later that day we were sat in the Upper Room listening to Jacques Ryckebosch tell us the tales of Archie Forrest and Edmund Street and all those others whose booted feet once climbed those stairs.
Until then Toc H was those strange people who came into the youth club in Hertfordshire where I worked and who held parties for people with disabilities. Now, thanks to them, we had brought our young people to Talbot House, the cradle of Toc H and were learning the story behind it all.
Thirty years, and at least thirty trips to Poperinge later, I now tell the stories of Toc H, the Movement, in my blog One Hundred Years of Toc H. And to support Simon and all at Talbot House in these difficult times I have written this article about Tubby’s post-war push to build a new Talbot House. For although Toc H quickly became a Movement of men (and women) in a network of branches across the Dominion, it was Tubby’s initial dream to reopen a single building, a new Talbot House in London.
Writing in The Messenger – the newssheet of St Martin-in-the-Fields, the church of his good friend Dick Sheppard – in April 1919, Tubby outlined his plans to open a new house. Perhaps the bit about bulldozing Trafalgar Square to recreate the Grande Place of Poperinge was a bit tongue-in-cheek but the whole idea was very real indeed. The first £10,000 towards his dream came from two worshippers at St Martin’s in memory of Oswin Creighton, one of Neville Talbot’s chaplains killed in the war and whose name adorned the casket of the Knutsford School Lamp.
In June 1919 Tubby saw the news that the Guards’ Club was moving from its premises at 70 Pall Mall to a new building in Brook Street. Immediately he set his eye on taking the old building for Toc H. However the leaseholders, the London Joint City and Midland Bank, had other ideas and Tubby’s plan was thwarted. Looking elsewhere he turned to his sister Belle. She somewhat had left her family home in Fulham to work and took up lodgings in Red Lion Square during the war. From here she ran her ‘self-appointed’ mission to help those in need in the area. Tubby often stayed there during leave. So in late 1919 he rented a five room flat on the top floor of 36 Red Lion Square and opened what was effectively Toc H’s first hostel.
It was clear that Red Lion Square was not going to be big enough for what Tubby had in mind and anyway, he was talking to the Westminster Estate about opening a hostel in two houses in Pimlico and also had one eye on Bloomsbury. But things were not moving fast enough for Tubby so when it came to light that the war-time organisation – the Anglo-South American Committee – had reached the end of its useful life and held two properties in Kensington, a delegation comprising Jack Peirs (the first treasurer), Reggie May, Herbert Shiner, and Tubby approached the committee’s head – Dame Guthrie-Reid – and she agreed to rent one of those properties – No. 8 Queen’s Gate Place to Toc H. The acquisition was discussed at a meeting of the newly formed Executive Committee on 23rd December 1919 and was announced as a done-deal in no less an organ than The Times on 12th January 1920. Although it was claimed they planned to open on the 19th January Toc H actually moved in in March 1920.
There is, of course, another story in which the rotund Reverend dispatched one Harry Moss, a friend of the Old House in Flanders, from Red Lion Square to No. 8 to ask the lady of the house to give it rent free to Toc H for six months. Harry duly knocks on the door and persuades the nurse who answers to let him see said lady. He is astonished to find that despite having been in Flanders she has not heard of Tubby or Talbot House so he borrowed the house telephone and summoned the man himself. Tubby arrived shortly in a G.N. cyclecar and took himself off with the lady for a conversation. He emerged soon afterwards declaring that they had house rent free for a year. The first explanation was related by Barclay Baron and the latter almost certainly propagated by Tubby so I think I know which version I am inclined to believe.
It was around this time that an appeal was launched to raise £30,000 to fund this central clubhouse. As usual Tubby was putting his plans into action before the cash was actually there!
It is an indication of the exponential growth of Toc H in 1920 that by May, No.8 was too small for its intended purpose and Toc H transferred to 23 Queen’s Gate Gardens, just up the road. It was a jump in rent, from £155 p.a. to £490 p.a. but Tubby felt it could be found. So here they settled – for now – and Talbot House Mark I was properly established. And it was here where the furnishings of the Upper Room, including of course the Carpenter’s Bench, found a home following their journey with the Test School through Le Touquet and Knutsford.
Mark I remained here until 1928 when 24 Pembridge Gardens in Notting Hill Gate was anonymously purchased for them and they moved there. It was from the basement of that terraced town-house they say that Bangladeshi Independence was plotted in the early seventies but you’ll have to wait for that story.
Mark I was followed closely – in September 1920 – by Mark II – the houses in Pimlico ‘gifted’ by the Duke of Westminster in memory of his mother Sibell Mary, Countess Grosvenor. Toc H paid a Peppercorn Rent and were eventually granted a lease of 999 years. It not only became the second hostel but also Toc H headquarters and remained so until HQ moved to offices at 1 Queen Anne’s Gate in February 1926. Of course Toc H didn’t hang on to it for 999 years and after they divested themselves of it, the houses became nurses’ quarters for Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Mark III took root in the shadow of Waterloo station in May 1921. I told the complete story of Mark III earlier this year.
A fresh appeal was launched in 1921 specifically for new houses. This was still Tubby’s chosen expression of Toc H in those days. And so, in April 1922, largely due to the appeal, the first provincial Mark opened in Manchester. Pat Leonard was shipped up from Cheltenham Ladies’ College to run things. Gartness was a huge old house on Upper Park Road just east of Moss Side. They pulled it down in 2007 and built a mosque next door – quite fitting really.
Southampton followed next after an advert appeared in the Times in August 1922 stating that the owner of a medium-sized house with six acres of beautiful grounds “might be disposed to give it to a religious or charitable institution if satisfied as to the use to which it would be put. It was essential, the advert continued, that house should be used as a permanent memorial to one who fell, and preferably for the benefit of those hurt in the war”.
The house was the Firs in Bassett, the owner was Walter Southwell Jones, and the man who fell in the war was his son, Second Lt. Louis Gueret Walter Jones who was born in the house and died 20th June 1917 in France. Tubby happened to be staying at Little Hatchett, his family’s holiday home nearby, and he shot across to see Southwell-Jones. By January 1923 Mark V was opened.
1923 also saw the first Mark VI open in Newhall Street, Birmingham (but very soon relocated to Clifford Street) and Bloomsbury was finally reached when Mark VII opened in Fitzroy Square. Sheffield, Bristol, Hull, Leicester and Halifax had all opened before the year ended, and so it continued. And not just in England but in Canada, India, Australia and elsewhere. From one door being pushed open by a short chaplain and his rather tall companion in December 1915, there were now Talbot Houses serving men across the world.
What is clear, is that all these houses were sustained through love, generosity and donations. And if Talbot House – the original, the birthplace of so many good things – is to survive this current crisis then that same love, generosity, and most importantly of all, donations, need to be showered on the Old House right now.
This blog is written to accompany the first draft of a newly compiled Roll of Lamps – the link to which is at the end of the article – which attempts to catalogue all the Lamps of Maintenance of Toc H. The catalogue is a work in progress. This article recaps the history of the Lamp of Maintenance and explores some of the dedications and other facets of the many lamps issued over the years.
The Lamp is perhaps the image most evocative of Toc H to many people, and like it or not, the phrase “As dim as a Toc H Lamp” will be remembered in popular culture long after all achievements of the Movement are lost in the winds of time.
The focus of this particular article is the Lamp of Maintenance, the symbol of the Men’s branches. I don’t mean to do the Women’s Movement a disservice and I hope to put a similar effort towards cataloguing their Lamps of the Magnificat at a later date. And yes, cataloguing, because accompanying this article is a report from a database of Lamps I have been compiling. I must stress at the outset that this is a work in progress. Ultimately I want it to contain every lamp, every dedication, and all pertinent information relating to it, including its ultimate fate. This I fear could be a lifetime’s work but it is begun. I also want to add colour to the Lamps by exploring the person behind the dedication. This article contains a few snippets like that as well as some statistics based on the database so far.
First let us recap the basics. Most scholars of Toc H and those with an interest in its story will be aware of the history and purpose of the Toc H Lamps so I won’t dwell on these aspects. Suffice to say that in the June 1922 edition of The Journal, Barclay Baron reflected on the ceremonies of organisations such as the Church and the Freemasons, and acknowledged that a group of Toc H men couldn’t gather together in one place without bursting into a verse or two or Rogerum. He bemoaned that fact that Toc H had not then produced a distinctive badge by which the world might know it except the wristlet (which I believe was only available to Foundation Members).
A Foundation member’s wristlet – the only badge or emblem of early Toc H
So yearning for something to rival the YMCA’s red triangle; the Freemason’s square and compasses; the Rotary Club’s cog-wheel, Barkis put forward the idea of a lamp. A lamp he described as
the simplest and most beautiful kind of lamp, the little boat-shaped lamp which the Romans used when they wanted a bottle of Falernian out of the cellar.
It appears that these thoughts of Barkis has emerged the previous month when he and Tubby were sitting in the waiting room of a stockbroker in Bristol with whom they had an appointment. Shortly after the article appeared a wooden model had been commissioned from Wippell & co and soon the lamp and casket designed by W. R. Paterson, was made available.
Wippell were from the west of England and initially established themselves as grocers. By 1851, Joseph Wippell had expanded the business into church decorations, many of which were displayed at the Great Exhibition that year. By 1897 they had acquired London premises in Duncannon Street near Trafalgar Square and became the de facto supplier of religious furniture and the like. Wippell and co are still trading today.
The Lamp, which I trust readers of this blog will be familiar with, comprises a cast bronzed lamp with a detachable Cross of Lorraine (The arms of the city of Ypres, use of which was granted to Toc H by the city) replacing the traditional XP of a catacomb lamp, and an extinguisher cap covering the wick at the other end of boat shaped lamp. This was the Lamp of Maintenance (definitely not the Lamp of Remembrance as they are often mistakenly called, even by members, and certainly not the Lamp of Memory which appears in the press many times). Fifty were cast initially but more must soon have been made as by the time of the first Lamp Lighting festival in December 1922 sixty-three Lamps would be lit.
Barclay Baron’s original design sketch
Whilst symbolically critical to branches, materially the lamps were of little consequence; it is the caskets and the dedications thereon that make these historically valuable.
Sheringham Lamp showing an earlier sliding door casket
Be aware that there are two types of lamp and casket. From 1922 until 1939 the lamps had a green patina and the caskets, a sliding door to access the storage inside. From 1939 the lamps were Bronze-Brown and the caskets had a lifting lid. There were also some Silver Lamps but more of these later.
The Lamp and the Light He who now holds this token, may his soul Remembering of its form and flame the birth Resolve the Chapel of the lamp be known For service, not for ease; where Self a throne For ever lacks, and where the exhausted Earth From hate by love is conquered and made whole
Mark I Petition for a Lamp
So much for the physical item but what about the use and regulations.
Until this point, all units of Toc H were known as Branches but the arrival of the Lamp as a badge of merit enabled some changes to the system. Now a unit of Toc H would start out as a Group (later a pre-Group status of Grope would be used informally) and only be elevated to a Branch at the discretion of the Central Council. If they were happy that the unit were ready to become a Branch then a Lamp would be bestowed upon them as a symbol. From 5th June 1923 the Central Council appointed a Guard of the Lamp (originally Tubby, Barclay Baron, and John Hollis), a committee whose duty was to regulate and safeguard all matters concerning Lamps. The Guard would recommend promotion to the Central Council and the Branch would then expected to submit a petition. If granted the Lamp would be loaned to the Branch in stewardship to be returned or recalled if the standards fell or the Branch closed. The Guard were to be reappointed annually.
The date the unit was elevated to Branch status would often be recorded under the Branch name as was the date on which the Lamp was ceremonially bestowed and first lit (Originally by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales). This would happen at a suitable event, normally the December Birthday Party until the Bestowals grew so much in number that the Lamp lighting had to take place at other times and on other continents.
The first lamp-lighting at the 1922 Birthday Festival
The Prince of Wales’ lights his taper from his Lamp
The first lamp-lighting took place at the Guildhall on the 15th December 1922 at the Second Birthday party. Holding a long wax taper, the Prince lit each new Branch lamp (44 Branches, those of 18 schools, and his own) as they approached him in threes; the first man holding the Lamp, the second it’s casket, and the third a Branch banner (Nothing like the banners we later became familiar with).
A Barclay Baron sketch of the first lamp-lighting
Despite the long established assumption that all Toc H Lamps were first lit from the Prince’s Lamp, descriptions of the evening in The Journal and the contemporary press are clear that the Branch and School Lamps were lit first then Tubby knelt whilst the Prince’s Lamp was lit. The Prince of Wales Lamp, a silver lamp (See below) was provided by the Prince himself to Toc H as a whole, in memory of his friends. Afterwards it was placed on Croke’s Tomb at All Hallows, firstly in the open but later in a magnificent casket (Described later). Here it remains to this day burning eternally….OK, it’s no longer allowed to be alight most of the time but at least it’s still there.
A rare picture of the Prince’s Lamp on Croke’s Tomb before the Casket was built
Binyon wrote these words about the Prince’s Lamp for the 1928 Christmas Annual:
The Pilgrimage The flame upon the Altar lives In its own home of Light apart, And yet it shines on secret tears And in the darkness of the heart. More real than any world of ours Is that still Presence of the Light, Happy are they who harbour there, Happy, who keep it whole in sight. How still, amid our noise and fret, It burns and trembles and aspires, Drawing our spirits from the cloud And aching of our old desires. The young-eyes spirits whom we knew Who smiled, and whom we called by name. Who went in their own faith to die, Are flames within that trembling flame Now all the corners of the earth Look on them where so clear they shine, A single glory, a radiant fire, By day and night a silent sign. O dear, untroubled, happy Dead, Comrades eternal, now and here When most we falter in our fight, When most we fail you, be you near
It is worth taking a few minutes to document when and where the lamp-lighting normally took place. The Birthday Festivals of Toc H, were in those early years, the most magnificent of festivals. The first was held in December 1921 at Grosvenor House in Park Lane. Not the hotel that stands on the site now but a magnificent townhouse that was the London residence of the Duke of Westminster, a good friend to Toc H. It was a gathering of the growing band of Toc H men including Prince Henry, the third son of George V. It was held to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the opening of Talbot House as well as the approximate second birthday of the founding of Toc H as an association.
A reproduction of R.S. Stott’s sketch of the first lamp-lighting
The following year though was when the celebrations really found their feet. This time events were held over an entire weekend (15-16th December 1922) and at several venues. The date being celebrated was the 15th as – at that time – it was believed to be the date Talbot House opened. 1922 had been Tubby’s annus mirabilis with Toc H receiving its Royal Charter at the Birthday weekend, Toc H getting its Guild Church (or Anglican anchor!) when Tubby received the living of All Hallows, the LWH starting, Peter Monie joining as Honorary Administrator, and, as we have seen, the introduction of the Lamp. The first Lamps were lit at the Guildhall on the Saturday Evening.
The 1923 lamp-lighting
In 1923 the party was again held at the Guildhall on the 15th but by 1924 had moved to the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street, then, in 1925, the size of the Movement necessitated moving to the Royal Albert Hall.
In 1926, Tubby unearthed some letters he sent to his mother that showed that Talbot House actually opened on the 11th December and the birthday moved to that day where it remains. By chance, the following day is also Tubby’s birthday! The 1926 Festival was actually held at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester and 1927 it was back to the RAH. There was no new Lamps lit at the 1928 Festival at the RAH because the Prince of Wales was in Africa but in April 1929 Lamp Lighting took place in Great Church House in Dean’s Yard, Westminster. In December that year they were back at the RAH but 1930 even that venue was outgrown for a National event so Regional Festivals were held without lamp-lighting. Instead a huge summer celebration took place at Crystal Palace in June 1931 where the new Lamps were lit for the first time.
December 1932 saw the festivities move to Birmingham Town Hall whilst 1933 was at the RAH and 1934 at De Montfort Hall in Leicester.1935 was skipped in favour of another summer festival at Crystal Palace in 1936 this time celebrating Toc H’s ‘Coming of Age’. In 1937 they were at the Exhibition Buildings in York and in 1938 back at the RAH then Hitler intervened and it would be 1948 before the Birthday Festival returned in full, once again at the RAH.
Part of the programme for the 1924 Family Party which included the lamp-lighting
Use of Lamps
A Branch was expected to light its Lamp at every meeting although precisely when was not prescribed. The ceremony though was set and was called simply Light. At the appropriate time the Chairman would call Light and all present would stand. The room lights were dimmed and the lamp was lit. It was placed where all in the room could see it and one was expected to gaze on the flame and not to shut one’s eyes. The words of Remembrance would then be spoken by the leader. The original words were based on the middle stanza to Lawrence Binyon’s famous Ode To Remembrance (Itself a subset of three stanzas for the seven stanza poem, For The Fallen)
With proud thanksgiving let us remember our Elder Brethren They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.
The last line would be echoed by those present. There would then follow a full minute’s silence before the lamp was extinguished and the house lights turned back on.
Later an alternative form based on The Prayer of St Francis was introduced.
A second rite that utilised the Lamp was the Initiation Ceremony of a new member. In this ritual the lighted lamp was put in the candidates hands by the chairman and the following dialogue played out
Chair: What is this?
Candidate: The Lamp of Maintenance
Chair: What first lit it?
Candidate: Unselfish sacrifice
Chair: What alone will maintain it?
Candidate: Unselfish service
Chair: What is service?
Candidate: The rent we pay for our room on earth
What few will remember is the ceremony of Grand Light! It was decreed that at a common meal or other meeting of the branch deemed proper, the greater rite known as Grand Light could be taken. There is lengthy diatribe about how it should be performed which I’ll precis here. The newest or youngest branch member lights the lamp. All present bring forward a taper which they light at the lamp. The chairman shall strike a bell or bang a hammer on the table and say
“By the Spirit, which this Lamp betokens, let me re-light my torch.”
At which point every member holds his taper aloft. There follows a minute’s silence after which each member extinguishes his taper in a convenient glass or bowl of water. It didn’t catch on!
And one final ceremony which is too large to do justice to here is the World Chain of Light. I will look at this in a separate blog someday.
As mentioned earlier, it is the caskets and their dedications that make the lamps unique and of historical value. It was decided early on that Branches should attempt to get their lamp paid for by a donor in memory of someone they have lost, mostly in the Great War but not exclusively.
A full set of Lamp plaques
This is what the Guard of the Lamp had to say about the rules around this in 1928:
The oak Casket of every Lamp should bear four engraved bronze plates, which are supplied by the Guard of the Lamp. The first plate gives the name of the Branch, the second the date on which the Lamp was ceremonially bestowed and first lit. The other two plates should be engraved with the memorial inscriptions e.g., “The John Smith Lamp” — “In memory of John Smith” (with the particulars of the date and place of his death, etc.). The dedication may, of course, be to any one or more men or women, who have passed over to join the Elder Brethren—whether in the War or otherwise. Clearly a local donor and a name which has particular meaning to the Branch will be specially valued. The cost of the Lamp is £10 10s. A printed form describing the Lamp, etc., for the use of donors can be obtained from the Guard.
Most branches took this task on with gusto which is why, when compiling the database that accompanies this article, it was disappointing to increasingly see the rather unimaginative number of lamps simply dedicated to “the Elder Brethren of Anytown” donated by “the Branch”
Bradwell (Norfolk) Casket
There was some discussion about where Lamps should be kept when not in use. Some Branches planned elaborate shrines and caskets; some stood it in a convenient chapel; most bunged them in a cupboard or locker in their branch rooms (from whence they were occasionally stolen e.g. Colchester 1938). At the meeting they normally stood on the table in front of the chairman but some branches favoured a repurposed aspidistra stand (Still in use at the chapel at Talbot House!). For the creative carpenter’s a wall mounted shelf akin to that illustrated was favoured.
An example of a wall-mounted Lamp stand
Now, it is time to take a look at some non-standard lamps. When the Lamp was introduced and became the emblem of a fully-fledged Branch, it was soon realised that the fledgling Groups would also need something so the Rushlight was introduced in late 1925.
In the thirties a new unit status was introduced – from the US units – for men just starting to gather together in the name of Toc H. It was, rather perfectly, known as a Grope. Although never formally adopted, it did seem to gain currency for a time (including with the LWH) and most Gropes used a simple candle as their emblem.
Mentioning the LWH, I must just reference their emblem, the Lamp of the Magnificat. As I said, I will revisit this in due course but cannot cover it in this article.
Lamp of the Magnificat
Perhaps the most intriguing set of lamps are the almost forgotten silver lamps. Actually just bronze lamps coated in oxidised silver they have no real intrinsic value above the standard lamps but were reserved for special use.
The Prince of Wales Lamp Endowed and first lit 15th December 1922
Current whereabouts: All Hallows
Though not often realised, the first of these Silver Lamps is the Prince of Wales Lamp. If you see it in All Hallows, its gleam is dull where it stands constantly in the open. A recent close inspection by Adey Grummet, the Education and History Officer at All Hallows, revealed that in the deepest nooks and crannies of the Lamp, there are still traces of the silver plate but mostly it has eroded to reveal the bronze lamp below. Whether this is due to exposure alone, over enthusiastic polishing, or it was deliberately stripped back is currently unknown.
It was decided early on that the Prince’s lamp would need a special casket to house it on Croke’s Tomb. Alex Smithers (Former Major 154th Heavy Brigade) and a member of the Executive presented the design in the early summer of 1923. Branches all asked to send a sketch of the coat of arms for the city or town they represented. The casket was made from bronze, gilt, and enamel set behind polished stones. It is adorned with tiny glass panels on which are painted the arms of the cities and towns aforementioned which are lit from behind.
The Prince’s Lamp in it’s Casket
The City of Ypres Lamp Endowed 25th March 1923
Current whereabouts: Burgomaster’s Office, Cloth Hall, Ieper
“To the Glory of God and in memory of the men of the Belgian Army who gave their lives in the defence of Ypres”
Presented to M. Colaert, former Burgomaster of Ypres in the Grande Place on Palm Sunday (25th March 1923) by a Lamp Party consisting of B. S. Browne, S.S. Paterson and B. Baron. Dedicated by the Dean of Westminster somewhat belatedly on 8th December 1928 (As part of that year’s Birthday Festival), it was kept in the Hotel de Ville (Former name of Cloth Hall) where it remains to this day in the Burgomaster’s office. (Confirmed by Jan Dewilde, Conservator – March 2020)
The Belgian War Museum Lamp Endowed 21st August 1924
Current Whereabouts: Royal Museum of the Armed Forces, Brussels
“In memory of Talbot House Poperinghe-Ypres, 1915:1918”
This Lamp was presented to the Belgian War Museum in 1924 by the Prince of Wales, through Colonel Maton, Belgian Military Attaché in London. The Lamp, described as a Model, sits on an Oak pedestal on which there are four silver plates engraved as follows.
Model of the Lamp of maintenance of Toc H:
In memory of Talbot House Poperinghe-Ypres, 1915-1918
Presented to the Royal War Museum of Belgium, 1924
By His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Patron of Toc H
An inscription, illuminated by A.A. Moore, accompanied the lamp. The Lamp remains in the museum’s collection (Catalogue No. 1102322) though the museum is now called the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces. (Confirmed by Dr Pierre Lierneux, War Heritage Institute – February 2020)
The Forster Lamp First lit 13th December 1924
Current Whereabouts: The Saint Michael (Warriors’) Chapel, Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
“In memory of John, 2nd Lieut., 2nd Batt. K.R.R.C., killed in action 14.9.1914; and of Alfred, Lt., Royal Scots Grey, died of wounds near Le Cateau 17.10.1918.”
This lamp was given by the Governor General, Lord Forster, and is the lamp from which all other Toc H lamps in Australia were lit. In 1923, the then Governor General of Australia, Lord Forster wrote to Tubby Clayton indicating that he and Lady Forster wished to endow a Toc H Lamp in memory of their two sons who were killed during the Great War. In December 1924 the Forster Lamp was lit by the Prince of Wales at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was brought to Australia by Tubby Clayton and Pat Leonard in 1925 and given to Lord and Lady Forster.
At first, it was intended that the Forster Lamp should be presented to the first Toc H Group in Australia to be granted full Branch status, but with Groups starting up almost simultaneously in all States, some Toc H members thought that this could lead to unhealthy competition. It was then suggested that the Forster Lamp should become the Federal Lamp and be kept burning in Christ Church Anglican Cathedral in Newcastle. A Ceremony of Enshrinement was held in 1926 during which the Forster Lamp was placed in the Warriors’ Chapel. In 1927 a great Toc H Festival was held in Christ Church Cathedral and the Forster Lamp was used to light five other Toc H Lamps – from Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Newcastle.
The Forster Casket (A sketch by Barclay Baron)
The Herbert Fleming Lamp First lit 14th May 1925
Relit 11th December 1926
Current Whereabouts: Still being determined
This lamp stood before the Empire Roll of Honour in the Government Pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1925. Lit by H.M. the Queen on the 14th May and remained burning until the exhibition closed on the 31st October.
After temporarily resting on the Boardroom table at Toc H HQ, it was presented to the Royal Army Chaplains Department in proud thanksgiving for the life and example of Herbert Fleming, Honorary Administrative Padre 1923-1926. It was lit in his memory at the Eleventh Birthday festival at Manchester on the 11th December 1926 by the Prince of Wales, and dedicated by the Chaplain General to the Forces on the 19th June 1927.
Herbert Fleming Shrine (Sketch by Barclay Baron)
Originally held in a shrine in the chapel of the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, a panel on the shrine bore the following inscription:
“To the Glory of God and in memory of Herbert James Fleming, C.M.G., C.F., who was Chaplain of the Royal Military Academy from 1911-1914 and 1918-1922, and died while watching the R.M.A. v R.M.C. Rugby Football Match on 17th December, 1926”
A further panel behind the Lamp explained how it came to be donated by Toc H
It was to be lit on Armistice Day each year and then again on 17th November which was Fleming’s birthday.
The Lamp of India First lit 15th December 1925
Current Whereabouts: Still being determined
Lit 15 Dec 1925 at St Paul’s Cathedral, Calcutta by the Hon. Mr Justice H.G. Pearson Chairman of the Toc H Council of India in front of a congregation the Viceroy and Lady Irwin, and the Governor and Lady Lytton. It was entrusted to the All-India Council of Toc H and burned perpetually on a pedestal in the Chapel of Remembrance with a War Graves cross from the grave of an Unknown Soldier below it.
Lamp of India sketch
The Sidney Byass Lamp (The Lamp of Wales) First lit 7th December 1929
Current Whereabouts: Toc H Archive, Cadbury Special Collection, Birmingham
“In memory of Sir Sidney Byass, Bart., First President of the Toc H Council for Wales, who died on February 18, 1929.”
Lit by the Prince of Wales in London on the 7th December 1929, this silver Lamp was dedicated on the 18th January 1930 by the Archbishop of Wales, a President of Toc H in Wales in Llandaff Cathedral.
Instead of being kept in one place like other national lamps, it was kept a year at time in various Welsh Cathedrals or Churches such as Merthyr, Neath, Swansea and Pontypridd. It also put in appearances at events like the National Eisteddfod in 1953.
Returned to HQ it is now in the Toc H archives at Birmingham University
The Sydney Byass Lamp (The Lamp of Wales)
The Plumer Lamp First lit 3rd December 1932
Current whereabouts: Silver Store, York Minster
“In memory of Field-Marshall First Viscount Herbert Charles Onslow Plumer of Messines, 1857-1932, President of Toc H”
Lit by the Prince of Wales at Birmingham on the 3rd December 1932, it was deposited in the Zouche Chapel of York Minster and dedicated by Dean of York 3 Sep 1933. It was kept in an aumbry designed by Walter Tapper, the Minster architect. It was later removed from display and is currently in the Silver Store at the Minster.
The aumbry at York Minster
At the same time as Branches started being granted lamps, Toc H also issued some to affiliated schools. The first 18 listed here were lit at the inaugural Lamp-Lighting festival 15 Dec 1922 but although Toc H continued to work with schools the practice of issuing lamps was stopped as it was a badge of Branch status. Only Bradfield received a Lamp after this time.
Firstly we must mention Knutsford Test School which seems to straddle both the Branch and School camps in those early days. Knutsford was of course the Ordination Test School established by Tubby in the old gaol. They were gifted a lamp that was lit on 15th December 1922 at the Guildhall and they appear at the top of the first School Lamps list. However they also appear in the Branch lists as Branch no. 41. Whatever the position then, the Lamp later became The Padres’ Lamp: In memory of Oswin Creighton, C.F., attached 42nd Bde. R.F.A. 15.4.1918, though I’m not clear where it went to. Creighton was one of Neville Talbot’s officers and chaplains.
And so to the schools proper.
Berkhamsted School Tubby preached at Berkhamsted School in June 1922 just as the concept of the Lamp was being born. So perhaps it’s no surprise that this Hertfordshire School were one of those to receive a Lamp at that first Lamp Lighting festival on 15th December 1922. Leslie Koulouris, the school archivist, was not able to shed any light on the Lamp’s history at the school but we do know that the plaques are in the archives at Talbot House which suggests the lamp and casket were destroyed.
Bishop’s Stortford College I currently have no information on the Bishop’s Stortford College lamp. The college do not know its fate.
Blundells School Mike Sampson at Blundell’s School in Devon assures me that not only do they have the Lamp still but it is on permanent display in the School Chapel on its casket. They have even retained the box in which it was presented including a small explanatory booklet. The school representatives at the Guildhall receiving the Lamp that evening were Mr Gerald Vernon Hotblack (Westlake Housemaster), L. N. Cholmeley, and R. Purvis. Mr Hotblack worked closely with the Schools Section of Toc H and there are records of him speaking at a London Conference in 1928.
Brighton College This Lamp is still on display at Brighton.
Brighton College Lamp on display still
Bromsgrove School The fate of this Lamp has not yet been ascertained.
Christ’s Hospital School Like Bromsgrove its whereabouts currently unknown. We do know that two Grecians (Upper Sixth pupils) and one Dep. (Deputy Grecian or Lower Sixth pupil) attended the Guildhall to receive the Lamp. It then stood in the Chapel near the organ to be lit on special days (Armistice etc.) but it is not known when it left the school.
Eastbourne College Paul Jordan explains that the college only have the wooden casket and even then one of the wooden panels (Presumably the sliding one) is missing. Another panel is blank and the other two have plaques inscribed ‘Eastbourne College’ and ‘Bestowed 15 XII 1922’. We know that Mr Tanqueray, R.F. Bateman, and A.B. Carter received the Lamp from the Prince on the College’s behalf.
Harrow School Another Lamp missing in action. School Curator Julia Walton is not sure what happened to it.
King’s School, Canterbury Mr Mayne along with the School Captain and House-Monitor received the Lamp from the Prince in December 1922. Peter Henderson, Harrow Archivist, is not sure when it went missing but feels it may have been when the school was evacuated during World War II. It must have ended up at Toc H HQ though and scrapped along with the others as the brass, casket plaques have end up in the Talbot House archives.
Marlborough College The fate of the Marlborough Lamp is unknown but curator Gráinne Lenehan is keeping an eye out
Mill Hill School I’m still waiting hear from Mill Hill about their Lamp.
Sedbergh School The whereabouts of the Sedbergh School Lamp is currently unknown but in 2013 local historian and sometime Talbot House Warden Mike Wilson presented the school with the old Sedbergh Branch lamp (Dedicated “In memory of the Old Sedberghians who fell in the Great War 1914-1918” and First Lit in London by the Prince of Wales 27.04.1929) which was given to him by a neighbour.
Solihull School The Solihull School casket plaques are in the Toc H archive so I am fairly confident the lamp was returned to HQ and subsequently destroyed.
St Edward’s School, Oxford Another of the original Lamps, St Edward’s School sent a deputation of a master and two boys receive their Lamp from the Prince of Wales on 15th December 1922. It was placed in the Chapel. I haven’t yet established its fate.
St George’s School, Harpendon I was delighted to hear from the School Chaplain, the Revd. Steve Warner, that this Lamp is still in the care of the school and is used at every Remembrance service.
St. John’s School, Leatherhead Bestowed on the school by the Prince of Wales on 15th December 1922, the lamp then stood in the chapel on the ledge of the west window. The name plaque is now in the Toc H archive so at some point it was returned to the Movement and almost certainly melted down.
St. Paul’s School Ginny Dawe-Woodings, School archivist, confirms they received a Lamp but doesn’t know of its fate. According to The Paulian, the school journal, the Lamp was received from the Prince by the Captain of the School, A. M. Farrer accompanied by E. P. C. Cotter and Mr. Temperley. The Lamp was to be stood in the school’s Memorial Chapel which, at the time, was still being completed.
Westminster School Elizabeth Wells, Archivist and Records Manager at Westminster School, could find no records of the lamp. A lot of the school’s possessions were destroyed in the blitz, including our First World War memorial, and it may well be that the lamp was lost at this time. It was one of the originals lit in December 1922.
Bradfield College (1925)
The only School Lamp not lit in December 1922, this one was given to the college in early 1925 by Mrs Robertson, the mother of an old Bradfield boy, Edward John Macrory Robertson who died at the Battle of Festubert in May 1915. He is buried at Beuvry Communal cemetery. The dedication reads, In memory of Mac Robertson, Lieut., 70th Battery, Royal Field Artillery. Festubert, 22.5.1915; and of the boys of Bradfield College who gave their lives in the war. Mrs Robertson had also already given The Unknown Heroes’ Lamp to Portsmouth Branch and paid for the Unknown Heroes’ Room at Mark V (Southampton). Bradfield College was where Kate Luard [link] was Matron but whether this had any bearing on the bestowal is not known. The Mac Robertson Lamp was later earmarked for reendowing to Bushey and Oxhey Branch and lit on 4-Mar-1936 (although I have contradictory information about the dedication on the Branch lamp that is yet to be unravelled). The whereabouts of the Mac Robertson Lamp are unknown.
The above list mentions the destruction of lamps several times so it is worth a brief note on what this is about. Essentially as Branches closed and members died, some Lamps were returned to HQ and were stored in a shed at Wendover. Eventually, and with an office move on the horizon, a decision was made to get rid of many of these surplus lamps. Plaques were taken from the caskets and stored – eventually being split between the Talbot House archive in Poperinge and the Toc H archive in Birmingham. Those who were around at the time believe the lamps were melted down to prevent them being sold on the open market whilst the wooden caskets were skipped. Letters were semnt out to known branches and holders asking for the return of Lamps to prevent them being sold on eBay or in antique shops.
Great Yarmouth Lamp
Thankfully many lamps survive with remain branches and members, in museums and churches or in collectors hands. Others probably sit in attics across the world and will one day resurface.
A word about logos and badges
The Lamp has, of course, been central to Toc H logos and badges since it was introduced and whilst the earliest logo – the lovely art deco monogram – didn’t incorporate a Lamp, everyone since did, until the unpopular ‘rugby posts/TV aerial’ that was used briefly in the new millennium. And since badges were generally based on the logo, they too have largely included a lamp or a stylised interpretation of a lamp on them. See this blog [link] for a look at badges. And here’s a rare example of a logo that included a lamp. This is the little used combined Toc H and Rover Scouts Logo for when the former were largely responsible for forming and running the latter throughout the UK.
Toc H Rover Scouts’ logo
This is the first ever Toc H logo that incorporates the Lamp. It’s from 1922 and was used for literature of the period.
When is a Toc H Lamp not a Toc H Lamp
Finally in this section, we have spoken a lot about what the Lamp is, so perhaps a cautionary word on what it isn’t!
You will frequently see Scripture Union badges being sold on eBay as Toc H badges. Sure they feature a catacombs style lamp but that is a very common icon. Early British Nursing Association badges also featured one as did the pictured American Lamp Lighters badge which may or may not be connected to the Christian Lamplighters Ministries.
Perhaps though the worst case of mistaken identity is this one. In a New Zealand chapel?? It claims that the lamp in the larger picture is a Lamp of the Brotherhood or Fraternitatis Lumen, one of 84 decorative oil lamps cast from the bronze doors of the destroyed Monte Cassino Abbey in Italy. Clearly this is a Toc H Lamp of Maintenance. The Lamp of the Brotherhood (Inset) is quite different. Not quite sure who managed this fubar!
And thus we end our look at the story of Lamps in Toc H and now turn to the stories of some of those memorialised with them.
Tubby leaving for New York with a Lamp for the Branch there
We Will Remember Them
A look at some well-known figures associated with Lamps. Please note, if I say someone is commemorated on a Lamp I do of course mean the casket plaques.
Sir Henry Rider Haggard, the author of She and King Solomon’s Mines (Amongst many other titles) along with his brother, Major Arthur Haggard, donated the Lancelot Haggard Lamp to Montreal Branch in memory of Arthur’s son.
The poet Rupert Brooke, was remembered by the Branch of his birthplace, Rugby. The Rupert Brooke Lamp was inscribed with the dedication, “In memory of Rupert Brooke, Poet. Died at Seyros, 23.4.1915, whilst serving with the Royal Naval Division.” It was donated by his mother Ruth.
Another war poet remembered with a Lamp is Julian Grenfell who is commemorated on the Buenos Aries Lamp. On 13 May 1915 Julian a shell landed yards from where Julian was standing. A splinter of shrapnel hit him in the head. He was taken to hospital in Boulogne where he died of his wounds two weeks later with his parents and sister at his bedside. The text on the Lamp reads “In memory of J. H. F. Grenfell, D.S.O., Capt., 1st R. Dragoons. Ypres. 26.5.1915.” It was donated by his father, Lord Desborough.
When Baron Sackville (Lionel Edward Sackville-West), who served in Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine and France, passed over in January 1928, the Sevenoaks Branch Lamp was donated in his memory by his daughter. She was Victoria Sackville-West better known as Vita, a notorious novelist, poet, diarist, and garden designer whose bisexuality caused waves in society at the time.
An intriguing pair of plates unearthed in a box of lamp plaques at the Birmingham archives caught my attention. Unfortunately they are separated from the other plates so I don’t yet know which Branch Lamp they belong to. There are two plates, the first of which reads ‘In memory of Sister Julia Childers and Sister Julia Lake’ whilst the second says ‘Founders of the Nursing Sisters of St John the Divine 1880’. So what makes these interesting? Well the Community of St John the Divine were founded in London in 1848 (They are now based in Birmingham) but it was their midwifery service based in St John’s House, Poplar that made them well-known. Though I can’t establish that date of 1880 as being the start of this service, certainly at the 1881 Census the two women were both living at St John’s House, 210 East India Dock Road. Childers was listed as Sister in Charge of Nursing Home whilst Lake was a nurse. OK, but why so interesting. Well St John’s House was written about by Jennifer Worth in her best-selling trilogy of books about midwifery in London in the 50s and, under the pseudonym of Nonnatus House, was central to the popular TV series Call The Midwife!
In less literary fields, the Bootle Lamp was “Dedicated to Samuel Plimsoll, the originator of the Plimsoll Mark in Shipping”
The Street Lamp is dedicated “In memory of John Bright Clark. Street, 6.4.1933. “The path of the just is as the shining light.” Clark was the head of Clark’s shoes and the grandson of the founders Cyrus and James Clark.
Barking’s Lamp was “In memory of G. A. Studdert Kennedy. Passed over, 8.3.1929”. Kennedy was better known as Woodbine Willie, one of the more famous chaplains of WWI
Evesham dedicated their Lamp “In memory of Gino Watkins, Artic Explorer. Drowned Lake Fjord, Greenland, 20.8.1932, aged 25”.
Shackleton, in Buenos Aries, unsurprisingly dedicated their Lamp “In memory of Sir Ernest H. Shackleton, C.V.O., O.B.E., LL.D., Explorer. South Georgia, 5.1.1922”.
The Devonport Lamp was dedicated to Captain Falcon Scott (Scott of the Antarctic) whilst the Isle of Dogs, more generically, paid tribute “To those who, while exploring uncharted regions, found comradeship and life through death”
The New Plymouth (New Zealand Lamp) was dedicated to Arthur Ambury who, on June 3rd , 1918, went to the aid of William Gourlay, who had become stranded on ice near the summit of Mount Taranaki. Ambury, a 37-year-old father of four young children, was climbing with his wife Annie and two friends when, up ahead, they saw Gourlay, 20, and two other men having difficulty walking down as a heavy mist descended. Then, suddenly, Gourlay lost his footing and began to slide. The Horowhenau Chronicle reported
“It was here that Mr Ambury showed his heroism. Taking a chance which he must have known would be a very remote one of saving the falling man, he stuck his alpenstock (ice pick) fast in the ice, took a firm hold with his feet, and endeavoured to catch the body of Gourlay and check his descent. The impact, however, was such that Ambury was unfooted, his alpenstock broken, and the two men slid, it is estimated, a distance of about 1200ft and finally went over into a gully.”
It took a team of about 20 men to recover the men’s remains the following morning, far beneath what is now known as Ambury Bluff.
Whilst many lamps were dedicated to those who lost their lives during the Great War, others commemorated heroes from other times:
The Oliver Gosnold Clark Lamp (Bradwell)
In memory of Ranger Clark, who gave his life for others while fighting a forest fire. Vancouver Island, 25.6.1925
The Lindsay Lamp (Abadan, Persian Gulf)
In memory of Robert Leiper Lindsay, who lost his life preventing the spread of fire at an oil station at Tembi, 9.7.1917
The Noble Fleming Jenkins Lamp (Grimsby)
In memory of Brig.-General Noble Fleming Jenkins, C.M.G., C.B.E., who gave his life in attempting to rescue a girl from drowning, St Leonard’s-on-Sea, 19.8.1927
The Douglas Frederick Ogborn Lamp (Wood Green)
In memory of Douglas Frederick Ogborn, medical student, who passed over summer 1926: he gave his life to save his friend’s mother from drowning at St Ives, Huntingdon.
This is one of the most intriguing
The Blackall Lamp (Leytonstone)
In memory of Reginald Griffith Blackall, who gave his life for his friends; he died 29.11.1925, aged 44, a victim of X-ray research
Whilst this, is many ways, one of the saddest
The Abbey Lamp (Darlington)
In memory of William Byland Abbey who died at Ferryhill in the discharge of his duty. 16.2.1928
I wonder if the subsequent execution of his kkiller was discussed at length during Branch meetings?
Coventry’s Lamp was retrieved virtually unscathed from the ruins of the Services Club in Middlesborough Road following the Blitz
Colchester’s Lamp was stolen from the branch’s HQ in 1938. It apparently turned up in the river much later
The earliest commemorated Great War death on a Lamp I have found is that of John Forster. He died on 14th September 1914 and is commemorated on the silver Forster Lamp which is the Federal Lamp of Australia.
Perhaps the last commemorated War death before the treaty of Versailles was signed is that of Karl Krall who died 28th February 1919 and is remembered on the Agra (India) Lamp
The Brislington (Bristol) Lamp is dedicated “In memory of Paul Klimas, a German Soldier unknown to us, whose grave we continually tend.”
A Few Lists
The 44 Branch Lamps lit at the 7th Birthday festival On Friday 15th December 1922 at the Guildhall in London, the Lamps of 44 branches were lit for the first time (plus the Prince’s Lamp) along with 18 School Lamps. The Lamps were lit in order of Foundation:
London Mark I
London Mark II
London Mark III
London Mark VII
*Later renamed Deeside & District
** aka Stoke-on-Trent
A plan of the 1922 lamp-lighting
Now we look at some other lists of Lamp dedications. They are not definitive lists of the subject matter explorer, simply examples. Information shown is Name of Lamp, Branch and the Dedication on the Casket.
10 Lamps Dedicated to Officers and Men Awarded the Victoria Cross
The Frank Maxwell Lamp Guildford In memory of Frank Maxwell, V.C., Brig-Gen., 27th Lowland Brigade. Ypres, 21.9.1917
The M.O.’s Lamp Oxford In memory of N. G. Chavasse, V.C., R.A.M.C., and of Aidan Chavasse.
Four Brothers Lamp York In memory of Four Brothers : Lt.-Col. W. H. Anderson, V.C., 12th H.L.I., Maricourt, March, 1918 ; Capt. C. H. Anderson, 1st H.L.I., Missing, December, 1914 ; 2nd Lt. A. R. Anderson, 1st H.OL.I., Vieille Chapelle, October 1915 ; Capt. E. K. Anderson, R.F.C., Winchester, 1918.
The Good Hope Lamp Capetown Central In memory of T. O. L. Wilkinson, V.C., Loyal North Lancs. 5.7.1916 : and of Eric Hitchcock, 3rd South African Infantry. 11.6.1918.
The Rupert Lamp Port Talbot In memory of Rupert Hallowes, V.C., M.C., 2nd Lt., Middlesex Regt. Ypres, 1.10.1915
The Carter Lamp Truro In memory of Herbert Augustine Carter, V.C., Major, 101st Grenadiers, Indian Army. Mivele Mdogo. B.E.A. 13.1.1916
The Parsons Lamp Basingstoke In memory of Hardy Falconer Parsons, V.C., 2nd Lt., 14th Battn. Gloucester Regt., aged 20. The Knoll, Villers-Faucon, 22.8.1917; and of Ewart Moulton Parsons, Lt., R.A.F., aged 19. Eastbourne, 17.6.1918
The Congreve Lamp Malta In memory of General Sir Walter Congreve, V.C., and of his son, Brevet Major William Congreve, V.C.
The Ranken Lamp Irvine In memory of Harry Sherwood Ranken, V.C., Capt., R.A.M.C. attd. 1st K.R.R.C. Died of wounds, the Battle of Aisne, 25.9.1914, aged 31 years.
The Sydney Woodroffe Lamp Marlborough In memory of Sydney Woodroffe, 2nd Lieut., V.C., 8th Rifle Brigade. Hooge, 30.7.1915.
10 Lamps Dedicated to officers awarded a Distinguished Service Order
The Parker Lamp Perth, Western Australia In memory of Frank Parker, D.S.O., Major, 8th Field Artillery. Egypt, 27.3.1915.
The Tebbut Whitehead Lamp Port Elizabeth, South Africa In memory of Tebbut Whitehead, Lt.-Col., D.S.O., M.C., O.C. Prince Alfred’s Guard, and late of 13th Royal Fusiliers. Died at Port Elizabeth, 6.1.1926
The Douglas Hall Lamp Boldre In memory of Major-Gen. Douglas Keith Elphinstone Hall, C.M.G., D.S.O. 29.9.1929
The Dunster Force Lamp Spen Valley In memory of Bernard John Haslam, Major (acting Lt.-Col.), D.S.O., R.E. Baku. 26.8.1918
The Reginald Henry Napier Settle Lamp Bath In proud and loving memory of Reginald Henry Napier Settle, D.S.O., M.C., Major (tempy. Lt.-Col.) 19th Royal Hussars, attached M.G.C. Killed in action in the Great War.
The King Lamp Auckland, New Zealand In memory of George Augustus King, Lt.-Col., D.S.O. with Bar, Croix de Guerre, 1st Canterbury Regiment and N.Z. Staff Corps. Passchendaele. 12.10.1917
The Lukin Lamp East London, Cape of Good Hope In memory of Major-General Sir Henry Timson Lukin, K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., South Africa, 1926
The Knox Lamp Nuneaton In memory of James Meldrum Knox, D.S.O., Bt. Lt.-Col. Royal Warwickshire Regt. Asiago Plateau, 23.9.1918; and of Andrew Ronald Knox, 2nd Lt., Royal Engineers. Albert, 12.3.1915.
The Gus King Lamp Mount Eden-Auckland, New Zealand In memory of Lt.-Col. George Augustus King, D.S.O. with Bar, Croix de Guerre, 1st Canterbury Regiment and N.Z. Staff Corps. Passchendaele, 12.10.1917.
The Bertie Blair Lamp Whitehaven In memory of R.C.R. Blair, Captain, D.S.O., 5th Battn. Border Regiment. France, 21.7.1916. “He died as he had lived – a gallant English gentleman in the midst of men who loved him.”
10 Lamps Dedicated to Officers & Men who fell on the first day of the Somme
The Neville Woodard And Richard Leonard Hoare Lamp Sheffield In memory of Neville Woodard, grandson of the founder of the Woodard Schools. Died 3.7.1905; Also of Richard Leonard Hoare, Capt., 12th London Regt. (“The Rangers”) Gommecourt 1.7.1916
The Jack And Geoffrey Lamp Derby Central In memory of J. B. Hoyle, Lt., 7th Batt., South Lancs., Ovillers-la-Boisselle. 1.7.1916, and of G. M. Hoyle, Lt., 2nd Batt., Sherwood Foresters, Hooge, 9.8.1915.
The Three Brothers’ Lamp Belfast Central In memory of Ernest Hewitt, Lt., 4th Batt. K.O.R.I.R., 15.6.1915, Holt Hewitt, Lt., and William Hewitt, Inniskillem Fusiliers, 1.7.1916.
The Bickersteth Lamp Cudham In memory of Stanley Morris Bickersteth, Lt., 15th Batt. West Yorks. (Prince of Wales’ Own). Serre. 1.7.1916
The Loughburian Lamp Loughborough To the glory of God and in loving memory of Arthur Donald Chapman, 2nd Lt., 1/5th North Staffordshire Regt., Somme, 1.7.1916, and of all his fellow Loughburians who fell, 1914-1918.
The Willie Frost Lamp Doncaster In memory of Willie Frost, Sergt., Yorks and Lancs Regt. Somme. 1.7.1916.
The Nephews Lamp Keston In memory of John Sydney Allen Stoneham, Sergt., 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles, killed at Festubert, 2.6.16 ; of Philip Allen Stoneham, L/Cpl., Lord Strathcona’s Horse, missing after the First Balle of Ypres, 24.5.1915 ; of Greville Cope Stoneham, 2nd Lt., 1st Royal Berks Regt., killed on the Somme, 10.11.1916 ; of Allen Barclay, B.Sc., 2nd LT., Royal Engineers, killed at Givenchy, 24.4.1915 ; of Kenneth Barclay, Pte., London Scottish, killed at Zillebeke, 12.11.1914 ; and of Eric Henry Lloyd Clark, 2nd Lt., R.F.A., killed on the Somme, 1.7.1916.
The Paul Pollock Lamp Duncairn, Belfast In memory of Paul Gilchrist Pollock, 14th Battn. Royal Irish Rifles (Y.C.V.s). Somme, 1.7.1916
The Lionel David Lamp Codsall In memory of Lionel Adolf David David, 2nd Lt., 7th Yorks. Regt. Fricourt, 1.7.1916
The Ludlow Lamp Solihull In proud and loving memory of Stratford Walter Ludlow, Capt., 8th Battn. Royal Warwichshire Regt. Beaumont Hamel Serre. 1.7.1916. “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
10 Officers and Men who fell at Hooge with Lamps Dedicated to them
(To the best of my knowledge Gilbert Talbot has two lamps dedicated to him and W.T.M. Bolitho also has two. My first thought regarding Bolitho was that Exeter had their Lamp withdrawn and reissued to Penzance. This does not appear to be the case as Exeter remained a Branch whilst Penzance became one. Therefore I must conclude that Bolitho had two lamps dedicated to him – one by his father and one by his mother. I wonder if there is a further story to read between the lines!)
The James Clark Lamp Edinburgh In memory of James Clark, Lt.-Col., C.B., commanding 9th Battn., Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Hooge, 10.5.1915
The Bolitho Lamp Exeter In memory of W. T. M. Bolitho, Lt., 19th Royal Hussars. Chateau Hooge. 24.5.1915.
The Penzance Lamp Penzance In memory of W. T. M. Bolitho, Lt., 19th Royal Hussars. Chateau Hooge, 24.5.1915; and of the Elder Brethren of Penzance
The Frederick Usherwood Lamp Bishop Auckland In memory of Frederick William Usherwood, Sergt., 3rd Dragoon Guards, who fell in action on the night of May 31-June 1, 1915, at Hooge, Belgium.
The Gilbert Talbot Lamp * In memory of Gilbert Talbot, Lieut., Rifle Brigade. Hooge, 30.7.1915.
*This lamp was first issued to Franham in 1922 but withdrawn. In 1925 it was reissued to Keiskama Hoek in Cape Province and then Relit when they merged with King William’s Town in 1936.
Gilbert’s Lamp Norwich In memory of my friend, Gilbert Talbot (Hooge, 30.7.1915), from whom Toc H derives its name. G.R.R.C.
The Keith Rae Lamp Blackburn In memory of Keith Rae, Lt., Rifle Brigade. Hooge. 30.7.1915
The Sydney Woodroffe Lamp Marlborough In memory of Sydney Woodroffe, 2nd Lieut., V.C., 8th Rifle Brigade. Hooge, 30.7.1915.
The Jack And Geoffrey Lamp Derby Central In memory of J. B. Hoyle, Lt., 7th Batt., South Lancs., Ovillers-la-Boisselle. 1.7.1916, and of G. M. Hoyle, Lt., 2nd Batt., Sherwood Foresters, Hooge, 9.8.1915.
The Willoughby Lamp Malton In memory of Digby Willoughby, Comdr., HMS Indefatigable. Jutland, 31.5.1916; and of Godfrey Willoughby, Capt., The Rifle Brigade. Hooge, 9.8.1915.
The Jeffries Lamp Market Harborough
In memory of Harold John Fotheringham Jeffries, Major, 5th Battn. Leicestershire Regt. Hooge Salient, 26.9.1915.
Let me end with whast is perhaps my favourite dedication on any lamp. It was on the casket of the Greenford, Middlesex Lamp, endowed in November 1938 and first Lit that December at the Royal Albert Hall:
To peace among men. Say not the Elder Brethren of Greenford and of the world died in vain.
Herewith is the link to a PDF report from the database. Clicking on this link will open the file in a new window (tab). Please be aware that this is still a very early version of the database and there is much more data to be recorded and many errors to be unravelled. What you see is what you get!