Working With Offenders

The following two accounts were given at different times by two volunteers who both worked for Toc H in Norfolk (and elsewhere). The other common ground is that when they came to Toc H they were both serving time in HMP Lancaster. In those days, some prisoners were sometimes allowed to join Toc H projects as part of their rehabilitation and process of assimilation back into society. We were given the permission of both volunteers to use these stories. This is certainly the first time that John’s tale has been published and I don’t believe that Ian’s was ever made public either, though I am willing to be corrected if anyone knows different. I also no longer know Ian’s whereabouts but John, sadly, died in 2014. He was a good friend and a valuable volunteer.

I have applied a light-touch on the editing so these accounts are pretty much exactly as they were written.

John McGrath

My introduction to Toc H

In the summer of 1993 I received a three and a half year prison sentence for fraud. I was eventually sent to a prison with the unlikely name of Lancaster Castle which was in Cumbria. As fate would have it I was allocated to a cell with a guy who was doing projects for Toc H. Lancaster was one of two prisons in England that were unique in that if you were a certain type of prisoner (i.e. model inmate) you could apply to do this voluntary for Toc H. The other one being a young offenders institute called Deerbolt which was situated somewhere in North Yorkshire.

I must be honest and admit that I had ulterior motives. I mean being paroled for a week, sometimes two weeks to go and do a project for some charity, how hard could that be? I could get to go and have a drink and any other fringe benefits that were on offer. My work, attitude and behaviour were what you would call exemplary and I was selected to be given the opportunity to go and do a project for Toc H.

I was soon away on my first project which was taking a group of disadvantaged teenagers down to Lindridge House for a week’s holiday. The group were from the Cardiff area in South Wales so the eve before myself and a band of other volunteers stayed at a Toe H house in the centre of Cardiff, just by the railway station. I will always remember that night because it was so cold and the house had no heating or beds.

Our guests who we were looking after for the week were a mixed group. Downs Syndrome, autistic and able-bodied children.


John McGrath (right) with a guest on a Toc H holiday

The holiday was a great success and a great experience for the volunteers. I found that I had really enjoyed the whole project and when I was on my way back to prison I had this nice feeling inside me , a feeling that I had made a difference co these children’s lives even if it was only for a week.

I was impatient for the next project just so I could get that feeling back again. It was a bit of a downer having to go back to prison after each project but on the whole I felt lucky to be able to go and do these projects. The ulterior motives that I first had had now disappeared giving way to the immense fun and pleasure of actually helping fellow human beings who were less fortunate than myself.

Over the years I have done so many projects and I never get tired of it. After one project finishes my thoughts are on the next one and that’s the way it has gone. Of course I am no longer in prison anymore but I am still doing whatever projects I can. I once read somewhere that it is through change that we find purpose and I wholeheartedly agree with those sentiments. It is through my voluntary work that I have changed as a person and I have a sense of purpose. I have turned my life around and have never been back to prison since my release way back in the early nineties. As well as doing projects for Toc H I also do voluntary work for a charity here in my home town in Liverpool (Team Oasis). So instead of anyone thanking me, I thank all the lovely people I have met through doing voluntary work. That is both fellow volunteers and all the guests I have had contact with and so enjoyed being with. Now I hope to continue and embrace lots more projects. I attended the Year Of the Volunteer Awards at the Theatre Royal in the west end of London recently and what stuck in my mind was that volunteering must come from the heart and you must have a passion for it, and that’s the way I like it. Here is to many more years of volunteering.

CSV Awards

Me and John just before attending the Year of the Volunteer Awards in London


Ian Scott

How did I learn about Toc H and what effect did it have on my life?

It was on the landing of Lancaster H.M. Prison where over the weeks I gradually gained more information. Little did I know what a week with Toc H was going to mean to me.

Well, Toc H meant a week or weekend out of prison on a project either helping disabled or land reclamation.

I was on a six year prison sentence, having served six months of that time I was still learning the rules of the system. I asked some questions, but felt quite down when I learned that I had to be at my parole date to be eligible. That was one third of my sentence! One has to learn patience in prison.

When out in the yard one day, I saw someone going out the gate who I knew was on a Toc H project. My first thoughts of Toc H was solely to get out of prison. I had no inkling of the impact it was going to have on me. Twelve months after that I was on a Toc H project.

The person mentioned above blew it. He also lost his parole.

A prisoner needs to be very closely vetted. The governor requires a lot of accurate information in order to make the correct decision. He is taking a chance. Some see it as an opportunity to do a runner.

I got an appeal date on 2nd March 1993, where I had my sentence reduced to 4 years. In my fourteen months in prison this was my best day. This meant my parole date was only two months away. I was buzzing.

After serving sixteen months a prison officer asked me if I would like to go out on a Toc H project, and I said ‘yes’.

As that time I was leaving the prison daily to work in the local hospital maintaining the hospital trolleys. I felt this was proving I was a suitable candidate for a Toc H project and parole. At that time I was waiting for a parole answer.

Then Linda Jones a prison officer concerned with the employment of prisoners, asked me if I would like to go on a Toc H project to a place called Hengrave Hall on Friday 2nd July. I said ‘yes’.

Olive and Alan

Olive Tennant and Alan Brooke

A week before going to Hengrave, Friday 25th June I was given a parole date of 14th July. I was buzzing out of my head. Suddenly it was all happening. I now had four days home leave because of my parole date, on top of my week at Hengrave Hall with Toc H.

The news of the parole was given to me on the 25th June while working at the hospital. Barbara Tolan a prison officer from Lancaster told me she had good and bad news. Good being my parole date with four days home leave. Bad being that I wouldn’t have time to fit in both home leave and Hengrave. There was only 19 days left.

I told Barbara to speak to the governor and ask if I could go on my home leave on Monday 28th June, back Thursday 1st July. Then I would still be able to go to Hengrave on Friday 2nd July. The Governor agreed and that is what happened.

Therefore on Friday 2nd July I set sail by train to Berry St Edmunds where I was to be met by Olive Tennant and an Alan Brooke who organise the Toc H project at Hengrave. I did not realise this was going to have an ongoing effect and change my life.

After travelling for seven hours I arrived at Berry St Edmunds station where I telephoned for Olive and Alan to come and collect me. Hengrave was a large Stately home run as a retreat and conference centre by the Catholic Church. I was made very welcome by everyone.

I was to look after a man who had multiple sclerosis. He could manage most things for himself with some assistance. I was very nervous. Everyone was great, gave lots of encouragement, and this in turn helped give me confidence.


A Toc H project at Hengrave Hall

I was doing alright. Olive showed me love and affection that I had not experienced since I went to prison. It was a brilliant week. The best week I have ever had in my life and I had only £30 in my pocket.

The project gave me great confidence to get on with my life when I was released on parole on 14th July. The people I met through Toc H at Hengrave will never leave my heart.

Our daily routine began early in order to wash, shave and dress ready for breakfast at 8.30am. Meanwhile Olive would be out in the grounds hiding wooden blocks with a letter of the alphabet on each. After breakfast we all went block hunting, the only rule being, you had to have someone in a wheelchair with you. All blocks found were given to Olive. On the Thursday night before we left there was a prize for the pair who collected the most blocks and a prize for who guessed the correct rhyme about Hengrave from the letter son the blocks.

After lunch there was an outing in the bus to some local area of interest. The evening meal was at 6.30pm after which there was some kind of entertainment.

Leaving Hengrave on Friday lunch time for Lancaster H.M. Prison proved to be a very emotional experience. The week had been good for me. I told Olive and Alan that I would be back and they smiled in agreement. I think they had heard it all before but they invited me to the reunion in March ’94 of the following year.

I think at the latter stages of your sentence, before your release a project like this is a valuable experience of being amongst people again.

I attended the reunion in March and was invited to join them again at Hengrave in August ’94.

This time I looked after a lovely man who was paralysed from the neck down. Although hard work, another wonderful week which left me very happy, content and humble at how graciously this man accepted his disability. I have since visited him in hospital but distance is the problem. I live in Paisley and he is in hospital in Great Yarmouth.

1995 again saw me at Hengrave Hall and it will always have a special place in my heart as will all the reunions I have attended but it is now time for me to move on.

In October of ’95 I attended the Scottish Conference at Dunblane of Toc H and in the future I plan to become involved nearer home in Scotland. Working with disabled people changes your outlook on life. It puts everything into perspective and makes one appreciate the simple things that one takes for granted.

As I have said I think Toc H was a valuable experience at the end of my sentence. New faces, new outlook, new ideas helps build your self esteem. It is up to each individual, but for my part Toc H was there to help me at a very crucial stage in my life.

Two and a half years on I have built up my life again. I have bought my own flat (mortgaged), own my own car and have found consistent employment since my release.




The Women Who Knew Talbot House

Steve Smith January 2020

You may know that Tubby tried to record the names of all those who passed through the door of Talbot House whilst it was open. The most successful attempt at achieving this was by persuading those who took communion there to sign a communicants’ slip. These slips were preserved, carefully stuffed into a couple of empty sandbags, and all was well until German shells started falling a little close to Talbot House and someone decided to shore up the defences with a sandbag…stuffed with communicants’ slips. It was never seen again, or so the story goes.

So only half of the names survived and amongst those many names were those of just eight women. Most sources agree that these eight were the only women to visit the Old House during the war and thus, the only women entitled to call themselves Foundation Members of Toc H. Having said that, in 1930 Tubby said there were six and a few months late a book on Talbot House said less than a dozen. Alison Macfie produced the eight names in her The Curious History of Toc H Women’s Association in 1956 but perhaps there were others? Nonetheless, it is Macfie’s list that forms the basis of this blog.

It takes a glimpse at the lives of those eight women but for some context, let us first understand the circumstances that allowed women to be so close to the front.


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Prior to World War I, the main military nursing organisation was the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service (QAIMNS) formed in 1902 out of the Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service. The British Red Cross Society and the Order of St Johns also enrolled nurses for the civilian Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD). When the war began both these organisations saw a massive increase in membership although most of those joining the QAIMNS went into the Reserve as the army didn’t want to get left with a surfeit of regular nurses after the war. As a broad rule of thumb, qualified nurses joined the QAIMNSR whilst the VAD was a mix of civilians carrying out a multitude of tasks. Indeed, in the early days, the British Army wanted little to do with VADs and they either drove ambulances or worked in hospitals and casualty clearing stations (CCS) for the French and Belgian armies. As the war progressed, the VADs became more experienced and their contributions were much more appreciated by the military.

Additionally, the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry were a charity formed in 1907. Generally favoured by a less gentile and more forthright woman, the FANYs sought to serve on the front-lines and rarely took no for an answer. Initially helping in hospitals they eventually found their niche as drivers near the front line ferrying wounded back to CCSs and hospitals. A fitting role for what had started as a cavalry unit! And for the even more spirited suffragettes, there were units such as Mabel St Clair Stobart’s Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy, and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals movement.

It was amongst these organisations that our women found their place in history.

By far the best known in Toc H circles is Alison Bland Scott Macfie, henceforth known as ABS, because it was she who established and for so long, led, the League of Women Helpers, the female counterparts of the original Toc H organisation.

Alison Macfie

Alison Macfie whilst at La Panne

ABS was born on Christmas Day of 1886 in New Ferry on the Wirral side of the Mersey. Her father, John William Scott Macfie, was a wealthy Liverpool based sugar refiner. The Macfie sugar dynasty began in Greenock but a branch opened in Liverpool in 1838 and was managed by John. The branch ended up on Temple Street, not 200 yards from where the famous Cavern Club would later open on Mathew Street. The Macfie’s sold out to Tate and Lyle in the 1920s, considerably increasing their fortune.

ABS’ mother, Helen Wahan was born in India to an army Major General and with her husband had nine children including ABS. The others included Marion, a well-known dog breeder and founder of the Norfolk Terrier Club; Robert, a renowned expert on Gypsy Lore; and John, a respected entomologist. By the time of the 1891 census the family were living in Rowton Hall, Rowton, Cheshire (Now a hotel).

Perhaps inspired by a Red Cross Society parade through Chester in September 1914, that November ABS joined the Society and began nursing at St John’s VAD hospital in Chester. This was otherwise known as the King’s Buildings hospital.


ABS’ VAD card

However by 1916, ABS and her ‘cousin’ Annie Dorothea Macfie (See below) were nursing with the French Red Cross at a Belgian Red Cross Hospital at La Panne on the Belgian coast near the border with France. The Ocean Ambulance – its central building was the Hotel de l’Ocean – was established by Dr Antoine Depage, commander of the Belgian Red Cross, with the support of the Belgian royals. Depage had previously appointed Edith Cavell as head of his nurses’ training school, the Berkendael Medical Institute in Ixelles. Under his direction, the hospital was staffed by a mixture of British and Belgian nurses and Queen Elisabeth attended daily to help change dressings.

Hotel de l'Ocean Private collection of Mr. Philippe Dequinze, Sambrevill

Hotel de l’Ocean from the private collection of Mr. Philippe Dequinze, Sambrevill

In the spring of 1917, relief nurses were needed in Poperinghe – a Belgian town 10 km from the front line under allied control and used for billeting troops – and the cousins travelled to the annex of the Hospital Elizabeth that was built in the grounds of Chateau Couthove at Proven just outside the town. Whilst there ABS recounts that on the 8th April 1917 “we were taken by ambulance into Poperinghe on Easter morning and there deposited outside the big iron doors of Talbot House……” She doesn’t expand on who “we” were although one assumes it was her cousin given that both signed Communicants’ Slips at Easter 1917.

ABS mentions at least one further service at Talbot House albeit in the ‘barn’ which was in the property next door but it is possible she attended Talbot House quite regularly whilst stationed near Poperinge. She certainly became very close to Tubby Clayton, the padre who ran Talbot House.

We know from Tubby’s own words in a letter to his mother written on May Day 1917 that ABS and her cousin were asked to attend a garden party that day to give men from each unit in the neighbourhood the opportunity to meet them. It was still a rare sight for the men to see English ladies at the time. ABS later returned to La Panne and then London where she sent packages of books, cigarettes and knitted garments out to the house.

After the war ABS was working at the West End Hospital for Nervous Diseases in Welbeck Street. She maintained contact with Tubby and on one occasion saved her hospital ration of sugar and took it to the team based at Red Lion Square with a view to reestablishing Talbot House in London. She was promptly nabbed by the Gen (Tubby’s batman, Arthur Pettifer) to put up a new lampshade and thus the work of the League of Women Helpers (LWH) probably began at that very moment.

ABS was, somewhat against her will, recruited to the first Executive of Toc H, which met on 15th November 1919, and thereafter found her life divided between her hospital duties and Toc H. The eight Foundation Women were to be the only ladies allowed to join Toc H until the men and women’s movements merged officially in 1971.

Soon afterwards Tubby acquired a job lot of ‘green curtains, army huts for the use of’ and they were delivered to ABS at the hospital where friends volunteered to cut and sew the curtains to size for Mark II, a hostel established in St George’s Square, Pimlico. Already Toc H was identifying a need for a band of volunteers to assist the men with a feminine touch. Yes, it all sounds rather sexist and a reinforcement of gender stereotypes now, but this was the early part of the 20th century and how things were despite the Suffrage Movement and the liberating aspects of the war. However, it would not be until 1922 that the women’s movement became formalised.

At a meeting on 4th July 1922 in Mrs Edward Horne’s drawing room, Tubby expounded the virtues of Women’s Auxiliary of the Church of Canada that he had encountered on his recent trip there. The formation of a new association was agreed and, though she sank herself deep into the sofa, ABS found herself on the committee once again. Of the other Foundation Women only Kate Luard joined ABS on the committee, the other members being largely wealthy and well-to-do women of Tubby’s acquaint, or wives of some of the senior men in Toc H.

ABS found the social work side of her new ‘hobby’ quite different to her nursing experience – so much so that she stop working in the hospital and went to work in a South London Settlement. Increasingly though she took a greater unpaid role in the work of the LWH in particular and Toc H in general. She lived in various properties on Tower Hill close to where Tubby had his ministry at All Hallows.

Maacfie at Tubby 60th Birthday 1945

Macfie at Tubby’s 60th birthday party

She travelled too and went on several tours of the dominions on behalf of the organisation starting in 1929. She was officially Founder Pilot of the LWH and used her skills and charm to entice new branches to spring up and new members to join. She was also a deeply religious woman and this was evident in her talks and passion for her work.

After Talbot House was reacquired for the Movement by Lord Wakefield in 1930, ABS was one of three Women Foundation members who travelled by car with Tubby to the House to begin the World Chain of Light in December 1930. The other two were probably her cousin Dorothea and Kate Luard.

On the 1939 register compiled at the beginning of the Second World War, ABS was shown at Crutched Friars doing Voluntary Social Work. She was also part of the Air Raid Precaution Casualty Services Unit. Then Tubby sent her to the Orkneys to become the Warden at The Pilgrim House aka Woodwick House, Evie where Toc H had established a rest home for sailors (and later other services too)

In the 1944 New Year’s Honours she became an Associate of the Royal Red Cross (ARRC), an honour awarded to a fully trained nurse of an officially recognised nursing service who has shown exceptional devotion and competence in the performance of nursing duties, over a continuous and long period.

From 1946 until shortly before her death she was back working and living at Crutched Friars House which was the HQ of the Toc H (Women’s Section) (as the LWH had become in 1943). She remained close to Tubby physically and emotionally appearing as a guest on his This Is Your Life appearance in 1958.

ABS with Tubby and Eamon on TIYL

Macfie appearing on Tubby’s This Is Your Life

Macfie wrote two books about the history of the LWH (Details at end of article)

In December 1962 ABS made what would be her last trip to Australia as she died on the 12th September 1963 at the Cottage Hospital in Swaffham, Norfolk. Her ashes are in an urn in the columbarium in the Crypt of All Hallows alongside Tubby and several other notable Toc H folk.

Alison House in Cromford, Derbyshire is named for her. It was a Toc H conference centre for many years but is now a private hotel


Now we look to her cousin Annie Dorothea Macfie – generally known as Dorotheawho was born to William Macfie and Mary Colvin on the 18th June 1884 in Clermiston, Edinburgh. In fact, despite their similar ages they were actually cousins once-removed;  Dorothea’s father was a brother of Alison’s grandfather Robert Andrew Macfie. William was also a sugar refiner and a fan of Sir Walter Scott erecting the well-known Clermiston Tower, in the Edinburgh suburb, in his honour.

Annie Dorothea Macfie

Annie Dorothea Macfie at La Panne

Despite belonging to a wealthy family, her childhood was marred by tragedies. When Dorothea was just nine her older brother Walter Scott Macfie was lost at sea, and two years later her mother died.

She was presumably quite close to her cousin because at the 1901 census we find sixteen year old Dorothea visiting ABS and her family at their home in Rowton, Cheshire.

Dorothea clearly liked to travel as on Valentine’s Day 1912 she was issued a passport to Rome, so it is little surprise that during the war she was prepared to go back to the continent. She volunteered through the British Committee of the French Red Cross who organised women to go to the French (and free Belgian) hospitals. Sadly their records do not survive though her medal card suggests she joined in February 1915. Presumably she did this alongside her cousin as they both ended up at La Panne and then in Poperinghe.

Communicant Slips

Communicants Roll slips for the Macfie cousins

After the war her love of travel continued with trips including India (1921), South Africa (1923), Canada (1925), Argentina (1927), Australia (1933), Karachi (Also 1933) and Tangiers (1936). These were mostly not only parts of the Dominion but also places where Toc H was being established though she never mentions Toc H on the manifests. Sometimes she is listed as a Domestic though!

On her return from India in 1921 her home address was given as Lexham Court Hotel in Kensington but by 1923 she appeared to be staying at her brother’s house Colonsay in Kingswear, Dartmouth. Lieutenant Colonel William Colvin Macfie lived in a stunning colonial villa overlooking the Dart. By the 1930s she was based at 7 Cromwell Road, Kensington where she remained for some years. William died in 1934 and she received £10,000 in his will, a considerable sum in those days. She got another £7,000 two years later when his wife Ethel died.

At the 1939 register she was still living at 7 Cromwell Road. Since there were many others listed with her of both sexes so it seems likely it was a hotel. Dorothea was listed as a VAD Quartermaster for the Chelsea Division so was doing her bit again.

Soon after the war she had moved into her own place at Thames Eyot, a beautiful complex of Art Deco apartments on the river at Twickenham. There was further travel to Canada (1951), South Africa (1952), the USA (1953) but after that she seemed to have to give up her adventures.

Dorothea died on the 28th November 1967 and is buried with her family Cramond Kirk Church burial ground in Lothian.


Our next Foundation Woman, Katherine Evelyn Luard, known always as Kate, was born to Bixby and Clara Bramston on the 29th June 1872. Bixby was vicar of Aveley in Essex and Kate’s early childhood was spent growing up in the vicarage. The tenth of thirteen children, she wouldn’t have been short of company. In 1895 the family moved up the county to the beautiful village of Birch near Colchester where Bixby was appointed Rector.

Kate trained as a nurse firstly at the East London Hospital for Children and Women then at King’s College Hospital, London working as a teacher and governess to find the fees. On the 31st March 1900 she signed up to the Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service and spent her next two years in South Africa treating casualties of the Second Boer War. This must have been an incredibly eye-opening experience for a clergyman’s daughter from Essex! She resigned on the 19th August 1902

Once back in the UK we know she spent some time as a Night Superintendent at Charing Cross Hospital but by 1911 she had the more prestigious appointment of Matron at what was then the Maitland Sanatorium at Rotherfield Peppard west of Henley on Thames. The sanatorium was founded by Dr Esther Colebrook, a pioneer of tuberculosis treatment, in 1898. In 1914 Colebrook sold it to Berkshire and Buckinghamshire Councils and it became the Berks and Bucks County Sanatorium until absorbed by the NHS in 1948 and renamed the Peppard Sanatorium. Kate remained as Matron after the first takeover, at least until war came.


Kate Evelyn Luard

Two days after England declared war on Germany on the 4th August 1914, Kate signed up to the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve and less than a week later she was on her way to France. In August 1914 there were just 516 nurses with the BEF in France (Compared to over 6000 come Armistice).

Kate was officially posted to No. 1 General Hospital at La Havre on the 9th September but actually spent the day in a hotel at La Baulle. According to her diary she received her orders on the 13th September and a few days later got a train to Le Mans. In October Kate was posted to an ambulance train ferrying wounded soldiers between the front and the ports for treatment and evacuation and since this put her under fire she was entitled to the 1914 Star.

After a spell with a Field Ambulance from Easter 1915, at the very end of May she received new orders and was to be moved to a base hospital. It turned out to be No.16 General Hospital at Treport where she met for the first time “the little portentous padre” (As described by Dorothea Crewdson in her diaries) who had arrived in the early summer fresh from his curacy in Portsea to become a military padre. This was, of course, Phillip ‘Tubby’ Clayton who had “been splendid in getting the church started and people to come to his services”. Tubby claimed she was his first Communicant in France though we must always bear in mind that Tubby never liked the facts to get in the way of a good story. However Kate may well have been glad of his solace in July because on the 13th, her brother Colonel Frank William Luard was killed at Gallipoli.

On the 17th October Kate was transferred to CCS No. 6 at Lillers in France where she remained for just over a year, relocating with the unit to Bruay in May 1916. Whilst at Lillers she was awarded the Royal Red Cross. Also during this period, in time for Christmas 1915, her diaries were published anonymously by Blackwood.

Kate was transferred to CCS No.32 on the 11th November 1916 whilst it was at St Venant and after a short spell in stationary hospitals in the early summer of 1917, Kate was relocated on the 25th July with CCS No.32 to Brandhoeke, an extremely perilous location between the garrison town at Poperinghe and the frontline at Ypres. Kate was Sister in Charge of the most important Advanced Abdominal centre on the Western Front and had 40 nurses and about 100 orderlies working under her. In her letters home, Kate described the centre herself:

This venture so close to the Line is of nature an experiment in life-saving, to reduce the mortality rate from abdominal and chest wounds. Hence this Advanced Abdominal Centre, to which all abdominal and chest wounds are taken from a large attacking area, instead of going on with the rest to the C.C.S.’s six miles back”

It was during her time at Brandhoeke that Kate acquainted herself with Talbot House and met up again with Tubby. She was only at CCS No. 32 for a few weeks before moving to CCS No. 37 but what an intense few weeks they were for her. CCS No. 37 was at Godewaersvelde (Or God Wears Velvet to the English troops). Kate spent Christmas 1917 at CCS No. 54 in Merville before re-joining No. 32 at Marchelepot in February 1918 for a short spell. Her last turn at a CCS was as Sister in Charge at No. 41 (Pernois) during which time she had a Bar added to her Royal Red Cross. At the end of the summer she was at No.47 General Hospital and by autumn at No. 10 General Hospital in Rouen which is where she was serving at Armistice.

After the German surrender, Kate clearly felt her duty was done and she resigned just over a fortnight later citing the need to care for her very poorly father. Her resignation was accepted and she was allowed to leave France immediately on compassionate grounds. Given that she had now served in two wars on different continents, received a prestigious medal and bar and was twice mentioned in dispatches, I think she had every right to feel she had done her bit.

Kate Luard Resignation Letter

Kate’s resignation letter

Kate nursed her father for a few short weeks until his death in January 1919 after which she returned to her role as Matron and the Berks and Bucks County Sanatorium but before long was given an appointment as Matron at the South London Hospital for Women. The announcement for this appointment also said that Kate had been Out-Patient Sister at the Evelina Hospital in Southwark and Registrar of the National Union of Trained Nurses!

Around 1925 Kate obtained a position as Matron at Bradfield College, a private boys’ school in Berkshire. It was whilst she was working here in 1930 that her book Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918 was first published.

In 1930 Tubby offered her some sort of position with Toc H but she refused saying she was too old, not religious enough, and with splendid candour – that she daren’t relinquish the salary she had at Bradfield.

Soon though, her health would get the better of her and she retired in December 1932 due to a bad back and went to live with two of her sisters in a house in Wickham Bishops in her native Essex.

Despite her health she still enjoyed travelling including a battlefield Pilgrimage with her brother (Edwin) Percy who assumed the living of Birch when his father died. Like Tubby, Edwin was formerly a Curate at Portsea though several years before Tubby.

In her retirement Kate gave talks on subjects as diverse as ‘midwifery’ and ‘gas’ to groups such as the Women’s Institute. One of her talks was entitled “From Mrs Gamp to hospitals of today” about the London Hospital. She was also on the Council of the Essex County Nurses Association.

However, it was as Commandant of the Essex 24 Women’s Detachment of the British Red Cross Society that she donated much of her time in the thirties. She retired from this role in 1939 but was made a Life President.

She died on the 16th Aug 1962 aged 90 and is buried in Wickham Bishop.


Now we look to Ethel Webb-Johnson who was born in the Potteries to the man who was the Medical Officer for Health for Stoke on Trent, Samuel Johnson, and his wife Julia Ann Webb. Ethel was born on the 8th September 1881 and baptised at St. Peter Ad Vincula a month later. By 1891 her father was in general practice and the family were living in Hill Street, Stoke.

In January 1897 Ethel started at Orme’s Girl’s School in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire matriculating to Newham College at the University of Cambridge in 1901. She graduated in 1904 with a BA in Mathematics. Her father died in 1899 and although the family would stay in Stoke at first, they would soon migrate in different directions. For Ethel, this would be the West Country as from 1904 she was Mathematical Mistress at Exeter Modern School.

However, an academic career was presumably not what Ethel was looking for as between 1907 and 1909 she was at the London Hospital qualifying as a nurse. By the time of the 1911 census, she was listed as a sick nurse at the hospital though she was with her mother at home in Wales on the night of the census. Ethel was mostly known as Webb-Johnson professionally. Her older brother Alfred changed his surname to Webb-Johnson by deed poll in 1915 so perhaps Ethel and her siblings did too.

MDV Allen and EW Johnson

Ethel Webb Johnson (left) with her friend Mary Dorothy Vernon Allen

As with many people, the arrival of war changed things for Ethel. On the 1st November 1914 she joined the Royal Red Cross Society and was posted to France. Since she went early in the war with the BEF she was later awarded the 1914 Star. She worked at the Belgian Red Cross Jeanne D’Arc hospital in Calais. Established by the Belgian doctor, Dr Depage, who also ran the earlier mentioned L’Ocean at La Panne, the typhoid wards were run by Dr Alice Hutchinson. Hutchinson had previously served in the Balkans and had been involved with the Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy. It was one of three hospital units effectively run by the Scottish Women’s Hospitals movement (The others were at Chantilly, and a mobile unit in Serbia) and were mostly run by women. Unbelievably this caused issues in some quarters as many men believed it was a politically motivated gesture by Suffragettes! In fact Hutchinson reduced the death rate by enteric fever well below any other hospital in the area.

In general Red Cross volunteers (VADs) were treated as vastly inferior to military nurses. Since Ethel was trained she clearly felt she had more to offer as on the 28th March 1915 her application to join the QAIMNSR as a Staff Nurse was accepted. She left the Red Cross on the 9th April 1915.

Ethel travelled first to No. 13 General Hospital in Boulogne where she spent a year, renewing her position on the 28th February 1916, and then on the 8th April 1916 she was posted to No.10 CCS then at Remy Siding. Here she would have received many wounded men on the trains from the front-lines. Now incorporated into the huge Lijssenthoek cemetery this was an incredibly busy area. It was whilst at Remy that she visited Talbot House with her friend Dorothy Allen during Easter 1916.

After a brief spell at Abbeville and No. 47 CCS (Beuval) in October 1916 Ethel was back at No.10 but only for a few days before she was forced to take sick leave in England. On her return on the 27th November 1916 she was posted to No. 3 General Hospital at Le Treport where she a large, acute surgical ward.

After renewing again on the 30th Apr 1917, giving her address as “Cricklewood”, East Sheen, London which was the house where Ethel’s widowed mother was living with her son Captain Cecil Johnson.

The autumn of 1917 saw Ethel at No. 4 CCS (Lozinghem) and No. 6 Stationary hospital (Frevent) before she arrived at No. 48 CCS in Ytres on the 6th December 1917 remaining there over the winter.

She spent much of March 1918 on leave in England but on her return at the end of the month was posted to No. 24 General Hospital in Etaples. It was here in June that she contracted the flu and spent a week as a patient in her own hospital. Etaples has since been identified as the centre of the 1918 Spanish Flu endemic so this may well be what Ethel contracted. From the 22nd June 1918 she spent several weeks convalescing the nurses’ rest in La Touquet. On her return to duty she was moved around several CCS and Base Hospitals through the autumn and winter before finally settling for a while on 19th April 1919 at No. 6 Stationary Hospital in Atwerp. It was whilst she was here that, on the 3rd June 1919, Ethel was awarded the Royal Red Cross (2nd Class).

Ethel was demobbed officially from the 18th July but her records indicate she was allowed to leave early on the 11th July 1919. Her dispersal address was given as Ravelrig in Inverness which was the home of Miss Barron, a member of the family that owned and edited the Inverness Courier.

At the end of the month on the 31st July 1919 Ethel had her investiture at Buckingham Palace being given her RRC by the king himself.

Ethel was now giving her address as 14 Raymond Road in Wimbledon an address she would retain until her death despite being abroad much of the time. This address was also used by several of Ethel’s sisters at different times so we might assume it was a family home used as a poste restante by those siblings travelling.

And travel, Ethel did! In 1920 she was a Matron at the British Station Hospital in Bangalore and in 1923 she registered as a nurse in London (The register was only introduced in 1922).

However, in 1925 she returned to teaching and became Vice Principal at the Girls Collegiate School in St Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. In 1927 she was promoted to Principal. During this period, in 1929, she returned to her previous teaching post at Exeter Modern School to give a talk at their annual speech day was presented with flowers and chocolates. She remained at the Girls Collegiate School until 1948.

Afterwards she volunteered at the Royal Hospital and Home for Incurables at Putney and died on the 23rd November 1960 ‘on the way to Putney Hospital’. She is buried in Hartshill Cemetery, Stoke.

We shouldn’t leave Ethel without mentioning the achievements of her siblings. It was an amazing family. The eldest child, Rosa Webb-Johnson was also a Red Cross VAD and ended up as Second in Command of the Worcestershire Detachment of the British Red Cross. She also founded her local Women’s Unionist Association and was President of the Welfare Clinic.

Next sibling along was Samuel Webb-Johnson who was better known as Cecil. A Captain in the RAMC during WWI, after the war he was a doctor in the Indian Medical Service at Dum Dum and later became an expert in diet for good health.

Alfred Edward Webb-Johnson was the most successful of all being admitted as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1906. During the war he was a Colonel in the Army Medical Service and was mentioned in despatches three times. He was awarded a DSO and made a CBE after the war. Alfred later became surgeon to Queen Mary for which he was knighted in 1936, given a baronetcy in 1945 and raised to the peerage in 1948.

Alice Mabel Webb-Johnson became a teacher teaching music

Younger sister Kathleen also a Red Cross VAD and in 1939 Secretary Guild Social Welfare

Norah Millicent Webb-Johnson was yet another VAD

Whilst Stanley avoided medicine he worked in law and was a legal adviser to the Indian government.


Our next nurse, Dorothy France, was born on that rare day of the 29th February, in her case in 1888, in Gateshead to George Thornton France and Harriet Lucy Stogdon, France’s second wife. Mr France managed a chemical works and was also a local magistrate. A large family, they lived next door to the Rectory of St James but George died in 1902 when Dorothy was only 14 and her mother appears to have moved to Norfolk shortly afterwards.

Certainly at the 1911 census the widow Harriet was living at North Hall Farm, Warham in North Norfolk (Although the following year she was shown living at the hall itself with a Mr Groom at the farm). However, at the census Dorothy was no longer living at home and her address was given as the Queen’s Hospital for Children in Glamis Road, Shadwell.

From 1913 to 1916 she was training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital becoming a member of the College of Nurses in August 1916. She was still working at St Bart’s when, on the 17th April 1917, she signed up as a staff nurse for the QAIMNSR. She was posted first to No. 40 Stationary Hospital at Harfleur on the 15th May 1917. In October she transferred to CCS No. 4 at Lozinghem where she remained until January when she returned to England on leave.

On her return to France she appeared to be quite transient spending time at Base hospitals in St Omer, and in Aire before settling for a while at Stationary Hospital No. 32 at Wimereux. Whilst here she was taken ill with a gastric complaint that led to her being granted sick leave until September. Her sick leave address was given as Northgate Hall in Warham, a slight variant but presumably the same place her mother was living.

Communicants Slips France and McAfferty

Dorothy France and Ella Maclaverty’s Communicants’ Roll slips

She returned to Wimereux on the 13th September 1917 and remained there for three months before joining CCS No.44 in Cologne. This was her last post before being demobbed on the 2nd April 1919. Her reports described her as an exceedingly good nurse. Her discharge address was Falcon House in Twyford, Norfolk.

Professionally we lose track of Dorothy for a while but she is still on the nursing register and continues to give a Norfolk address, latterly St Andrew’s Lodge in Hingham. This was also the address given for her mother on probate when she died in 1935 though her death actually occurred at Bears House, Hingham.

The following year Dorothy married – the only one of our eight ladies to do so – wedding Flight Lieutenant Christopher Musgrave at St Andrew’s church in Hingham.

During the war she appeared to relocate to the Metropolitan Convalescence Home Cooten, Bexhill where, since she is still on the Nursing Register, one presumes she was working.

Dorothy later returned to Norfolk and died at The Willows, Hingham on the 13th August 1965.

The first of the Women Foundation Members to leave us was Eva Rose Stapleton who was just 51 when she died in 1931. She had been dogged by poor health which made her achievements all the more remarkable.

Born to William Stapleton and Ann Hayden in Stratton on the outskirts of Bude in the first quarter of 1880, Eva would not be baptised until the 1st May 1887 alongside her brother John, born in 1878. Someone has written the 6th October 1880 alongside the Baptismal date in the register as if it were her date of birth. However this doesn’t tie up with Civil Registration of her birth in the January to March quarter of 1880. This won’t be the last time that the ‘facts’ about Rose’s life don’t quite add up.

She lived alongside the famous Bude canal and only a short distance from her uncle, Henry Stapleton, a shipwright and coxswain of the Bude lifeboat. Her own father was classed as a Mercantile Marine so the sea was clearly in the blood. Sadly Rose was only 15 when her father died in 1895. She attended Truro High School.

At the 1901 census, Rose is at her uncle’s house whilst her widowed mother is a few doors away living on her own. She would die in 1906 at the age of 63.

In 1908 Rose is collecting house to house for Stratton Cottage Hospital and by the 1911 census we start to see where Rose’s life is headed as she is recorded as a nurse at Royal Victoria Hospital in Bournemouth but in September that same year she starts her training at Bristol Infirmary. Rose completed her training in November 1915 and on the fifteenth of that month signed her forms to join the QAIMNSR. Her start date is on the 3rd December and on the 7th she joined her unit as a Staff Nurse. She was appointed to No. 2 General Hospital which was based at Le Havre for the duration of the war. In a piece he wrote when Rose died, Tubby says he met her at No. 16 General Hospital:

“Sister Rose Stapleton had proved my friend from the first days in France. When I reached 16 General Hospital at Le Treport she and Sister Luard were the first two who helped me. “

Tubby must be getting something mixed up here as he was at Le Treport in the summer of 1915 and Kate Luard was indeed there. However, Rose didn’t join the army until December 1915 and was still at Bristol Infirmary when Tubby was at No. 16 General Hospital.

Just to complicate matters, Alison Macfie says

“Rose Stapleton was probably the first nursing sister to enter Talbot House; her first visit being in 1915” and she “was at the Old House at Christmas time in 1915”.

Timewise this is feasible but Rose spent the first two years of her time in France at Le Havre, which is 150 miles from Pops! Unless she travelled there on a special mission, it seems unlikely she would have just gone all that way for a little R&R especially since she would have needed permits to get into Pops.

Regardless of the above, we do know that Rose worked in a surgical ward at No. 16 and that in May 1916 she took charge of an operating theatre, a role that required her to be a good administrator and manager as she would need to direct others in the theatre. Apart from a few short periods of leave in England, Rose seemed to be firmly fixed at Le Treport. She was there in October 1917 when she fractured her clavicle trying to adjust a light in the theatre.

In early 1918 after some leave she was finally relocated via Abbeville and No. 12 Stationary Hospital to No. 29 CCS at Grevillers and after a month to No. 14 General Hospital at Wimereux.

Towards the end of 1917 the army was facing a shortage medical officers and it was decided that some nursing sisters could be trained to provide anaesthetics during operations. Rose was chosen to be one of these trainees and did a course in May 1918 after which she started practicing her new skills at No. 7 Stationary Hospital in Boulogne and at the end of July went to No. 44 CCS in Berques. This is only about 15 miles from Poperinghe and is the closest she has been stationed so far. However she was only there for a month before being sent back to Wimereux to No. 32 Stationary Hospital in charge of a 70 bed ward. Although posted there for three months she actually only worked 35 days due to tonsillitis (initially diagnosed as diphtheria) and spent half of October into November on sick leave in England. On recovery, she returned to No. 32 for a three weeks before being posted to No. 32 CCS in Valenciennes on the 8th December 1918.

There was a further posting in February 1919 to No. 1 CCS in Mons and by now the end of her war must have been in sight. However, Rose clearly liked the life she was living for on the 3rd April 1919 she applied to join the regular QAIMNS though her application doesn’t appear to have succeeded.

Rose was now sent to Boulogne ready for demob but they must have changed their as she was sent to No. 10 Stationary Hospital at Remy Siding in May. For the first time she was stationed within walking distance of Talbot House but the house had closed the previous December!

In July she must have received the sad news that her Uncle Henry had died.

In October she was transferred to No. 24 General Hospital in Etaples but at the end of the month she was admitted to Woolwich Hospital (Probably the Royal Herbert Military Hospital) with gastro enteritis. Her address was listed as the Sisters’ Hostel in Boulogne but her nearest relative was given as Lady Osler (Friend) of 13 Norham Gardens, Oxford. This is Grace, a descendant of Paul Revere and the wife of William Osler who was known as one of Oxford’s greatest physicians and even the Father of Modern Medicine. Canadian born, he ran an open house at 13 Norham Gardens for medical students and their like. The connection between Rose and the Oslers is unclear. Sadly William Osler died in December 1919 during the Spanish influenza outbreak.

Rose’s own health was deteriorating and her sick leave kept getting extended. It seems likely that this was no longer just gastro enteritis and at some point she is diagnosed with Neurasthenics. Nowadays this obtuse neurotic disorder is believed to have been ‘shellshock’ or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) more often than not. In March 1920 her doctors actually stated that she had had a nervous breakdown made difficult by the fact she had no close living relatives.

She is discharged on the 18th September 1920 and her address is given as Rosewarne, Flexbury, Bude. Somewhat bluntly, a note is added to her records in 1921 that “if she applies to go back on the QAIMNS Reserve to tell her there are no vacancies”.

Rose clearly recovers as by 1921 she is on the Chartered Society of Massage and Medical Gymnastics and Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Registers as working at Selly Oak Hospital. Interestingly she is registered as Eva Rose Stapleton-Hayden tagging her mother’s maiden name on. She registered as a nurse on the 3rd February 1922 soon after the Register started. In the electoral register at this time her address is given as The Woodlands, Raddlebarn Road which is the nursing quarters for Selly Oak Hospital. She will later live at various addresses in the Selly Oak area. It would be around this time that Rose would get involved with Toc H Mark VI in Birmingham.

By the end of the decade it would seem that Rose’s health was impacting her life. She wrote a letter to the Joint Nursing and VAD Services Committee asking for help but all we know is they confirmed her QAIMNSR Service and Conduct but not whether help was applied.

In 1928 she was living back in Bude at the wonderfully named Cottage of Sweet Content so I assume she had retired from Selly Oak though according to Tubby it was 1929 when she left Birmingham to be a patient in the London Hospital. Her illness was incurable so she was moved the St Columbas Hospital (Home of Peace for the Dying) in Swiss Cottage where she died on the 5th July 1931. According to Tubby her ashes are in the Columbarium at All Hallows yet they do not appear in the lists All Hallows hold! Just another little mystery in this remarkable lady’s life.


Ella Jane Vincentia Maclaverty was born in Llangattock near Monmouth in 1880 to Alexander Maclaverty and Mary Eugenia TOMBS. She was baptised on the 11th July that same year. Her father had the living of Llangattock since 1875 and the family lived in the Manor. A wealthy family with connections to the Jamaican coffee trade, Ella’s siblings included Captain Colin Maclaverty who was prospecting in Nigeria when war broke out and landed in France as part of the Nigerian force. However he later joined the King’s (Shropshire Light Infantry) and died near Leuze Wood in September 1916, two days after his son was born.

Ella was a talented violinist but we know little else of her upbringing as at the 1901 census she remained living with her parents and had no profession whilst I have been unable to track her down at the 1911 census. It is with some surprise then, that late in the war, Ella decided to join the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. Surprising because the FANYs were somewhat at odds with the more genteel ladies of the Red Cross. It took them a long time to be accepted by the military as being of use and much of the rejection was due to their stubbornness and attitude. Originally intended to provide First Aid on the battlefields, early FANYs rode horses but by the time they arrived in Calais in 1914 they had switched to motor ambulances and, over the course of the war, they would move further away from their medical origins and specialise in driving and mechanics.

Whether or not Ella could already drive before she joined the FANYs is lost to time but we know that she signed up and started her service on the 18th July 1918 with the St Omer Convoy. This particular FANY convoy had been formed in January 1918 and had earned considerable respect during May with their heroic deeds. Then the Spanish influenza (Or Flanders Grippe as it was known locally) laid waste to the group. It is possible that Ella was posted there to help make up that deficiency.

There were 30 cars in the Convoy driven by a combination of FANYs and VADs, Ella was variously known as a driver or chauffeuse. She would have been there in August 1918 when King George V visited them.

As the war drew to a close, the St Omer Convoy provided cars at drivers at Hazebrouck and Poperinghe where parties of men were clearing the battlefields of unexploded bombs and shells. Dangerous work, the FANYs had a constant flow of casualties to get to the CCSs and hospitals. It is likely that it was during this time, the last six months of 1918 before the club shut down, that Ella visited Talbot House. The address given on her Communicant’s Slip is The Elms, Hereford which was the family home of her brother Colin’s widow, Geraldine Hewat.

Ella is another of those we lose track of a little after the war though she makes several trips to Jamaica. Although one one of the passenger manifests in 1923 her address is given as Chelston near Torquay, the following year it is listed as Breinton House in Hereford. This picturesque property on the banks of the Wye belongs to Major Dodgson, a nephew of Lewis Carroll and the second husband of Ella’s sister-in-law Geraldine. This suggests that Ella remained close to Geraldine after Colin was killed.

She is in West Sussex in the late 1920s because we learn that she is thrown into a ditch at Partridge Green when her car is hit by a van. She clearly wasn’t seriously hurt, or if she was the newspaper couldn’t be bothered to report it.

By 1936 Ella’s given address is Coleherne Road in the earls Court district of London.

Three years on and at the 1939 register we find her living on her own means at Battramsley Close, a large house in Boldre in the New Forest. The house owner and one of Ella’s cohabitants at the register is Dr Harold Des Voeux, a short, bearded man of French descent who was the first president of the Smoke Abatement Society and is credited with coining the word ‘smog’. His wife, some servants and some girls ‘in training’ are also on the register. One can only speculate on Ella’s reasons for being there.

Dr Des Voeux died in 1942 and in 1945 we find Ella living at the Vancouver hotel in Lancaster Gate though later that year she crops up at Sheffield Terrace in Kensington sharing with one Amy MacFarlam. By 1949 her address is Lowickswood in Tilford Farnham, sometimes shown as Lowicks Bungalow. She died in Haslemere Hospital in Surrey on the 3rd July 1956.


Our final lady is Mary Dorothy Vernon Allen to give her rarely used full name. She was born on the 2nd of November 1884 to Vernon Allen and Charlotte Wood-Moor and baptised a month later at St Peter’s, Eaton Square, London. The name she uses at different points of her life seems to vary considerably and she is sometimes known as Dorothy, sometimes as Mary, sometimes Dorothy Mary and occasionally Mary Dorothy! The use of Vernon doesn’t seem to happen until later in her life.

By 1901 the family had moved south to Petersfield though Dorothy was not listed on the household at the census. By1911 she was listed a nurse at Sussex County Hospital. She trained here between 1908 and 1911.

In November 1912 she travelled to the Balkans and became a nursing sister at a large base hospital run by the Austrian Mission in Sofia, Bulgaria. It is likely this was with a Red Cross VAD though I haven’t seen the evidence of this. It might also have been with the Women’s Sick and Wounded Convoy Corps founded by Mabel St Clair Stobart after she became disillusioned with the FANY^s. They travelled to the Balkans under the auspices of the Red Cross. Either way, she remained in Sofia until February 1913 then spent March and April at a Russian Hospital in Cettinye, Montenegro. After the Siege of Scutari ended on 23rd April, she returned home via Trieste. Dorothy held a deep affection for the Bulgarian and Montenegrin people.

Dorothy enjoyed a brief period of peace but was back in action within days of the Great War commencing. Although her Red Cross card gives her joining date of the 1st November 1914, she was in fact one of the nurses sent to Brussels with the first Belgian Unit of the British Red Cross. Organised by Sir Frederick Treves, Commander of the British Red Cross and the King’s Surgeon, on the 13th August, a party consisting of 10 doctors, 10 dressers and 20 nurses left Charing Cross early on the 16th August and travelled by train to Folkestone, across the channel to Ostend, and then on to Brussels where they arrived that same evening.

On arrival they found they too few patients to be particularly busy and spent the first couple of days sight-seeing. However, things changed on the 20th August when the Germans entered Brussels.

Dorothy, in her letters and diaries that are now at the Imperial War Museum, wrote that she was one of many English nurses trapped in Belgium. She worked at the chateau in Perke treating German wounded and then at a Red Cross station caring for British soldiers being transported to Germany as prisoners.

On the 6th October, she and many other British nurses were taken by train to Copenhagen.

On her Overseas VAD card it mentions previous engagements at the Allied Forces Base Hospital, Boulogne and the Hospital Jeanne d’Arc in Calais. This may have been whilst she was still in the Red Cross or possibly later – it is not clear. What we do know is that she resigned from the Red Cross on the 9th April 1915 and her official termination date was the 1st May 1915.

After this she appears to join the QAIMNSR as a Sister though I have not been able to locate her records in the normally reliable WO 399 collection at the National Archives..

We know she visited Talbot House with her friend Ethel Webb Johnson at Easter 1916. She may well have met Ethel at the Hospital Jeanne d’Arc.

Dorothy had already been awarded the 1914 Star and in June 1919 she was in awarded Royal Rec Cross 2nd Class. She was invested by the King at Buckingham Palace on the 12th May 1920.

Dorothy helped Alison Macfie establish the League of Women Helpers and was heavily involved with All Hallows.

She first appeared on the Nursing Register on the 15th June 1923, shortly after it was introduced, and remained on it into the 1940s. Her address was normally that of her brother – Major (Later Lieutenant Colonel Moor-Allen – but in later years was given as 19 Earl’s Terrace, Kensington which is where she was at the time of the 1939 register. This listed her as a State Registered Nurse and in the Civil Nursing Reserve (Corporation of London). She was sharing the property with the widow, Mary A. Holt, and Mary’s companion/helper Irene Smart.

We know she travelled to Canada a few times in the twenties to visit relatives but otherwise records of her whereabouts after the first war are sketchy. There was a further trip to Canada in the 1950s and then we learn of her death on the 5th November 1980 in a nursing home in Grayshott, at the age of 96. She was the last of the women Foundation Members to die.

Allen Obit


So there they are – our eight amazing women. And just looking at their records shows how amazing they were. And yet these eight are highlighted simply by the fact they visited Talbot House and were Foundation Members of Toc H. There are thousands of other women whose stories are equally amazing and yet, largely untold. Let us remember with gratitude their courage and unstinting devotion to duty. And with that in my mind let us finish with this poem by Sapper W. Brindle written in 1919.

Sapper W Brindle 1919 (Use at end)



Diary of A Nursing Sister on the Western Front – (Anonymous – Actually Kate Luard)

Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918 (2014 edition edited by John and Caroline Stevens)

Dorothea’s War: The Diaries of a First World War Nurse. (Dorothea Crewdson)

A War Nurse’s Diary; Sketches From A Belgian Field Hospital. (Anonymous)

The Curious History of Toc H Women’s Association. (A.B.S. MacFie)

The Further History of Toc H Women’s Association. (A.B.S. MacFie)

The Christmas Spirit

Season’s greetings to one and all. To celebrate here is a rarely seen illustration by Queenie Dodd from the 1920 Toc H Annual A Christmas Spirit. Entitled A Dream Comes True, I believe it is meant to represent Tubby’s dream of Toc H coming to pass.

Now I’ve finished a family history book, I’m hoping to get a few more blogs posted next year. In fact the next one is well advanced although its a bit of an epic so maybe a couple of weeks yet.

I hope you are enjoying these little vignettes of Toc H’s long history. Take care, have a great Christmas and see you next year.


The Dream Come True by Queenie Dodds from The Christmas Spirit

A Sketch of the Early Days

Let me begin with a brief apology. A variety of different factors have stopped me adding to this blog as frequently as I planned over the past couple of years but it’s by no means dead. I have several features planned for the coming months and years but as we approach the centenary of the first committee meeting (The effective founding of Toc H, the organisation) on 15th November 1919, I wanted to get this one done and dusted.

This blog revolves around the cartoon reproduced below. At Christmas 1920 Toc H published an annual, The Christmas Spirit, to raise funds and promote the fledgling organisation. It contained contributed stories, pictures and cartoons by a variety of friends ranging from Rudyard Kipling to Heath Robinson and contained a greeting from Edward, Prince of Wales. It also contained several cartoons by illustrator Frederick Henry Townshend who contributed to Punch amongst many other achievements. Punch was a staunch supporter of early Toc H thanks largely to its editor Owen Seaman. Tragically, Townshend died suddenly on the golf course on 11th December 1920 around the time the annual was published. However, the subject of our blog is not a Townshend cartoon.

Full Scan

Sitting proudly on page 91 was a caricature captioned “Toc H.” At Home. It featured seven sketches of some of the people involved in the very early days of Toc H. The cartoon is reproduced in the August 1929 The Journal supplement, Ten years of Toc H and is described thus:

Some of the persons in the Toc H drama in 1920. A caricature by J.B. Melhuish from The Christmas Spirit, the 1920 Toc H Annual, the Editor of which was Stuart Sheppard (above – now Chelsea branch). “Shi” above was the first warden of Mark I, where “Mus” was one of the hostellers. “The Gen.,” seen wearing a favourite German hat, was “Major Domo,” with Sam Pickles (now on the professional stage) backing him.

These people were the pioneers who joined Tubby – or indeed substituted for him when he was torn in many directions – as the organisation fledged in such places as Tubby’s sister’s old flat on the top floor of 36 Red Lion Square, or in the offices of The Challenge (which Tubby edited) in Effingham House on The Strand.

Thus in one picture, the quality and variety of the early initiates in Toc H is admirably illustrated and I want to explore these men in more detail in this blog. I am going to skip over Tubby himself, and his loyal batman The General (Arthur Pettifer) as their stories are oft told. Instead I will focus on the other five illustrated and on Melhuish himself


TubbyThe General


The editor of the Christmas Spirit was one Stuart Morton Winter Sheppard, a cousin of Tubby. Both men descended from the well-known clothiers, the Sheppard family of Frome, Somerset. He was born in Dawlish in in 1895 to Henry (Harry) and Rita Sheppard. Harry, a scholar of Hebrew, would himself become a Toc H man and would be responsible for building it up in Cambridge.

ShepherdStuart served as an officer in the 12th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers in the Middle East. After the war he settled in Chelsea and became a solicitor. Tubby contacted him early on and persuaded him to edit The Christmas Spirit. This happened from the offices of the Cavendish Association at 8a New Cavendish Street. (The Association would later merge with Toc H bringing Barclay Baron into the organisation). Sheppard was also on the London Club Committee in 1922. However it was in the Toc H sports associations that Sheppard found his calling.

He started a Toc H cricket team which led to finding and renting in 1921 (From Eli Frusher) the Toc H sports ground at Folly Farm near Hadley Woods, Barne. Sheppard was also secretary of the Toc H football team in 1927/8 when they played in Senior Division 1 of the Southern Amateur League

In December 1922 he married Barbara Shepherd, daughter of another Punch illustrator, J.A. Shepherd at Charlwood church in Surrey. Tubby, newly inducted as vicar of All Hallows, carried out the service. They would have two children, Mary and David. David went on to become a well-known cricketer and later Bishop of Liverpool.

Sheppard died on 19th November 1937 aged only 42. His ashes are in the undercroft of All Hallows church.

Perhaps the most interesting character of the caricature is Sam Pickles. This charming fop of a lad was born in Huddersfield, on what is now an industrial estate near the Kirklees stadium, on 4th February 1894. His dad was a lumber yard labourer and young Samuel had several siblings. By 1911 he was working as a shop assistant. However, at some point he decided to train for Holy Orders and found himself under the Reverend Charles Neivell of Cleckheaton.

According to Pickles himself, he also began an acting career ‘running away from home’ at the age of 17 to join the Benson company. His first professional role was playing Old Adam in As You Like It. Then war broke out!

Like most young men of his age, young Pickles enlisted and found himself in the Royal Field Artillery. It wasn’t a glorious career, at one stage Corporal Pickles found himself reverted in rank for misconduct, but nonetheless he was described in Toc H literature as a “square built Gunner from Yorkshire”.


On 1st October 1918, at the age of 24 he married Helena Roberts, a woman some 13 years older than himself. And then, after armistice, he went to Le Tourquet, the first Ordination School set up by Tubby and followed him to Knutsford – his bulldog in tow. He was by all accounts, the life and soul of the theological training school in the old Knutsford Gaol but he failed academically. This, presumably, is how he and Helena found themselves snared by Tubby to be stewards and housekeepers at Marks 0 (8 Queen’s Gate Place) and  I (23 Queen’s Gate Gardens) in Kensington, and later (7th November 1922 to be precise) was promoted to Officer Commanding Messing at All Hallows House aka Mark VII (15 Fitzroy Square) under warden Jack Clark.

This was not to be his life though. At Tubby’s suggestion, Pickles had taken evening classes and returned to acting doing a lot of drama around the Toc H hostels. In 1924 he appeared in the London premier of George Bernard Shaw’s St Joan alongside Sybil Thorndike and Raymond Massey (and a 14 year old Jack Hawkins).

He won a scholarship at RADA and graduated in 1925 alongside John Gielgud (Who was later involved with the Toc H Drama League), Charles Lloyd-Pack, and Alan Napier, amongst others.

It was Napier, most famous for playing the butler Alfred Pennyworth in the sixties TV series Batman, who adds a twist to the tale of Sam Pickles. In his autobiography Napier notes that Pickles was somewhat older than the rest of the class and also described him as a “pixie with more attractiveness than talent”. Nonetheless, he found him the most palatable of his contemporaries and they shared a flat at 37 Belgrave Road in Pimlico. Here Napier observed that Pickles had a wife much older than himself who “looked in from time to time” but was quite clear that Pickles was in fact gay.

Now whether that had any bearing on his subsequent career moves is unclear but initially Pickles seemed to find most of his work up north. In between plays he cleaned windows at Collinson’s Cafes in Leeds and took other less pleasing jobs. More significantly, he says at the suggestion of Sybil Thorndike, Sam Pickles changed his name to Peter Ridgeway in a bid to be taken more seriously. It seemed to work for he appeared in several plays during the late 20s and early 30s even sharing the boards with a young Laurence Olivier in 1925. He toured Egypt with Thorndike and also dramatized two books himself. In June 1931, his wife Helena died and whilst his IMDB entry shows him married to one Mary Christiansen, I find no evidence to support this.

Probably Pickles/Ridgeway’s most significant contribution to the acting world was the founding of a small club called the Playroom Six in 1927. This moved premises and changed names several times before becoming the Player’s Theatre in 1936, a famous music hall co-founded with Leonard Sachs, that still exists to this day.

Perhaps our Mr Pickles may have achieved more but he was sadly taken by TB on 21st November 1938. He was only 44 years old.

Sam PicklesPeter Ridgeway aka Sam Pickles










Whilst Lieutenant E.G. White of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles held the fort for Tubby administratively whilst he was still at Knutsford, it was Commander George Pritzler Green, Royal Navy Retired, who took over from White to be Office Boy/General Factotum at Toc H HQ alongside the newly free Tubby and William Musters. He was also the first naval member of the newly minted association.

His tenure was short. Arriving in 1920, the following year Tubby asked him to go and see some former soldiers confined to the Ministry of Pensions Hospital in Ducane Road, Shepherds Bush (Now the site of Hammersmith Hospital). Green obliged and decided to stay there moving into a side ward and acting as an errand boy and friend to the inmates until his own ill-health forced him to retire to Lewes.

Green 2Green was born in Charlton on 12 November 1881 to a shipbuilding father Henry, later MP for Charlton. The sea was clearly in his blood and he enlisted in the Royal Navy in January 1896. He progressed through the officer ranks becoming a Sub Lieutenant in 1901, a full Lieutenant two years later and Lieutenant Commander in September 1911. He retired of his own desire just two months after this promotion.

In July 1913 he married Isabel Carwithen Richardson in Ledbury.


He came out of retirement in August 1914 to serve in the war, initially on HMS Glory in the Mediterranean. In 1916 he transferred to HMS Valerian, a newly launched minesweeper, and in 1917 was promoted to Acting Commander aboard HMS Hannibal, a depot ship stationed in Egypt.

Shortly after Armistice he requested immediate repatriation due to private family matters and in June 1919 he reverted to the retired list. He was promoted to a full Commander (Retired) as a reward for his war work. It must have been shortly after this that Tubby ‘acquired’ him for Toc H.

After his brief stay with Toc H, Tubby seems to lose track of his Commander bar a brief written reunion in 1935. What we know of the rest of his life, largely relates to a naval career once again resurrected by war.

On 29 August 1939 Green was assigned to HMS President, the land based naval establishment overlooking Tower Bridge that was the home of the Royal Naval Reserve, for Special Service. Shortly afterwards, at the time of the 1939 register, he was living in Manchester Hotel in the City of London alongside another retired naval officer Robert Buchanan. In 1943, Green had his shoulder injured when he was run down by a car. On 14 June, 1944 he was reverted to the Retired List on compassionate grounds.

His wife died in 1952 and Green himself died on 20th November 1961.

Like Pickles, Major Herbert Shiner DSO MC, was one of the earliest hostellers. He lived in the flat at 36 Red Lion Square (Sometimes known retrospectively as Mark 00) and established the short-lived Mark 0 (Again an ex post facto nomenclature) at 8 Queen’s Gate Place before becoming the first warden of Mark I. It was not for nothing that Melhuish annotates his caricature with the words “The host in himself.”



Shiner was born on 4th July 1890 in Bethnal Green. By the time of the 1911 census, he was an acting Bombardier with the 35th Heavy Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery and was billeted at Fort Nelson near Fareham. He later transferred to the reserves and on 9th December 1912 joined the Metropolitan Police as a Constable. When war broke out he was mobilised as a Bombardier before being commissioned in 1915. That same year he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In 1917, now with the 154th Heavy Battery, he was promoted to acting Major and the following year received the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”. He left the Metropolitan Police in September 1917 and in 1919 accepted a permanent commission in the RGA. Shiner was a Battery commander at Poperinge and knew Tubby (and the Old House) well.

He married Elizabeth Trimmer in 1921 but retained his links with Toc H being a major player in the Petworth area in Sussex where he now lived at Coldharbour Farm near Pulborough. Shiner became a councillor for West Sussex County Council in 1928. In 1932 was chairman of the West Sussex Education Committee. A school was later named for him. He was also chair of Petworth Rural District Council for some years.

Elizabeth died in 1935. During the war Shiner was a member of the council’s War Emergency Committee and also served on the headquarter staff of the Home Guard. He became chairman of the West Sussex County Council in 1946, a position he retained until shortly before his death. He was made a Deputy Lieutenant of West Sussex in 1949 and knighted the following year. He died on 1 August 1962 in the London Clinic.



And so to Laidlay. Unfortunately I have so little to go on. The caricature just labels him as “Tenner” voice and Baron later describes him as “A Mark I hosteller who helped with the appeal”. I do not see his name in later records of Toc H and without so much as a first name to assist, my quest seems almost impossible. And yet, it is not that common a name. Even Google keeps asking me if I mean Laidlaw. Johnny Ernest Laidlay was a well-known Scottish amateur golfer who had two sons who might just have been about the right age and yet…’s like looking for a needle in a haystack when I haven’t even found the haystack yet. Although, there is this chap.

John Melville Lauriston Laidlay was born on 15th January 1900 in Cheshire to Edward Collinson and Beatrice May Laidlay. His elder brother Edward Christopher became a vicar. On 17th September 1915 Laidlay signed up to the army giving his date of birth as 15th January 1897 thus making him old enough to enlist. At 5’ 8½” he is tall enough to pass for 18 and is accepted into the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Royal Gloucester Hussars Yeomanry, a Territorial or part-time force. Without being deployed overseas, Laidlay is discharged on 1st August 1916 for “having made a misstatement as to age on enlistment”.


The following year he applied to the Royal Flying Corps and on 28th October 1917 was temporarily assigned to the Naval wing as a Pilot Flying Officer based at Greenwich. In January 2018 he was transferred to Redcar and thence to RAF Manston in Kent. On the formation of the RAF on the 1st April 1918 Laidlay was appointed 2nd Lieutenant and transferred to Cranwell before being discharged at the end of May.

By 1920, when – if this is our man – he was purloined by Tubby, he was living in Highgate. We know this because in February he was fined 15 shillings for “motoring at a speed of over 20 miles an hour in Hampstead Lane” and his Highgate address was given in the newspaper.

We know from Baron that our Laidlay lived in the hostel Mark I during 1920 and J M L Laidlay was living in similar accommodation at the Connaught Club near Marble Arch by 1923 which suggests to me the lifestyle suited them and they might be the same person.

By 1930, whilst still living at the Connaught Club, he is listed as an actor (Another one!) as he travels firstly to Canada and the US then to New Zealand.

He married Marjorie Rix Carter in 1937 in Honiton, Devon and at the 1939 register was living by private means in Torquay. After the war, when he was put on the Royal Navy reserve list, things get a little cloudy. Laidlay continues to make overseas trips and is listed as living in Wellington, New Zealand as early as 1949. Marjorie does not appear to be with him and it seems they may have separated. His job is listed variously as an accountant and a journalist. He moves around New Zealand during the sixties and died there in 1972.

Is it him, perhaps….he is the best candidate I could find. Maybe one day I will be able to prove it.

And so what of the man who provided the illustration. John Barradale Melhuish himself. Known as Mel, he was an illustrator for such periodicals as The Tatler and Sporting Life as well as for the Evening Standard. His speciality was sport and his cartoons help plot the great sporting events and heroes of the first half of the twentieth century. The caricature style both flatters and lampoons at the same time and I must be careful not to fill this blog with his wonderful sketches. If they aren’t yet collected together in a book then they really should be.

Melhuish was born in Exeter on 9th January 1893. By the time of the 1911 census he was a trainee at an auctioneers in Leicester which is why, when he enlisted, it was into the Leicestershire regiment where he rose from Private to Lance Corporal before being commissioned in August 1915. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant and was awarded the Croix de Guerre and an MBE in 1919.

Melhuish WWI


He found time to marry Doreen Armstrong at All Saints, Clayton Park, Hackney in February 1917 though they divorced in 1932 and he married Violet Digby, an actress, the following year.

mel and mrs J B Melhuish in 1934 in fancy dress

At the time of the 1939 register they were living in St Ives, Huntingdonshire and Melhuish was recommissioned for the war. He was relinquished in 1945 on account of a disability.


portrait of mel in oils by james proudfoot 1940

He died on 22nd March 1965

And that’s it. A brief run through the lives of a handful of the characters that made up early Toc H. And over the next 100 years there would be thousands more interesting and unique people making up the merry band of Toc H. I know, many of them are my friends.


All Blacks

Pat Leonard Memoir

This memoir was originally written by Pat’s son-in-law, Philip Leonard Johnson, in 1968. In 2010 Philip and I digitised it to coincide with the publication of Pat’s diaries, The Fighting Padre. It did live on the internet for a time but had no permanent home. This blog now seems like a good place to hold it. Click the photo to open.


A symbol of Home and Friendship

As I continue my research into various aspects of Toc H, from time to time I unearth some interesting works by other people that relate to the Movement. Recently I ended up on a website largely dedicated to the men from the UK who served with General Custer at the battle of Little Big Horn where I came across an incredibly detailed and enlightening article about Toc H’s presence in the Orkney Islands during the Second World War. The original article was written for The Orkney View magazine in 1995 but subsequently appeared on the Men With Custer website. You can find out how a Toc H article appears on such a website and read a lot more fascinating non-Toc H pieces here

The author of the piece and webmaster for Men With Custer – Peter Russell – has kindly given permission for me to reproduce his article on my One Hundred Years of Toc H site and it appears below. I am very grateful for Peter’s generosity. I hope that it will be the first of several other guest articles as this site builds up a collection of insights into the long history of Toc H.


Toc H was born in the conflict of the Great War a hundred years ago and its work of reconciliation and service has continued to the present day. Now as we commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War, it seems particularly appropriate to pay tribute to a small band of dedicated men and women who served with this Christian organisation in Orkney and created a unique ‘home from home’ environment for so many members of the armed services in their time of need.

Of all the places where Toc H provided at least some of the comforts and atmosphere of home for service personnel far away there can have been few where these were more appreciated than the bases and stations in Orkney. For the men from ships, at any rate, these bare windswept distant islands can have displayed little charm and provided no more than a godforsaken base with few amenities. The real Orkney was hidden away behind the hills surrounding Scapa Flow, while the treacherous Pentland Firth lay like a great gulf between them and all they loved best.

Toc H was involved in many activities during this period. One of these was a direct result of talks which its founder padre, the Reverend Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton, had with survivors of HMS Royal Oak on the day following the tragedy of its sinking at anchor in Scapa Flow, with such a heavy loss of life, in the early morning of 14 October 1939. He immediately realised the enormous need there was in so remote an area for some place of rest and recuperation for men who were suffering from shock, shipwreck or exposure, or who were not so seriously ill as to be sent south and yet were not well enough for duty.

          Woodwick House today

The idea met with approval of the naval authorities and Admiralty recognition was soon granted with facilities for transport and obtaining supplies, and the promise of a Sick Berth Attendant to assist in the work. A search was on the main island (actually called ‘Mainland’) and among the big country houses not yet requisitioned by the military, Woodwick House, in the parish of Evie, set in the most beautiful surroundings, was considered perfect for the purpose of a convalescent and rest home. There, were flower beds and a vegetable garden, and very pleasant woods which in the springtime were filled with daffodils and bluebells, and were home to many nesting birds. A trout burn, overhung with rowans and willows, cascaded down to the sea into a secluded bay.

Woodwick House was rented, furnished, for the duration of the war, and was equipped mainly through the generosity of the Pilgrim Trust, which also made an annual grant for as long as the house was open. In recognition of this timely and constant assistance in the inception of the scheme, it was officially called The Pilgrim House of Toc H. The Canadian Red Cross, together with allowances from all three services and the invaluable help from Toc H branches, all made a significant contribution to its outstanding success. By March 1940 it was fully equipped and ready to receive its first ‘patients’.

The length of stay varied, according to the nature of each one’s illness or injury, and it is difficult say in a few words just what Woodwick House meant to the servicemen in Orkney. It was the only convalescent home in the islands, it was in the depths of the countryside with no cinema, no public house within easy reach, and only oil lamps and candles to illuminate the dark winter days. In fact, it was as a complete a contrast to ship or shore establishment as can be imagined. The original number of beds, twenty-six, was later increased to thirty-four to accommodate the brave men of the Northern Patrol of the Atlantic and Russian convoys. In all, over 3,500 patients were to enjoy a break at Woodwick.

Alison Bland Scott Macfie, the daughter of a wealthy Liverpool-based sugar refiner, who would soon become affectionately known as ‘Matron’, was appointed as the Warden. Miss Macfie, a devout Christian, was a founder member Toc H and first met Tubby Clayton in Poperinge. Belgium, at Easter 1917, when she was serving with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in the Ypres Salient. In a quiet determined way she got her ‘boys’, the patients, to do what she wanted them to do. New arrivals were often greeted with the words: “Act as if you were at home.” To those who did not live up to the expected standards, she would say: “If you act like this at home, then act as if you were at someone else’s.” Her kindly manner, shy wit, sense of fun and natural reserve did not entirely disguise signs of a strong and forceful personality, and she held very definite opinions on most matters. Like many others during the war, Alison Macfie proved beyond doubt that she was the right person in the right place at the right time.

                Alison Macfie     

This gentle ‘saint’ was ably assisted by a Royal Navy Sick Berth Attendant, a cook, four housemaids-cum-general assistants and a gardener/handyman, who were soon hard at work providing hospitality for men and women from all the armed and nursing services. For this large family of many nationalities Alison Macfie and her staff created an ‘away from it all’ environment, with rest, good food and healthy recreation which was much needed at the time.

Matron ran a very tight ship and the patients were actively encouraged to go for a walk before lunch. One particularly chilly morning several of the men were engaged in a game of pontoon in the lounge and were decidedly reluctant to leave the warm and comfortable surroundings. In her characteristic way she opened all the windows, insisting that they get some fresh air into their lungs, and it was not long before the through draft forced them out. Assuming they were going for a walk, she asked them to take her dog, Magnus, along them, to which the patients agreed, and they set off for the shore. However, they only got as far as an old boathouse and then proceeded to continue with their game of cards. Poor Magnus was tied to a post, and when lunch time arrived it dawned on the card players that the dog, which had been lying down for most of the two-hour session, was not the least bit tired. In order to conceal their deception they took it in turns to run the little dog round and round the boathouse. Arriving back at the house they were greeted by a delighted Matron who was pleased to see Magnus panting for breath, and clearly well and truly exercised! Magnus, a mixed Shetland collie was, in fact, a bitch, and no-one knew why she was given such a noble and masculine name. This constant and faithful companion of Miss Macfie died at Woodwick House in the last year of the war and was buried in the woods where a small white marble headstone marks the spot. The simple epitaph reads: “Magnus/Good friend for 13½ years/1945.”

For a time whist drives were held in the lounge and were well attended by local people. Unfortunately the staff seemed to be winning most of the prizes, which displeased the Matron, who ruled that in future only patients and guests would be allowed to hand in cards. Not surprisingly, the staff soon lost interest.

There was no mains gas or electricity at Woodwick House and lighting was provided by Tilley (paraffin) lamps and candles. Lighting the lamps was a job for an expert and it invariably fell to the female members of the staff. For safety reasons the patients were forbidden to light the Tilley lamps as applying too much pressure could be very dangerous. Edith Harvey (the future Mrs Sinclair) and Ina Yorston (the future Mrs Greenwood), two of the housemaids, remembered this task well. First the lamp was heated with methylated spirits, and then carefully pumped to pressurise the paraffin. They gave out heat as well as light. Sometimes candles were placed in front of mirrors to provided extra light and on one occasion, during a spell of exceptionally cold weather, the small amount of heat generated actually cracked a large mirror. In time of war an extra seven years’ bad luck is something that they could have well done without!

                                  Woodwick House in the early 1940s

Although most of the naval patients were from the lower deck, at least one high-ranking officer spent some time at Woodwick House. An Engineer Commander of a famous battleship, often in Scapa Flow, having been brought low by a minor illness, was recommended by his medical officer to try a few days’ change at Woodwick. Rather reluctantly he agreed and duly found himself being transported in a state of some astonishment, and at great speed, in a drafty Ford V8 to a far corner of the Orkney Mainland. “What sort of place is this I’m going to?” he asked the driver’s Navy SBA: “It’s nothing like you’ve known before, sir,” was the reply. On returning to his ship a week later the Commander confirmed the rating’s view, and felt quite honestly “refreshed both physically and mentally and ….possessed with greater determination and energy in pursuit of my definite objectives.”

The first SBA, 25 year-old Denis Truslove, from the West Midlands, arrived in April 1940. On returning to Naval Sick Quarters in Kirkwall (the Masonic Hall), from leave, he was advised that “he had been volunteered to work at Woodwick House for two weeks or until more permanent arrangements could be made” – in the event he remained there until January 1943! Truslove remembered his time at Woodwick House with a great deal of affection and had a wealth of interesting stories about the happy days he spent there.

Many of his most amusing anecdotes centred on the heavy, wooden-bodied Ford V8 shooting brake, which was the chief mode of transport. According to Truslove, the tyres were the smoothest parts of this remarkable old vehicle, which nevertheless was capable of reaching 80 miles per hour along the stretch of straight road between Finstown and Woodwick.

There was little actual nursing to be done at Woodwick and much of the SBA’s time was spent in collecting ‘bodies’ from, and returning them to, Scapa Pier and running errands for the Matron. When other duties permitted he would take patients out for a run to visit various places of interest, often using Matron’s own car. On one of these occasions an airman asked Truslove if he would make a short detour and drive him to his station so that he could pick up some long-awaited mail from home. On arriving at the camp the SBA was invited into the canteen for a cup of tea, while the airman took his leave on the pretext of collecting his post. The following morning Matron informed Truslove that she would be driving into Kirkwall to fill up with petrol. However, as the tank was now virtually full, with the ‘compliments’ of the RAF, he politely explained that her journey would not be necessary and recounted the events of the previous day. Matron’s reaction was somewhat severe, though not entirely unexpected: “Petrol is brought into this country at great danger to help the war effort, not for dashing around the place sightseeing!”

On another day Truslove was given the job of getting the wife of an army officer, who was helping out at Woodwick House, to the bank in Kirkwall before it closed at 2:00 pm, and as it was already close on half-past one there was no alternative but to ‘put his foot down’. As they were approaching Finstown he noticed what he assumed to be bags or sacks dumped on the grass verge, To his astonishment one of these ‘objects’ suddenly stood up and began to walk slowly across the road. A collision was unavoidable but thankfully – for the occupants that is – the old V8 was fitted with a sturdy pair of bumpers and the unfortunate sheep was impaled on one of the curve-shaped overriders, which prevented a potentially serious accident. Needless to say the ewe was killed. The badly-shaken officer’s wife, who was pregnant at the time, scolded the poor SBA with the words: “If my baby is born with a sheep’s head, I’ll blame you!”  Truslove duly reported the incident to the police who took no further action as apparently accidents involving straying livestock were fairly frequent occurrences.

Several years after the war while on holiday in Orkney, Denis Truslove was enjoying a quiet pint in the bar of the Pomona Inn in Finstown when his brother-in-law introduced him to a local farmer as: “The man who ran over your sheep.” Before Truslove had a chance to offer a single word of explanation, the aggrieved man snapped: “I never did get paid for it and sheep were £4 in those days.” Clearly some Orcadians are blessed with very long memories!

While wondering around the garden one day Truslove stumbled across deep trench, measuring about four-feet wide. He mentioned his discovery to Miss Macfie who decided it could come in useful to store tin food and other non-perishable goods in readiness for a German invasion. She even went as far as to arrange for this hole-in-the-ground to be covered with sheets of corrugated iron and also chose plants to provide the best camouflage. Fortunately its usefulness was never put to the test. The nearest that they ever came to having direct contact with the enemy was the time they were involved in a very hush-hush operation of washing salt water out of a ‘captured’ German parachute in the Woodwick Burn.

                     The burn

No account of Woodwick House during the war years would be complete without reference to the near-legendary Dolly Dickson, the cook, who worked like a slave for the princely sum of £1 a week, plus board. In fact, Dolly was much more than a cook; she was a miracle worker, who produced the most tempting dishes out of the meagre collection of wartime rations. All the cooking at Woodwick was done on a large coal-burning range in the main kitchen. Dolly’s wonderful baking was done without any modern aids: she simply put her in the oven and somehow or other gauged the correct temperature and kept building the fire to maintain an even heat. A sailor from a destroyer wrote: “As to your cook, we are only awaiting her arrival on board before disposing of ours.” Dolly Dickson’s fame was spread through the Home Fleet, and far beyond.

The ever-willing Denis Truslove came to her aid at the time she suspected a rat was getting into her kitchen through the bottom of a rotten window frame. “I’ll soon stop his little game” boasted the confident SBA. His plan of action was, indeed, a simple one. Several glass bottles were broken into small pieces and then forced into the offending gap. “That’ll cut his corns,” he exclaimed. Alas, it was not to be, for the very next morning the floor of Dolly’s scullery was littered with hundreds of shards of broken glass. Clearly the ‘rodent proof’ defences had been breached. Mercifully – for Denis that is – he suddenly found himself on an unscheduled trip to Kirkwall and was, therefore, not on hand to witness Dolly’s initial reaction to his failed attempt to rid her kitchen of this most unwelcome intruder. Soon after, the window frame was repaired and the much relieved cook was able once more to concentrate on her culinary duties.

Unlike the Royal Navy, the other services did not make a direct financial contribution to the cost of running Woodwick House but, instead, supplied foodstuffs from their own sick quarters. The job of collecting these rations fell to the SBA, who would always ask Dolly Dickson if there was anything special she wanted. Arriving at the Army Hospital Centre on one particular occasion, Truslove told the sergeant cook that “We have some of your squaddies at Woodwick and they need feeding.” The NCO duly provided every item he had that was on Dolly’s list plus a few others to make up for those he hadn’t. Cook was delighted, Matron less so. “Truslove,” she sighed, “you should have only brought those things which were official!”

Two of the greatest friends to the staff at Woodwick House were Davie and Bella Rendall, from the neighbouring farm of Walkerhouse. They supplied fresh eggs, milk, cheese, fowls for the table, vegetables and more. Many was the time that they gave a lift into town, which were much appreciated when the local bus only ran twice a week. Tubby Clayton, who was chaplain to the oil tanker fleet, often stayed with the Rendalls during his frequent visits to Orkney. His dog, Billy of Badminton, a beautiful brown pedigree spaniel, was presented to Toc H, Orkney, by H.M. Queen Mary (the Queen Mother) and spent a lot of time at Woodwick House.

Another good friend was Mrs Mary Wood who did the laundry for the patients in her own home. It was a marathon task, all done by hand, as there was no electricity in any of the country districts at that time. The local Church of Scotland minister, Dr Alexander Campbell, regularly came for tea on Saturday afternoons. He was an accomplished storyteller and held his audience spellbound with his depth of knowledge of Orcadian and Scottish history, always referring to the early Norse inhabitants of these islands as ‘Vik-kings’, which was the cause of some amusement. The reverend gentleman was a most popular and welcome visitor: as a result, church attendance was usually quite high the following day.

Every so often a Navy chaplain would come out to conduct a communion service. On one occasion his chauffeuse, a Wren, had driven off before the good man realised that the communion set was still in the boot of the car. In the event there was no need for concern as the resourceful Matron was on hand to help and quickly produced a sufficient number of small cream jugs and a bottle of Beaune to enable him to administer the sacrament.

The Fleet Air Arm was stationed at Hatston and pilots honed their skills by flying Swordfish, nicknamed ‘flying bedsteads’, over the sea in the area between Evie and the island of Rousay. One morning a knock on the door of Woodwick House was answered to two airmen who enquired: “If it was possible to get a cup of tea and ring up Hatston?” They apologised profusely for their feet being wet which was due to the fact that they had just scrambled ashore, having ditched their aeroplane in the sea!

Woodwick House from an old postcard

Woodwick House possessed a greenhouse, which was a great asset to staff and patients alike. True, it faced the wrong ‘airt’ (direction), and was suffering from old age, decay and a lack of paint but nonetheless, it served a useful purpose. Being built against the dining-room wall it provided the first line of defence against blizzards and other inclemencies from the east; better still, thanks to Dolly Dickson’s ‘green fingers’, it was filled with a profusion of blooming geraniums and pelargonium’s, and clematis massed in one corner, and a genista to fill the other end with its sweet-smelling golden sprays all year round. And as the geraniums flourished so did the tomatoes, and the plant which seeds are noted for survival under even the most adverse conditions, was persuaded ‘to do its stuff’. It thus supplied some of the missing vitamins which an anxious Minister of Food had urged everyone to seek in a land where the turnip and the potato graced the table without rivals from November to May.

With much encouragement, not altogether disinterested, from various medical officers of the Fleet Air Arm, tomatoes were planted in orange-boxes, which were still obtainable in greengrocers’ shops. At the end of the first summer the net result of all the care and attention was some very good chutney, and the Principal Medical Officer was duly grateful for a small jar of it and the promise of something better next season, should he still be in the area.

The following winters were fierce ones, even for Orkney, and in a full gale on 12 February 1943, the crash finally came: the whole greenhouse collapsing with much noise of splitting timber and breaking glass. However, with admirable promptness and resource the crew of HMS Kingston Amber, just returned that morning from a tour of duty with the Northern Patrol, flung themselves into action under the direction of SBA Harry Greenwood, from Barrowford, Lancashire (who had recently replaced Denis Truslove), with old ladders, planks, oars, and bits and pieces picked up at random in the garden, pushed the fragments together, propped then up, and lashed them more or less securely in place with a new clothes-line just purchased for hanging out the washing on the drying green. In this hazardous engagement tin hats were worn by those who had them as a protection against falling glass, and all felt a sense of successful achievement, though somewhat dishevelled, when the job was done!

For many weeks thereafter the whole company shivered grimly at mealtimes, the bitterly-cold east wind making its way all to easily through the wreckage of the ill-fitting door to the dining-room. They also thought longingly of tomatoes. So an appeal was made to the Royal Navy and the Army for help. For a month or more they were in suspense – who would come to the rescue? The Navy! The Army! Both? Or (horrible thought) neither! Then the GOC Orkney and Shetland went to see for himself, and quick on his heels came the Garrison Engineer, who was followed by Andrew Kirkness, a local man, who did odd jobs around the place, and the Royal Engineers. Andrew was an uncle of Mary Spence, one of the assistants, which made it a pleasant family concern.

First, a day was spent contemplating the wreck, with the aid of cigarettes and cups of tea administered at regular intervals by Mary. Next came an army truck laden with ladders and trestles, paint, glass, putty and wood, and within a week the miracle was completed. The restored greenhouse was stronger than it had ever been.

At the last came an unforeseen problem. A pair of linnets had built a nest in the clematis just under the roof, and a pair of blackbirds had settled in the upper branches of the genista, each nicely sheltered from the Orkney blasts. Both couples were expecting families in the near future and had serenely sat on their eggs, quite undisturbed by the work which went on around them. At the completion of the job, the workmen, in a dilemma, therefore decided to leave out a pane of glass at each end of the greenhouse for the convenience of the birds’ entry and exit. Andrew Kirkness would return later and put them in.

A new difficulty arose when it was found that although the blackbirds would use the exit provided, they would not come home except through the open door, and much distress was caused if it was shut. Of course, the birds won the day, and the tomato plants had to do with cold feet until the time came when the fledglings gained their wings and flew out into the garden. Despite the early set back, that year produced a bumper harvest of tomatoes to brighten the bacon and embellish the salads.

Germany surrendered in May 1945 and, happily, the services being provided by Woodwick House were no longer required. That summer Matron returned to London where in 1952 she became Founder Pilot of the Toc H Women’s Association. Following a short illness, Alison Bland Scott Macfie died on 12 September 1963, aged 76 years, at the County Hospital, Swaffham, Norfolk, and after cremation at Norwich, her remains were deposited in the crypt of All Hallows-by-the-Tower, London, EC3. A small oval-shaped, wooden plaque, depicting the Toc H lamp of the Women’s Association is inscribed:


Loved and Served this Church


My Soul Doth Magnify The Lord

The words of the popular wartime song ‘All the Nice Girls Love a Sailor‘ were certainly true as far as two of the staff at Woodwick House were concerned. Jean “Neen” Harvey, one the four original assistants, from the parish of Evie, married SBA Denis Truslove. The wedding was conducted by Dr Campbell, who happened to be Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at the time which, as far as Denis was concerned, is the equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury! Denis and Jean lived near Coventry, in the West Midlands. Ina Yorston, from the neighbouring parish of Rendall, married SBA Harry Greenwood in 1945, also in Orkney. Harry later became ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland, and he and Ina spent their twilight years in Perthshire.

What happened to the other members of staff? Edith Harvey, sister of Jean, became Mrs Sinclair; Mary Spence, from Costa in Evie married Gordon Linklater, a local man, and like Edith Harvey and many others named a daughter, Alison, in honour of Miss Macfie, Neither Dolly Dickson, from Rendall, or Willie Scott, the gardener/handyman ever married. Denis and Jean, and Dolly and Willie, passed away many years ago. The fate of the others is not known to this writer.

The noble motto of Toc H is ‘Bringing People Together’ and for five long years Alison Macfie and her devoted team did just that. To thousands of men and women from many nationalities Woodwick House, Evie, Orkney, was indeed A SYMBOL OF HOME AND FRIENDSHIP.

Peter Groundwater Russell

August 2015

Note: This story is based on a two-part contribution that was published in The Orkney View magazine (No. 60 June/July 1995 and No. 61 Aug/Sep 1995). An acknowledgement at that time was given to Mike Lyddiard, Director of Toc H, for kindly allowing me to quote freely from Alison Macfie’s memoirs and also to Ina Yorston Greenwood, Ann Herdman, Gordon and Leonard Linklater, Hazel Scarlett, Edith Harvey Sinclair, and Denis Truslove, who provided information and valuable assistance in the preparation of this article.



Wet Flanders Plain

Sorting through my research notes I came across this extract from Henry Williamson’s The Wet Flanders Plain I scanned a while back. It’s a lovely little account of his return to Poperinghe & Talbot House shortly after the war. I thought you may like to take a look!


























Now I have a little more time on my hands, I am getting back to my Toc H research. This means my articles might appear a little more frequently (no promises) but it also means I may occasionally share interesting stuff I unearth in the course of my research. This is taken from 28th June 1919 edition of The Sphere – a British Weekly newspaper that ran from 1900-1964 – and has a short picture feature about Knutsford. This includes the chapel made up of items brought from Talbot House.

The Other Gilbert Talbot

A Flemish battlefield tour by anyone with an interest in Toc H could not possibly be complete without visiting the grave of Lieutenant Gilbert Walter Lyttelton Talbot in Sanctuary Wood Cemetery outside of Ieper. His headstone (Plot I Row G Grave 1) stands alone from its neighbours allegedly aligned to face Poperinge and Talbot House, the famous wartime haven that was named for him. However, few people making the pilgrimage to his grave know that 200 miles to the south east stands the headstone of Gilbert Seymour Wyndham Talbot, the nephew our Gilbert never knew.

After recovering his brother’s body from where it lay in no-man’s land and seeing it buried in Sanctuary Wood, chaplain Neville Talbot’s most remembered contribution to the war was helping his friend and fellow chaplain Tubby Clayton establish a soldier’s club in Poperinge. At the insistence of General Reginald May the name Church House was dropped and the club was called Talbot House though Neville insisted it was named for his sibling and not himself.

Towards the end of the conflict, in April 1918, Neville married his cousin Cecil Mary Eastwood at West Stoke Church near Chichester. The ceremony was conducted by his own father, Edward Stuart Talbot. Neville returned to his pre-war position as Chaplain at Balliol College and in December 1919, a daughter Elizabeth was born in Chelsea.

In April 1920 Neville was made Bishop of Pretoria and after being consecrated at St Paul’s Cathedral, relocated to South Africa. Gilbert was born in Johannesburg on 31 Aug 1921. His parents were overjoyed and at first there was no indication of any problem for Cecil. However by the third day there were complications appearing and Neville became anxious for his wife. By the morning of the 9th September it was clear that Cecil’s life was endangered and Neville and his brother Edward prayed furiously in the Chapel of St John’s College. It was to no avail and Cecil died later that day aged just 34. Neville was a widower with a young daughter and a baby son. Shortly after Cecil’s death, Lavinia Talbot – Neville’s sister – dedicated herself to looking after her brother’s children and household. It was a generous decision that would cost Lavinia her own dreams; she died a spinster in 1950.


A young Gilbert (Picture Winchester College)


Young Gilbert grew up in South Africa – they moved to Pretoria – but in 1933 his father was appointed to St Mary’s, Nottingham and the family returned to the UK. The following year Gilbert went to Winchester College where he excelled as a cross-country runner and steeple-chaser. He was also a keen historian and Secretary of the Archaeological Society. In 1940, turning down an Exhibition at Oxford, Gilbert followed his father and uncle into the Rifle Brigade.

He was commissioned to the 1st Battalion in on 3rd May 1941 as a 2nd Lieutenant with the service number 184841. Then part of the 2nd Armoured Brigade, the battalion was fighting in North Africa and it was here that Gilbert was first wounded in the Western Desert on 28th February 1942 during the fighting around Tobruk.

Transferring to the 22nd Armoured Brigade from June 1942, the 1st Battalion were now part of the mighty Desert Rats. It was during the Second Battle for El Alamein (October and November 1942) that Gilbert was wounded for a second time. On recovering he was appointed Aide de Camp to Sir Maitland ‘Jumbo’ Wilson in Cairo then acting as Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East.

During this time Gilbert’s father Neville suffered two major heart attacks – in December 1942 – and died on the 3rd April 1943. Thus he would be spared a third tragic death of a close family member.


Lavinia (Nevgille's sister), Elizabeth, Nevill eand Gilbert in Nottingham

Lavinia, Elizabeth, Neville and Gilbert in Nottingham


Gilbert re-joined his battalion in August 1943 in time for the invasion of Italy but in January 1944 returned to England with them. Here they waited – mostly at Dixon’s West Camp in Ickburgh, Norfolk – until June when they took part in Operation Overlord.

Arriving in France shortly after D-Day the battalion were holding the line ten miles south of Bayeux. Talbot was commanding HQ Company near Balleroy when it was heavily shelled. He died along with Major Francis Dorrien-Smith, Lieutenant James Vaizey Caesar and two soldiers, Corporal Beer and Rifleman Parnell. All but Beer (REME) were from the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade. The five are buried in the civilian Eastern Cemetery in Bayeux. Plot 9 Grave 2. Gilbert is also remembered on a war memorial plaque in Christ Church, Chelsea as his address was the family home in Cheyne Court at the time of his death.



CWWG plot in the Eastern Cemetery in Bayeux


Perhaps the most tragic figure left in this story was Gilbert’s sister Elizabeth. She had now lost her mother when she was not quite two and now her father and only brother in the space of little more than a year. However, Elizabeth was a flight officer in the WAAF during the war and in October 1944 became engaged to Flight Lieutenant Ronald Chalk of Watford. They married in February 1946. Elizabeth later lived in Chorleywood and was a Justice of the Peace amongst other things. She died in 2002 at the age of 82.

Gilbert Talbot was one of the many millions who gave his life for his country. Like all of them, including the uncle he never knew, his is remembered by a simple Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone. I think though, that being one part of the Talbot family that gave so much to Toc H, Gilbert Seymour Wyndham Talbot may share a little of the glory of the uncle he never knew whose name adorns that well-known house in Poperinge, now in its second millennium under the Talbot name.

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man

After Tubby, there are any number of candidates for the most influential person in Toc H – the post-war organisation, not Talbot House. Personal favourites are Pat Leonard and Barclay Baron but others will cite different committee members, office holders and confidantes of Tubby. However, one man must take a lot of credit for putting order to Tubby’s pipe-dreams. Peter Monie was the first Honorary Administrator of Toc H and he put the Movement in good-shape for years to come. This simple biographical sketch of Peter’s life should just be seen as an accompaniment to Peter’s own writings which are largely gathered together in Toc H Under Weigh and are recommended to the reader.

Peter William Monie was born in Rothesay, Bute on 30th March 1877 to Peter and Elizabeth. Peter Senior was an English teacher and Assistant Master at Duns whilst Elizabeth’s father was an elder in the Auld Kirk at Duns. It soon became clear that their son was destined to be a scholar.
Peter was educated at Irvine Royal Academy (his father would later be Rector there) then Glasgow University before heading to Balliol College, Oxford. As well as being the alma mater of three British Prime Ministers and a host of Nobel Laureates, Balliol had several Toc H connections; most notably, Neville Talbot who was chaplain there 1909-1914.
In 1899 Peter passed his entrance exams into the Indian Civil Service and was posted to Bombay Province as an Assistant Collector, arriving 16th November 1900. As subordinate to the Collector-Magistrate (Previously the District Officer), he would have dealt with the collection of taxes; the distribution of agricultural loans; and the assessment of land. However, he would also have been involved in the maintenance of law and order in his district.
Exactly a year after his arrival in India, on 16th November 1901 he married Ursula Winifred Bellairs in Bombay, daughter of Rev. Henry Spencer Kenrick Bellairs. Their first son, Cyril, was born in India in 1903. Further children were Kenneth (1904), Peter (1909), and Beatrice (1915)
In 1905, Peter was promoted to Under-Secretary to the Government of Bombay and then in 1907 to the Home Department of the Government of India. Tragically, that same year, his father-in-law took his own life whilst concerned with health problems.
In 1913, Peter became Acting Collector of Nawabshah District, Sind, and in 1915 was appointed Secretary to the Government of Bombay. He became Municipal Commissioner for the City of Bombay in 1916, and Deputy Director of Development for Bombay in 1920. In January of that year he was awarded Companion to the Star of India. It was also in 1920 that Peter met Hugh Clayton, Tubby’s brother, who arrived in Bombay a year after Peter. Besides inventing Contract Bridge – that’s for another day – and later becoming Commissioner of Bombay, Clayton spent much time telling others of the work his brother was doing in establishing Toc H in the UK.
Peter Monie first visited Toc H whilst on leave in 1920 and though there wasn’t that much to see it clearly affected him. In 1922, on leave again, Peter went on retreat with Tubby and applied for an extended period of leave from the Indian Civil Service. That great fisher of men had landed another catch. It was reported in the November 1922 Journal that . That December, he appeared on the stage at the Birthday Festival in the Guildhall. This was the very same night that the Prince of Wales lit the Lamps of Maintenance for the first time so it is fitting that the man who would so organise the practical arrangements of the Movement would share the stage with the birth of the most symbolic ceremony in Toc H. However, it was also the day after the granting of the Royal Charter that turned Toc H from an association of like-minded men into a corporeal organisation able to act in its own right. For an administrator like Peter Monie, this was an incredibly significant moment. The final act of that birthday weekend took place in Grosvenor House on Sunday 16th when all present solemnly passed the Main Resolution of Toc H. The  purpose, was to address the failure of the Royal Charter to unequivocally promote the Christian nature of Toc H. The words, in their first draft, were primarily Peter’s although Alec Paterson revised them before offering the Resolution up to the members.
It was the Charter that gave Peter his first challenge. Prior to the Charter Toc H had been managed by a somewhat informal Central Executive. Now the Charter dictated the appointment of a Central Council by election. Every move that the Council would make must be meticulously and democratically planned. The Executive also remained but had to be tamed from the wild beast it had become into a stately horse fit to pull the Movement forward. For a Civil Servant the calibre of Peter Monie, it was a challenge easily risen to.
Peter’s philosophy was simple; to allow Toc H to grow at the speed it was growing, strong foundations were needed. To achieve this Peter focussed on decentralisation. Even London, whence Toc H was reborn, had a wide and scattered membership loosely gathered around the first Marks. Peter established the London Federation in January 1924 with Harry Ellison at the helm. The same month, the first Northern Conference was held in Sheffield. Later that year, Western members assembled in Bristol, the Midlands Movement convened in Leicester, Southerners in Oxford, and the South Eastern contingent at Crowborough. Given the speed of expansion between 1922 and 1926, this infrastructure was critical in preventing Toc H collapsing on itself.
Peter was more than just a bureaucrat though. He was a thinker and he used The Journal to publish a series of articles about the philosophy of Toc H. These were later compiled into the book Toc H Under Weigh. Whilst Toc H was growing exponentially and it was – on a branch by branch basis – carrying out great works, there was a constant uneasiness about what Toc H was actually supposed to be. Peter Monie presented many writings to stimulate debate on this matter and whilst his works are highly regarded, it is probably fair to say that this debate continues more than 90 years later.
Peter officially retired from the Indian Civil Service in 1925 after a quarter century of service. It is possible that had he not been snagged by one Clayton brother, he may well have gone on to be a Commissioner like another Clayton brother. India’s loss truly was a great gain for Toc H.
On 1928, the existing areas were further broken down into Districts. And of course this was not just in the UK. Tubby and Pat’s monumental 1925 World Tour had helped establish groups across the Dominion. In 1926 Harry Ellison was sent to South Africa to turn the single unit there into many (Rex Calkin took over London Area) and in 1928 Tubby toured South America. This growth could not have been sustained without a bold and courageous strategy. The conservative administrator may well have advocated a slower, controlled growth but that would have stifled the enthusiasm being whipped up by Tubby, Pat and others.
It wasn’t all plain sailing of course. Peter was at the heart of the row with George MacLeod about ecumenical services within Toc H (See Everyman’s Club?). Peter was probably George’s most outspoken opponent. He said himself, “George MacLeod and I have quite different ideas about Toc H……………Toc H [should] stand clear of ecclesiastical disputes, [and] is scrupulously careful to leave such matters to the Churches”. Peter, of course, was on the winning side of this dispute and MacLeod resigned his official posts in Toc H.
Beyond Toc H, not all was well. Peter’s beloved Ursula’s health was imperfect and on February 9th 1935 she died somewhat unexpectedly. A few days later Peter handed his resignation into Hubert Secretan. His job at Toc H was done. His work however was not. On 7th March 1936 Peter was ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church as Deacon at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow (Where Pat Leonard would serve as Rector from 1944-1953) and as Priest there just three months later. In September 1937 he was appointed Rector of Old St Paul’s in Edinburgh. He remained in this post until his death on 10th December 1946. He is buried in Teddington Cemetery along with Ursula.

Trying to capture Peter’s contribution to Toc H on paper in a few words is almost impossible. It is clear though, that Tubby’s belief in “cometh the hour, cometh the man” was well-founded in this case. Peter was the absolute right man for the Movement as it exploded with growth. A lesser man at the helm would have seen it floundering on the rocks almost before it had left harbour. Toc H owes Peter Monie plenty.

Steve Smith © 2017

The Journal

Toc H Badges

As an interlude to the blog articles I am writing, I will be posting some other items of historical interest around Toc H. This article catalogues my badge collection. It’s a PDF as I did it in Word originally and it would take a while to convert to WordPress as there are a lot of images.
Click on image to see article


Everyman’s Club?

Well, somewhat later than originally promised, here is the next of my blogs marking the centenary of Talbot House (Toc H) 1915-18. There will be more, sometime…..


There is a thread that runs through Talbot House and Toc H that binds me and others like me to the very fabric of the movement. That thread is equality! It is the principle that all those who enter Toc H are treated equally. It is a dogma promoted from the opening of the house in Poperinge where a sign above the chaplain’s door demanded “All rank abandon, ye who enter here” and embraced at the Toc H meeting where a Lord might sit next to a dustbin man. We are taught that the movement tolerates no prejudice and rejects segregation. Yet scratch beneath the surface and we see that things are not quite as clear cut.

Even in those earliest days at Poperinge, there was a room upstairs that was available only to officers going home on leave. It’s true that the army wouldn’t have allowed rank and file soldiers to be absent from their barracks and so only officers could benefit from the arrangement. Nonetheless, it was a small indication that all are equal but some are more equal then others.

In the post-war organisation, the most obvious disparity was that women were only allowed to be associated as domestic assistants. The League of Women Helpers was seen as precisely that and often acted as seamstress and laundry maid to the men. It took another war to see them become a separate but complimentary movement and then the liberating sixties for the constitution to be changed allowing them to join the main movement freely.

Less well-known were the discordant crises – and I don’t use the word lightly – between affiliates of different denominations of Christians during the 1920s. For in those early days, Toc H was not fully open to those of all faiths and none. Far from it; not even all Christian religions were equal.

However, before I begin in earnest, I need to explain that this is not a hatchet job. We have to understand the above in the context of the times. Women were still fighting for suffrage when Toc H started, so not being allowed to join a ‘men’s club’ was hardly surprising. And Toc H was a Christian based organisation and remains so to this day. Over the years it has necessarily had to loosen its membership criteria and offer differing interpretations of the Four Points otherwise its membership may well have faded away even sooner. Therefore this article is really just a look at the issues of the times from a stand of curiosity.

So let me finish this introduction closer to where I began. When I came to Toc H in the late eighties as an atheist I was shown no intolerance nor any attempt made to convert me. Over the next few years I made many new friends from within the ranks of Toc H. They were of different genders; different sexualities; different religions; different ethnic origins; and held differing views about many things. We were all equal and drawn together firstly by the common action we wanted to take in the community and secondly by the love we found in the Toc H family itself. Toc H proclaimed to be open to all from the outset and though it may have stumbled a few times along the way, it got there in the end. And writing this just days after the 2016 US election and a few weeks after the divisive EU Referendum, the openness of Toc H is needed more than ever. One of my best loved Toc H maxims was from the pen of the great Barclay 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


The Intercommunion Crisis

Famous now as the founder of the Iona Community, George MacLeod was born in Glasgow to a wealthy business family. His World War 1 experiences in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders earned him a Military Cross and a Croix de Guerre. They also greatly influenced his decision to join the church and shaped the type of clergyman he would become. He knew the work of Talbot House and Tubby during the war and became a member of Toc H afterwards. However it was in March 1922, whilst he was spending a year at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, that he encountered Tubby. Our founder took to the young Scot immediately and MacLeod accompanied him on his trips around the metropolis meeting people. Tubby was keen to establish Toc H in the US and enlisted MacLeod as Toc H’s secretary in New York for the remainder of MacLeod’s time at the seminary. Once the Scot had returned to Glasgow and taken a post at St Giles’ Cathedral, Tubby charged him with opening up Toc H’s work there. Thus on 21st September 1924, George MacLeod was ordained by the Church of Scotland to the full-time appointment of Toc H padre.

Ironically, given what was to come, MacLeod loved the diversity and equality of Toc H. Speaking of a talk to be given to the group by a coal miner, MacLeod said the following:

There were in the room a Colonel of the Regular army, a Captain of the Territorials; three Fascists, two Socialists; two men who had seen the inside of a prison, an ex-Borstal boy sitting next to a policeman; several unemployed, a clerk from the Unemployment Bureau quite near them; a Cambridge man actually on the same form as an Oxford man; a padre and several who rarely go to church; and the rest from offices, shops and works. The incidental fact that the coal miner failed to make an appearance did not deter the above-mentioned prosaic gathering from discussing something else for two hours and singing songs together for half an hour.

This would seem to confirm the long-held beliefs that Toc H was for Everyman. So what was happening that would shake these foundations of the movement and create such a rift in Scotland? In short it was the matter of communion or more specifically intercommunion

At a meeting of 12 Padres at Mirfield in December 1924 it was decided:

a) That it is not expedient that intercommunion services should be arranged in connection with the Toc H festivals and conferences

b) That all sorts of Christians should be welcomed into Toc H

The contentious first point was approved by the 11 Anglican padres present and rejected only by MacLeod, the one non-Anglican padre at the meeting. They were received into the minutes of the Central Executive meeting of 5th January 1925.

MacLeod was furious about this. He strongly believed that everyone should share the same service of communion or the doctrine be divorced entirely from Toc H. In Talbot House, the hop loft chapel was used by those of all denominations. Now Tubby had the living of All Hallows and it had become the Guild Church of the movement, only confirmed Anglicans could be given communion there. Those of other Christian denominations would have to go to the Free Church for the sacrament.

Toc H’s apparent stance, where the Church of England alone was the church of Toc H was in opposition of everything MacLeod had loved about the movement. He had seen Toc H as breaking down both class and denominational barriers in a spirit of post-war co-operation and now they seemed to be reinforcing Anglican supremacy.

He was, unsurprisingly, up against some staunch opponents most notably the Honorary Administrator Peter Monie, a former Civil Servant in India and a fellow Scot. Monie felt Toc H should not get involved in such arguments and leave them to the church. He argued that by demanding intercommunion MacLeod risked dividing the movement. He went as far as accusing MacLeod of wanting a Pan-Protestant movement that excluded Anglo-Catholics! This makes sense when we learn that Monie was planning to convert to Catholicism whilst remaining Honorary Administrator. Monie would in fact later be ordained into the Scottish Episcopal Church.

I should make it clear that the division was only around the subject of communion. Indeed in 1925 Great Yarmouth branch were instrumental in founding the United Council of Christian Witness in that town which brought together all denominations to help tackle social issues. That was just one example of the ecumenical drive of Toc H away from the issue of communion.

Tubby tried to distance himself from the battle saying that he was too wise to meddle with a thrust in tierce exchanged between two terrible Scots minds. And to be fair, he was travelling the world with Pat Leonard whilst much of the row was brewing.

On 11th January 1926 MacLeod resigned as Glasgow padre on the grounds that the Central Executive and Founder Padre decline to commit Toc H, as a Society to supporting the cause of intercommunion.

The Central Executive met on March 1st and passed the following resolution:

That the Rev. G.F. MacLeod be informed, in reply to his letter of 11th January, 1926, that the Central Executive of Toc H accepts his resignation from the post of Glasgow Padre with the very greatest regret – a regret that they know will be shared by the members generally.

In the March issue of the Journal, the Central Executive issued a statement that reads very defensively. They are pains to point out that they appoint padres to meet the needs of members of all denominations and do not issue instructions to their padres as to the admission or non-admission of members or other persons to the Holy Communion. They admit knowledge of certain Anglican padres making a mutual agreement on the matter but claim it was not brought formally before them. They reiterate that Padres have the right to administer their own ministries as they feel fit. It is frankly, a turgid, side-stepping, appalling excuse for a statement and it is no wonder that MacLeod was left hurt and angry by it all. However, it would be the same stance that the Central Executive would maintain for years to come.

George MacLeod became minister of the second charge at St Cuthbert’s Parish Church in Edinburgh. He did not resign from Toc H. The Glasgow branch stood firmly behind their padre but decided not to disband. In 1938 he founded the Iona Community where he would ensure that his own creed could be lived.

Tubby and George remained friends. In a letter from MacLeod to Clayton in Aug 1939, they are making arrangements for Tubby to stay at Iona. MacLeod signs off with shared humour: For the dog we charge 2/11 ¾  per week; or 3/1 ¼ if he has bones

The passing of time soon smoothed over the problems caused by the rift. And the problem itself was pretty much ignored as long as it could be. Others would take up MacLeod’s banner in time. In 1929 the Australian padre H.E.E. Hayes raised it whilst visiting London. Hayes – a Knutsford graduate – had caused a ruckus in Toc H Australia in 1926 when he attended communion with several Baptists. (He also angered the authorities by daring to support British ex-servicemen alleging discrimination against them by the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League of Australia). Hayes was told that ‘the general belief was that it was too early for Toc H to adopt intercommunion as policy’. And so it was brushed over until it couldn’t be brushed over anymore. It was after all, just one more piece of the ongoing riddle – What is Toc H?

As a footnote, I will mention the Unitarian crisis of 1928 which arose out of the January 1926 appointment of a Unitarian minister, Rev. Henry Dawtrey, as honorary Padre at Wood Green. His appointment was not sanctioned by the Central Executive and Peter Monie took responsibility for it. Then in January 1928, two further Unitarian ministers were put forward to be sanctioned as Padres. These cases were referred to Central Council who ruled that no minister of a church describing itself as Unitarian should be eligible for appointment as Padre of the Toc H Association or of any Branch or Group. This ruling reached the press and Toc H were lambasted for it, and were even accused of stating that Unitarians were not even Christians. Toc H denied the latter strenuously although at the same time recognising that ‘some who call themselves Unitarians, particularly abroad, are not Christians’. It did not deny that the appointment of Unitarians as padres had caused some deliberations and it partially justified its decisions by referring to 1927 Lausanne Conference of Christian Churches which did not extend invitations to the Unitarians. The most damning outcome of this particular crisis was the resignation of Toc H President Ramsay MacDonald. His resignation was – quite clearly from his letter to Monie – not a matter of conscience but the wish not to be ‘mixed up in the trouble which will arise’. It did, at least, give him time to prepare for a second term in government! Meanwhile Central Council met on 21st April 1928 and thrashed out the problem. A Resolution from Tubby was passed that basically apologised for the recent bad publicity and stated that Toc H had never meant to imply that Unitarians were not Christians. A second resolution essentially chose to recognise the list of religions drawn up at the Lausanne Conference as the definitive list of Christian religions compatible with appointing Padres. Unitarians were of course not on that list. Since this episode started with Henry Dawtrey, I’ll let him close it with the words he spoke to the special meeting:

We have a different point of view and I interpret the Charter in a different way from you. I wish to assure you that, though you exclude me, you are not excluded from my regard, and that I, like you, seek to do – in the highest sense of the term – the will of God.

Anglicans 2 Others 0


And so our brief look at two turbulent times in the fledgling Toc H’s drive to be Fair Minded draws to a close. Later, I might look at another issue that caused consternation in the ranks and saw another man standing on his principles. It was an altogether more damaging issue and the man who stood up to it, a shining example to us all. The issue: apartheid in South Africa; the man: Alan Paton, but that’s for another day.

Steve Smith © 2016

George MacLeod – Founder of the Iona Community by Ron Ferguson
The Journal

A Personal Journey Into Toc H

I am intermingling writing this article with packing my case for a trip to Poperinge. This must be almost my thirtieth trip to Belgium since my first in the late eighties and it’s all because of the strangely named charity that entered my life and stayed.

I was first aware of Toc H as a child when my friends and I played in a derelict Nissan hut in a field in Goffs Oak, Hertfordshire. When I asked my mum why there was a hut in the middle of a field she said it used to be the Toc H hut. I don’t recall enquiring as to what that meant but the peculiar name lodged itself somewhere in the recesses of my mind.

Fast forward some 20 years and I am working at Cuffley Youth & Community Centre helping my dear friend Richard run some of the youth clubs and other activities. A tall man approaches and talks to Richard about using the youth centre as the venue for some parties for various groups of young and disabled people. Soon afterwards groups of underprivileged children or people with learning disabilities started showing up in holidays or at weekends and were entertained by a very mixed bag of people who arrived with rucksacks, sleeping bags and weird senses of humour. As a shy and still somewhat naïve 25 year old, I tended to hide out in the youth club office and not got involved with these people. I mean, some of them were quite scary! One girl even had this hard-core Mohican – she scared the bejesus out of me. This was my introduction to the Toc H project scene and I didn’t really get involved at first.

Then the tall man – his name by the way is John Burgess and he will be familiar to many reading this blog – suggested to Richard that we take some of our young people out to Belgium in the summer. If I’m honest I probably wasn’t sure where Belgium was and I was not widely travelled in those days. It should probably be noted that I was developing a serious drink problem at the time and the thought of leaving the comfort of England and its pubs was quite frightening for me. However Richard could be very persuasive when he wanted and in the summer of 1989 or 1990, I can’t quite establish which, we took a group of young people (15-17) to some place with the English name of Talbot House in the town of Poperinge (formerly Poperinghe) in some place called Flanders in Belgium (I was already confused).

Now, some context! My sole interest in the Great War at this point was the poetry. I studied Owen and his ilk for O’ Level English and their graphic descriptions of the horrors of war fed my growing pacifism. I knew very little about the causes, progression, or outcomes of the war. I certainly knew nothing of the people who lived it. At Talbot House this would change; in the hop loft turned into a chapel, a Flemish man by the name of Jacques Ryckebosch told me stories of some the people who passed through Talbot House during the Great War. He opened my eyes and in the next few days I learned much about the beginnings of Toc H though it would take many years for me to learn how a soldier’s club inspired people with rucksacks, sleeping bags and a weird sense of humour to turn up time and time again to help others.

So, the youth club trips became a regular occurrence, and in time we took drama shows to Belgium (and the Netherlands). Groups from Poperinge came to visit us in Cuffley. We also started to meet others from Toc H in the UK such as the Hackney crew from Prideaux House or those looking after the campsite at Rickmansworth. The Youth club and Toc H became firmly interlinked.

Personally my loyalties still lay with the youth club but when my friend and mentor, Richard Gentle, died – way too young – in 2001, John Burgess reeled me in for Toc H. Soon I was getting involved with projects in the wider Toc H family as well as the projects at Cuffley.

I should also point out that in 1997 I found sobriety and in some sort of penance I was throwing myself into charity work. I was fortunate enough to be earning a good wage and so would think nothing of jumping into the car Saturday morning in Essex, driving to Bradford for a two hour Toc H meeting and driving home again the same day..

At Cuffley kept the long-running Jimmy Saville mini-handi dances (now rechristened Jimmy Saville Danceathons) alive. In 2003 I even managed to get Jimmy Saville to attend………well none of us are perfect are we? I found myself chairing Lea Valley branch; joining the South East Region Project Committee and working with HQ on some publicity and IT issues. I discovered great places such as Lindridge in Devon and went there with various groups. I made a great many friends through Toc H and in 2002 – on the Aga Khan Foundation’s Partnership Walk which Toc H were providing stewards for – I met my future partner, Hazel.

I continued to go to Poperinge regularly, again with different groups, and have many, many good friends in this lovely Flemish town. When we moved to Norfolk in 2005 I took over the Norfolk Activities Committee from the wonderful Alan Brook (Such impossible shoes to fill) and for eighteen months was even a paid Development Officer for Toc H.

I think it was safe to say I had immersed myself in Toc H. However it was not just a hands-on thing. I was also reading everything I could on the organisation and there is a lot of literature out there. It would be this literary absorption of everything Toc H that would lead to my first intellectual conflict about the movement. Toc H was clearly a Christian based organisation and I was a devout atheist. How could I rationalise my devotion to the cause? I clearly wasn’t the first person to have this issue as much was written about it in the seventies and eighties in particular. There were, for instance, different ways to interpret the Four Points if the Compass if necessary. The important point I was told is that Toc H is open to everyone and all are equal within it. Well, that’s not quite what history tells us and the reason I mention it is that in one of the future essays in this centenary series I hope to explore tolerance in Toc H…..or rather, occasional intolerance in Toc H. Amongst other things I will be looking at issues that drove George MacLeod from the movement and also Alan Paton’s concerns that Toc H didn’t take a strong enough stand against apartheid. I should stress that I am not knocking Toc H simply examining different facets of its existence.

And so what other essays will unfold over the next four years? I hope to include a look at the Foundation Women members of Toc H. Alison MacFie is well-known but what of the others in this small band of women? I also hope to write down a short history of the various Marks and other houses of the organisation including it’s many homes on Tower Hill. I started this research for a tour of the Hill when some of my Belgian friends came to London a few years ago. I’ll also be taking a look at the many ‘celebrity’ or well-known members of Toc H particularly in its early years. Authors in particular seemed to be attracted to the movement but it also attracted politicians and others. Henry Willink, a warden at one of the Marks and chairman of Toc H for many years is barely remembered as a politician yet as the Conservative Minister for Health during the wartime coalition government, his white paper on a health service actually laid the foundations for what Bevan would take forward after the war. I digress – get used to that if you plan to keep reading this blog.

The point I this: Toc H is an important part of my life and I am still passionate about it. I like to explore its history and when I can, take part in its present and its future although this is most often in Belgium these days. I am no longer a member of Toc H UK because I didn’t see eye to eye with my fellow trustees when I was on the board a few years back. However, I belong to Toc H Belgium and continue to visit Poperinge each year. However, Toc H is a family not a membership card and so many people in my life came to me through Toc H. I have just had a 20 minute phone call with Joan, a 95 year old lady who used to come on the Toc H LEAF holiday that I led in Norfolk; next week I will meet with two or three dozen old friends from the UK, Belgium, South Africa and Australia as we come together at the place where it all began. Oh, and remember the scary girl with the Mohican from back in the youth club days. Sally is one of my oldest friends in Toc H and will be with me in Poperinge as we celebrate this centenary.


The Prince and the Padre

As I have stated, this Blog is to be the home for a series of articles relating to Toc H. The first new essay will be published in December to coincide with the centenary of the opening of Talbot House. However, to keep things ticking over I am going to blog a few pieces that have previously been published. This first one was originally in August 2008 for the magazine of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor Society. I reprint it here as originally published without any additional editing.

The Prince and the Padre

In All Hallows church, almost in the shadow of the Tower of London, lays the tomb of Sir John Croke. Croke – a 16th century politician – bears no further relevance to this story except that his tomb is used as the base for an ornate and quite magnificent casket. Within the casket is an old oil lamp, similar to the lamps used by early Christians in the catacombs of Rome but with the double cross upon one of its ends. It is a Lamp of Maintenance, symbol of the charity Toc H, and the cross is actually from the arms of the Flemish city of Ypres. However, this particular lamp is no ordinary lamp for the Toc H movement. It is the Central Lamp of Maintenance, otherwise known as the Prince of Wales’ lamp from which all other lamps in the organisation were lit for the first time.

Toc H started in Flanders in the town of Poperinge. Situated six miles from the trenches around Ypres, Pops (as the soldiers called it) was a staging post. Its civilian numbers were always swelled by thousands of allied troops either bound for the front or having some well-earned rest away from the mud swamp that the Salient had become. In December 1915, the army commanded the 6th Division’s senior chaplain Neville Talbot to open a club for the soldiers to rest in. Talbot enlisted Padre Phillip ‘Tubby’ Clayton to run it for him. They acquired a lease on a merchant’s house in Rue d’la Hopital and planned to open it as Church House. However, Colonel Reginald May insisted that it was called Talbot House after Neville. Talbot agreed only on the proviso it was known to be named after his younger brother Gilbert, who had been killed at Hooge the previous July. Thus Talbot House came into being on 15th December 1915.

Different to similar clubs in the town, Talbot House knew no rank. Soldiers and officers mingled freely in the ‘dry’ canteen on the ground floor, the library on the first floor, or the chapel in the hop loft at the top of the house. Whether writing letters home to their loved ones or debating an issue of the day with the larger than life ‘innkeeper’ Tubby Clayton, the house was filled with hundreds of men. In the makeshift chapel with an old carpenter’s bench for an altar many men took their first communion, and many more their last.

The house was often called by its initials TH, and then, in the radio signaller’s jargon as Toc H (It would be Tango Hotel today). This was the name that stuck. It served the soldiers well for three years closing shortly after Armistice.

Back home in the UK, Tubby Clayton felt a driving need to continue the Fellowship that had been such a part of life in Talbot House. He gathered together some of the men who had visited the house and began a movement they called Toc H, after the soldier’s nickname for the house. After ambitiously trying (and failing) to establish a new Talbot House on Trafalgar Square, Tubby settled instead for a large house in Kensington which became Talbot House Mark 1, a hostel for men who were strangers to London. Here they could meet like minded souls and live in a community. In return for their food and lodgings, the men had to pay a reasonable rent but were also expected to carry out some form of charitable activity within the local community. Thus was born the Toc H tradition of Service. As these men left the hostels to return to their home towns they established local branches there. The growth of Toc H across Britain and the commonwealth in the early twenties was phenomenal.

Amongst those attracted to its ideals was a man who as a young officer in the Salient had visited Talbot House on several occasions. The Prince of Wales had already expressed an interest in the work of the Movement and in 1921 became its first Patron but his patronage would not just be a name at the top of their notepaper. Those Toc H members who had known the Old House during the war were entitled to the description Foundation Members, thus Edward bore this title within Toc H.

In the autumn of 1922 Tubby wrote to Sir Godfrey Thomas, the Prince’s Private Secretary, to report that although the Movement’s bank account was looking quite healthy they were getting little financial support from the City of London itself. The Prince responded by writing, on 30th October 1922, to Lord Revelstoke, head of the House of Baring, asking him to meet with Clayton. The meeting was arranged and helped Toc H acquire the support of many great London businesses.

Although not an organisation for soldiers only, it was inevitable at that time that most men in Britain had been in the war, and Toc H played an important role in remembering those who had not returned. Houses were donated as hostels by the families of those who had lost a son, and much of the ceremony and symbolism of Toc H reflected this remembrance. In May 1922 Tubby and Barclay Baron (Editor of the Toc H Journal) came up with the idea of using an oil lamp as an emblem, granting one to those branches who they felt were worthy of recognition. This became known as the Lamp of Maintenance. The lamps would often be bought by the family of – and dedicated to – a young man who had lost his life in the Great War. The Prince of Wales, donated a lamp to the Movement. – the Central Lamp of Maintenance. It was to become the most important of them all.

The Prince’s Lamp was first used at the Guildhall in London on 15 December 1922 (The seventh anniversary of the opening of Talbot House) at the first ever Festival of Toc H. It was a monumental month for the movement who had just received the Royal Charter from the the Prince’s brother, King George; appointed an Honorary Administrator to run its affairs; and now –in a magnificent occasion – saw the Prince of Wales himself use the lamp he had donated to light the first forty lamps given to Toc branches across the Dominion.

At that first ceremony the Prince was dressed in a Toc H blazer and tie with a pair of light flannels. His speech was greeted with great gusto. The following extract gives a flavour of how it went:

“…….we still stand tonight only at the outset of Toc H. Tonight is a great step in the early life of a great society, a society which will, we hope, remain young when the youngest of us here grows old……… ………..I am sure that all of you at least hope that Toc H today may go forward in its tremendous task of conquering hate and teaching brotherly laugh between fellows of every class. I can assure you that I look upon it as a great privilege to be your Patron, and to have been asked this evening to light these lamps. As I light them let our thoughts bear in mind many loved and honoured names.”

In the same speech he reflected on his pre-war friendship at Oxford with Gilbert Talbot, the young Lieutenant killed in July 1915 and for whom Talbot House was named; and the Prince also reflected on his fondness for the Old House in Poperinge. Edward would return almost every year to carry out the same ceremony until his accession.

This was not the only role he had in Toc H though. In 1925 whilst visiting South America as Prince of Wales, he took time to speak to fledgling Toc H branches there and kick-started the movement. It is interesting to consider what a role he may have played in Toc H if the circumstances had been different. As it was he set up the Social Service League during his short reign as king, which must have been inspired by his experience of Toc H.

However, his time as Toc H’s patron was to come to an end. Initially his accession meant more pressing calls on his time. He was unable to attend Toc H’s Coming of Age Festival in July 1936, and sent Albert in his place. However, he did send a message, extracts of which are below:

 “Hitherto, from the very earliest days, I have presided almost annually over at the Lighting of the Lamps of Maintenance. This year my brother, The Duke of Kent, brings to you all, in my name, my sincere greetings and congratulations. Toc H is now a Movement which has proved itself capable of good throughout the Empire……………..As Toc H stands tonight full grown it must be ready to lift those Lamps high to shed their light on the paths of the future. As your Patron I look confidently to Toc H to take its share, by fellowship, by service and by ever deepening thought, in solving the problems that lie before us, and I wish you God-speed in your task”

His abdication came two days before Toc H’s actual 21st birthday. Tubby wrote a moving sermon. They had lost a great Patron and friend.

Toc H’s founder and enigmatic figurehead died in December 1972 just a few months after the Duke of Windsor. The movement continued although today it is but a shadow of its former self.

Steve Smith

(c) 2008

100 Years of Toc H

The charity Toc H – which I have been part of for over 25 years – has its roots in Talbot House, a World War One soldiers’ club in Belgium. In December 2015 it will be 100 years since that club first opened its doors. In November 1919 the ideals and ethos of that club were continued in peacetime with the formation of the charity. To celebrate these centenaries it is my intention to publish – between December 2015 and November 2019 – a series of essays about the work of Toc H . At the risk of setting myself a challenge I cannot rise up to, I plan to publish the essays quarterly from December 2015. Each essay will explore an element of Toc H’s rich and vibrant history.