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‘All rank abandon ye who enter here’

Toc H welcome. Visit http://www.talbothouse.be/en/index.php

I was recently re-reading Ronald Blythe’s “The View in Winter – Reflections of Old Age” a splendid book by the author of the equally fascinating “Akenfield”.

Both books are portraits of English rural life in East Anglia based on interviews with – for the most part – older inhabitants.

Interviews with aged men who fought in the Great War recall battles long past. In fact, Blythe in this book published in the late 1970s, observes “it is strange to think that we are now very near the day when everyone who fought on the Western Front will be dead.” And, of course, in 2011 that day has come.

These old warriors recall the First World War organization, known as Toc H. This was the Morse (Army Signals) pronunciation of the letters T.H., the initials of Talbot House. The first Talbot House was founded, in December 1915, at Poperinghe, Belgium by the Rev. Philip Byard (Tubby) Clayton in memory of Gilbert Talbot, son of the Bishop of Winchester, who had been killed at Hooge in July, 1915. It was a refuge, rest and recreation centre for those back from the Front Line or those about to fight there.

Toc H served all ranks. On the door of Tubby Clayton’s room, an old soldier recalled, was the sign: “All rank abandon ye who enter here.”

After the war, Rev. Clayton founded a similar centre in London, also known as Toc H that developed into an interdenominational association to promote Christian fellowship and social service. In 1922 it received its charter to “remain young when the youngest of us here grows old,” as the Prince of Wales said on that occasion.

I only came across a Toc H house on one occasion. It was in the early Fifties while I was serving in the Royal Air Force. On a weekend pass, I was hitchhiking home when I passed this building (I think it was somewhere in Sussex) inviting servicemen to drop in. In the 1950s, young men in Britain at the age of 18 were conscripted for military service and the soldiers, airmen and sailors often had to resort to hitchhiking when on leave. In those days, one could travel a great distance when hiking in uniform as people were sympathetic to the poorly paid young conscripts.

'The World Chain of Light' Every year on Tubby Clayton's birthday the Lamp of Maintenance is lit in the Upper Room at Talbot House in Poperinge for 24 hours. It is lit from 9pm on the night of 11 December until 9pm on 12 December. The lighting at Toc H Poperinghe is the start of a series of lamp lightings in all the Toc H branches around the world. More on Toc H at: http://www.toch-uk.org.uk/index.html

I Googled Toc H And found that the movement still exists. It is still headquartered in the United Kingdom but apparently has members in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Belgium, France and elsewhere. But there was no mention of Canada.

One web page said Toc H members seek to ease the burdens of others through acts of kindness and service.
Toc H, as it approaches its centenary in December, 1915, is little known today and has, apparently, suffered a progressive decline in membership in recent years.  Was it ever active in Canada? Do any ex-servicemen remember coming across Toc H houses while serving in Britain in the Second World War?

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  1. Steve Smith says:

    Yes Toc H was active in Canada and if you email me (Steve@largeinnorfolk.com) I will try and sort out a bit more info for you. It may take a few weeks as I have several research projects underway including my work on the history of Toc H.

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