Christian support organisation
"...a movement of men and women who demonstrate their belief in breaking down the barriers that can divide people from one another. TOC H is a Movement concerned with Christian values..."
During 1915 in western Europe there was turmoil, both military and spiritual. Many towns were occupied by invading armies, and the Allies were fighting to recover ground. Troops were already tired and disillusioned. Many sought to desert, through a combination of fear and low morale.
Two towns in Flanders quickly became a retreat for many of the Tommies - Poperinge and Veurne. Of these, Poperinge quickly established itself as a bastion of relative peace. Situated behind the labyrinth of trenches around Ieper, it grew to be a stable place for rest and recreation, with all that entailed. Amongst the bars and informal brothels, army chaplains Neville Talbot and Philip Clayton ("Tubby") opened a club for the soldiers at Talbot House, Gasthuisstraat 43, where everyone would be made welcome, and support and counseling would be available. Talbot House (named in honor of Neville's brother) quickly became recognised as the one place where a soldier could actually rest, rather than just debauch. Its reputation spread quickly, and in the growing tradition of abbreviation, became known as "TH" or "Toc H" (toc being the letter "T" in the signaller's phonetic alphabet of the time.)
The approach was simple - everyone was welcome, irrespective of rank - Tubby's philosophies of "Everyman" and "All rank abandon" lay the foundation for an easy-going and friendly atmosphere. The story of the altar gives the greatest insight into his character - he found an old carpenter's bench in a shed at the rear of the building, and asked some of the soldiers from the Westminster Rifles to carry it upstairs. When they realised what he wanted to use it for, they were horrified, but Tubby pointed out that there could hardly be a more fitting item to use, as Jesus was himself a carpenter.
Growth into the modern day
Many recipients of this support took the philosophy of the original Toc H back home with them, and set up small, local support groups in the UK. As the need grew, so did their membership, and in 1922 the organisation was granted a Royal Charter in 1922. Nowadays, there are over 150 local units in the UK, and many overseas (India and Australia having large numbers of supporters). Between them they have developed many pioneering projects, notably the National Blood Service blood donor scheme, hospital radio and other charitable operations such as Lepra.
The original cornerstones are still evident in the building, so to speak. Co-operation and friendship are the backbone of each group - people from all backgrounds are welcome, and seek to break down those barriers that normally divide people. Group support and community work are the goals to which all work, goals shared by another organisation - the YMCA.
Talbot House, the orginal building, is still in use, and is open to the public.
"Dim as a Toc H Lamp"
The symbol of the Toc H Movement is an oil lamp decorated with the Cross of Ypres, known among its membership as the Lamp of Maintenance. The original lamp was used by Tubby Clayton in Talbot House, and is still lit on 12th December, his birthday. The expression has become part of the language (although among an older generation), as a gentle insult to indicate mental ineptitude or dullness (as oil lamps do not offer a great deal of light).
For its members, this is not a problem - one member said it was used "as a focal point and not for its light". After all, even a dim light is better than none.
My father, to whom this is dedicated