The Houses That Love Built – Part 1

Mark III 

 Whilst Toc H grew to be a worldwide movement built on people, actions, faith and fortitude, Tubby’s vision for rekindling Toc H after the war was more simply focussed on a peacetime Talbot House in London. Of course, even then he knew that the strength of his new organisation would be sum of everything that had grown in and out of the Old House between 1915 and 1918. Thus the seed for his new crop would also be a building.

With all the grandeur you might expect of Tubby, he felt that the best place for his new Talbot House would be Trafalgar Square. The square itself acting like some stand-in for the Grand Place, Poperinghe. Other more practical – but ultimately unfulfilled schemes – included taking over the Guards Club in Pall Mall which was on the market.

Tubbys Dream

Tubby unveils his plans

Front Cover of Sept 1922 Journal

The Journal highlights the journey underway

Tubby next wanted Talbot House Mark I – incremented army style – to be in Bloomsbury (Mark VII would open here) and was also talking to the Westminster estate about opening a hostel in two houses in Pimlico (Later Mark II). So the houses that were leased from an Anglo-South American organisation in South Kensington were only ever meant to be temporary. The first, at 8 Queen’s Gate Place, was very temporary, being outgrown inside two months, whereas its successor at 23 Queen’s Gate Gardens served the movement until July 1927 when Mark I moved to Pembridge Gardens in Notting Hill.   

Once Tubby was on a roll there was no stopping him and the Marks started opened up in rapid succession. It was now not simply that Tubby wanted to recreate Talbot House in London. He was aware of the desperate isolation of young men in digs and wanted the Toc H houses to be an alternative to the loneliness of lodgings.

There was a post-war housing crisis for working class people however, the young men Tubby was looking to assist – his hostellers (the term Marksmen arrived later) – were largely quite well to do gentlemen looking to build careers after the hiatus of the Great War.

So within this Centenary blog I will, from time to time, look at the history of various Marks both in London, the provinces and abroad. I have decided against doing them in numerical order. In fact I shall do them in no real order whatsoever although Mark III is a good place to start as, to all intents and purposes, it is the only Mark still in existence – albeit much changed.

Its beginnings were in the shadow of Waterloo station opposite the General Lying-In Hospital in Lambeth. On the corner of Guildford Street stood no 148 York Road, a big grimy house that acted as the vicarage for St John the Evangelist’s church in Waterloo Road. When former army chaplain John Walker Woodhouse was inducted to the living of St John’s in January 1921, he found it too big for his needs and moved into a much smaller property at 9 York Road. Being a member of Toc H he knew of Tubby’s quest for properties to open as hostels and arranged for the fledgling organisation to lease it from the church. Neither party hung around as the hostel opened on the 21st May 1921, just four months after Woodhouse took over. Incidentally Woodhouse would end his career as Bishop of Thetford immediately preceding Toc H stalwart Pat Leonard.

York Road wrong number

A rare image of the first Mark III (Wrongly labelled as 146 instead of 148)

Across York Road on the opposite corner of Addington Street was a former Congregational Chapel. It was taken on by St John’s as a church hall when the parish expanded (due to All Saints being pulled down for Waterloo station).Wrigley’s had used it for gum storage during the war when evicted from their own Lambeth Palace Road warehouse but it was now empty and Mark III were able to use it for Guest Nights and the like.

St Johns Church Hall

The chapel across the street used for Guest Nights

Barons description in Half The battle

An early Barclay Baron description

So who were the first hostellers down in Lambeth? Well, as became the norm, new Marks were usually seeded by hostellers from existing Marks, in this case Mark I in Kensington and Mark II in Pimlico. The most notable of these was Harry Willink who had spent time in both and became the first Honorary Warden of Mark III. Given Willink’s long future association with Toc H and his place in history, a short sketch of his life is justified.

Henry Urmston Willink was born in 1894 of Quaker stock. The family seat was at Dingle Bank near Liverpool. After leaving Cambridge in 1913, Willink did some mission work but joined the army in 1914. By 1917 he was in charge of a Heavy Gun Battery outside Ypres and on Good Friday of that year attended a service in what was left of Ypres prison. The padre delivering the service was one Tubby Clayton. They chatted and Clayton invited Willink to Talbot House for a service on Easter Sunday which he duly attended. Given that Alison Macfie and her cousin Dorothea both visited Talbot House for the first time that Sunday, what a portentous occasion that was for Toc H.

After the war, in 1919, Willink met his future wife and the following year was called to the bar. In October 1920 he moved into Mark I as one of the first hostellers. He spent six months there before moving to Mark II then in May 1921 to Mark III as Warden. Among the Service he would partake in were two Duke of York Boy’s Camps (1920 and 1921) which he attended as Section Leader. He would remain as Warden and hosteller until September 1922 when he moved into the Temple near his chambers but his association with Toc H was far from over.

Willink would become Chairman of the South London Area Committee and the London Executive and, in 1934, become Chairman of the Central Executive of Toc H. The following year he took Silk and in 1940 was elected as a Conservative MP. During the wartime coalition government he was made Minister of Health. At this time, 1944, he regretfully stood down form the Central Executive chair.

Involved with the production of the Beveridge report, Willink prepared a White paper entitled a National Health Service. It made many proposals for the establishment of the NHS but differed in one major aspect to Bevan’s later white paper, in that Willink was opposed to the nationalisation of hospitals. So when Labour swept to power after the war, Willink’s paper was torn up and replaced by Bevan’s.

Willink retired from politics to become the Master of Magdalene College but retained Toc H connections. He was very supportive of the campaign to raise funds to rebuilt Mark III (See below). He died on New Year’s Day 1973 just a fortnight after Tubby.



Boys Club report

Annual Report St John’s Boys’ Club

Each Mark had an Honorary Warden who was an ordinary hosteller with a day job but who had voluntary responsibilities in looking after the house and ensuring any issues were dealt with. The Honorary Warden would be assisted by an Honorary Deputy Warden. Willink’s first Deputy was Guy Sydenham ‘Siddy’ Hoare. Another gunnery officer, he had been a major in charge of a Wessex Territorial Battery near Ypres. After the war he devoted himself to Toc H and as an External Aspirant at the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, where he became resident in 1923 but died in 1926 aged just 47.

The men living in hostels were not normally domesticated and they generally required domestic help. Soon the Marks would have properly paid live-in housekeepers – often a husband and wife – but in the earliest days they were known as stewards. Sam Pickles and his wife were amongst the earliest stewards and he joined Mark III when it opened remaining until November 1922 when he left to be OC Messing at Mark VII (Fitzroy Square).

Amongst the other early hostellers was Bob Collis, an Irish doctor and writer. He joined the British Army in 1918 as a cadet, but resigned a year later to study medicine in London which is when he stayed at Mark III. He would later become the first President of Toc H London. After qualifying he was appointed director of Paediatrics at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin playing Rugby for Ireland whilst there. During the Second World War he worked for the Red Cross in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after its liberation by Allied troops. He was instrumental in bringing five orphaned children from the camp to Ireland in 1947, and adopted two of them. Hence his later reputation as the Irish Schindler. He was also involved in establishing Cerebral Palsy Ireland working closely with Christy Brown of My Left Foot fame.

Collis shared a small upper room at the top of the house with a Cambridge friend. The room was divided into a bedroom and a tiny sitting room for study. In his autobiography The Silver Fleece he describes the Mark:

Its situation alone assured the resident of a commanding position. In our case this was enhanced by the fact that our work at King’s College Hospital entailed a journey of half an hour into south-east London, while our amusements led us in the opposite direction across the river.

Mark III itself was a poor dusty house looking out on a noisy dirty street. It consisted of a basement where food was cooked and where we ate, a common room above and a large number of rooms used as dormitories in which were from two to six beds. Their furniture was scarce, but they were fitted out pleasantly, if roughly. Washing accommodation was sufficient, if crowded. One small back room had been reserved. It was made into a chapel. Whoever decorated it was an artist. It was plain, except for a few benches and a communion table. There was a wooden cross which had been brought back from Flanders, a communion roll, and a round window of stained glass, reconstructed actually of pieces from the shattered windows of the Cathedral of Ypres and arranged so as to represent the double cross of the Flanders town. It faced away from the street. In it there was stillness or as near absolute quiet as can be obtained in London. For even in places where the hooting of the traffic and all crude sounds are shut off there is still always a distant rumble, which is felt rather than heard. Here it was possible to be alone. Indeed in later years, when no longer living in Toe H, I have more than once entered Mark III quietly and climbed up to the little back room seeking peace from London.

In the end though Collins found the ‘hearty atmosphere’ too distracting for his studies and moved out of the Mark.

Another notable hosteller was Geoffrey Leonard Heawood, who was secretary of Christian Students Association whilst living at Mark III and later moved to Mark VII. A tutor at Kings College London he became deputy head of Alleyns in Dulwich then the head at Cheltenham Grammar for many years. He wrote several books on Christianity.

Others included more medical students in Bill Daggett, Arnold Hatch, and A. P. Leavey, the last named being a fine athlete whilst Hatch did a lot of the Marks’ work with Scouts and became a GP in Dulwich; and T. J. Bosley who was secretary for the Toc H Drama League and Concert Party.

Of course there were many others and most of them would have been members of Toc H. Indeed, in 1920 virtually the whole of the London membership lived in the Marks.

Meanwhile, in August 1922 Willink stood down as Warden and was replaced by Robert Jardine. Willink stayed involved with Toc H as we were saw earlier and after they married in Dec 1923, Willink’s wife Cynthia started a girls’ club at St John’s.

That autumn, the Mark started a Gym and Boxing Clubs for members in St George’s Hall, about half a mile from Mark III on Westminster Bridge Road. The building had held boxing matches before the war and in 1921 was bought by the National Sailors and Fireman’s Union as their headquarters. Charlie Thompson, who was heavily involved with Toc H sports activities and was briefly on staff as Sports Secretary and Social Welfare Secretary, ran the club. Although Charlie didn’t live in the Mark, because of its proximity to Mark III the gym became ‘owned’ by the hostellers. They would feed any gym users who required it.

“Evening supper could be arranged at Mark III, provided the members of the classes who desire it will give due notice to the secretary”

There were two sessions every Tuesday (6.30-7.30pm and 8.30 to 9.30pm). In early 1923, because of a lack of interest from Toc H members, it was turned into a single class at 8pm incorporating boys from St John’s Boys Club.

Charlie Thompson went on to run a gents’ outfitters at London Bridge and supplied ties and scarves to Toc H members for many decades.

Is This Mark III or jsut any old Mark

Chowing down in one of the Marks

In May 1923 Marks I, II, III & VII were the focus of four branches formed to organise the scattered London membership. The Mark III branch officially formed on the 4th May 1923. Branch Meetings were on Wednesday at 8pm following on from Supper at 7pm. The first branch committee of Mark III was Henry Willink (Chairman), W.E. Phelp (Vice Chairman & Treasurer; Also Warden), Tubby and John Woodhouse (Joint Padres), Horace Flower (Secretary), Bill Collis (Jobmaster), Charles Oscar Leadbitter (Assistant Treasurer), plus non-executive members R.I. Croucher, Bill Daggett, and Sidney Beresford Ingram.

Beresford Ingram was to become the Inspector of Technology for London County Council and later a Schools Inspector for the Home Office and later still a Postal Inspector. In 1924 he moved to the Brothers House (Mark XIII) Kennington. Charles Leadbitter was a former Coldstream Guard captured towards end of the First World War and held as a POW for several weeks.

What did it actually mean to be a hosteller back then? For starters, as well as paying rent – and this would normally be a variable amount depending on what they could afford – they also agreed to do one night’s service in the locality. This might mean helping out in one of the missions or boys’ clubs.

Work with St John’s Boys’ Club was extended and they also worked with the Scouts. The then Warden Walter Phelps was responsible for this and because of the pressure of work, resigned as warden to be replaced by Malcom Arnott (Later Warden at Mark VII) on the 1st December 1923. T.P. Caroll and Ronnie Myatt now ran the St John’s Scout troop. Later, Toc H hostellers would be part of the fledgling blood transfusion service furiously running or pedalling to the local hospital to lay next to someone requiring a blood transfusion.

Each house also held guest nights weekly which involved an ‘expert’ giving a talk to the hostellers and welcoming visiting members from other Marks and branches. This was a good to chance for hostellers to meet non-resident members of Toc H from the District. Talks included subjects such as Children’s rescue Work, Science and the Criminal, and Nerves.

The little branch “across the bridges” – the only one south of the Thames until Putney opened in 1930 – never seemed as busy as its fellows.  It was smaller than the other early hostels and was something of a Cinderella Mark; Marks I, II, & VII were forever playing each other in various sporting events but Mark III probably didn’t have the numbers to make up a team. However it survived nine years in Lambeth until London County Council stuck their oar in!

Started in 1911 but delayed by the war, County Hall had been the home of the LCC since 1922, shortly after Mark III opened. However, it was running out of space from day one and a plan to build an extension was always in the offing. Compulsory purchases were projected and seeing the writing on the wall, in early 1930 Toc H dispersed it’s Marksmen across the London Mark diaspora or to another charity whose head office was in Tooley Street.

“a few collected together at the Lucas Tooth hostel against the transformation of the late rectory of St John’s, South Hackney”

In March 1930 Toc H headquarters staff moved in from Queen Anne’s Gate for six months until their new HQ at 47 Francis Street was ready. A North Lambeth grope (In those days a Grope preceded a Group which preceded a Branch) was formed in the spring of 1930 by some of the old hostellers to try and plug the gap left by the closure of the Mark and its associated branch.

Final Plan for North and South Blocks though not as built

The County Hall extention that led to the destruction of the first Mark III

There were inevitable delays to the County Hall extension but by 1939 the new North and South Blocks of County Hall were finished. 148 York Road had been torn down and the pedestrianised Forum Magnum Square still stands over the spot today. On the diagram above, the ‘A’ of York Road points to where the Mark stood.The Lying-In Hospital opposite is still in situ!

However, the story of Mark III was far from over, as thanks to the generosity of its friends at Punch, the Mark crossed the river and decamped to South Hackney. Sir Owen Seaman, editor of Punch and a great friend of Toc H, launched the appeal that allowed the former rectory at on Church Crescent, South Hackney to be purchased for the movement. It was known as Punch House though still bore the title Mark III. The Reverend Henry Cecil had arrived at St John of Jerusalem church across the street in July 1930 so it was all change in this area close to Wells Common.

Marksmen moved in to Mark III in the late summer of 1930 whilst there still trenches in the garden being dug for the electrics and paint still drying on the walls. It was officially opened on Wednesday the 18th September by Seaman. It included the Punch Room and possessed the Punch Lamp dedicated to F.H Townsend.

Punch House

The old rectory in South Hackney which Mark III took over as Punch House

The first Honorary Warden was Lew R. Tamplin from Mark VII and he was joined by Deputy Phil C. Toy, also from Mark VII. Marksmen, many from other London Marks, included E B Wilkinson, later Warden at Mark IV in Manchester, R.A. Suckling, Gerry Hayes later Warden at the Brothers’ House, and Bobbie Hirst from Mark I.

Mark III continued to exist relatively quietly in Hackney through the nineteen thirties but by 1939, in common with the rest of the Marks, it suffered as young men were called to war. Occupancy across all the national hostels was at less than 50% by the end of the year. In December 1939 the last residents moved out Mark III and it was moth-balled. John Sarl was warden when it closed

In 1940 it stood empty and was badly bombed. After the war, initially the surviving rooms were used to store Toc H property from closed wartime Services clubs. In time the upper rooms were reconditioned to make temporary homes for otherwise homeless staff and finally it was made fit for revival as a Mark.

It was initially reopened in 1947 with Bernard Shaw from Mark XX as Honorary Warde. He was assisted by Bill Jakeman and a team drawn from the other London Marks with the task of rebuilding Mark III. They included the Revd. Edward Seager, a former vicar for the Scilly Isles who was Padre before moving back down to Cornwall. They clearly succeeded as by April 1949 it was back to full capacity.

It was during this period that Mark III – and the other London Marks as well – started to show signs of massive diversity, something Mark III in particular would become renowned for. One Marksman remarked;

“this is the room you’ll be in for the time being. We call it the nursery. The chap in the bed next to yours is a Pole, the one in this bed a West African studying textiles, over there a tubby chap in the Bank and in the corner Jimmy, a ‘printer’s devil’ ”

Little wonder they called Toc H the human zoo. The same Marksman goes on to explain what Mark living is all about;

“a Mark is not just another name for a boarding-house. It is not out solely to provide comfortable quarters for the men lucky enough to live there, nor to cater for a floating population…………the Family living in a Mark needs to be a carefully chosen mixed team – the young apprentice, the student, the shop assistant, the mechanic or the miner, the bank official and the journalist, in age from 16 upwards……… this is but an overgrown family, it is a small enough community for each to realise his duties and responsibilities to his fellow member which in the larger community of town or nation are too often forgotten.”

Punch House was further restored over the next three years and officially reopened on the 5th April 1950. At the opening – the celebrations beginning at 42 Trinity Square – Punch owner Allan Agnew introduced editor Cyril Kenneth Bird aka Fougasse, assistant editor Humphry Ellis and contributors E.H. Shepherd, A.B. Hollowood, and A.D. Keown. The party later moved to the newly restored house where hostellers had hung an illuminated sign. Bird handed over a small tablet in memory of Sir Owen Seaman who ‘led Toc H to Punch’. Seaman had died in 1936.

Wardens during this rebirth included Michael Meadows, Pat Blakeman and John Bewley. The latter died suddenly in February 1959 and was replaced by his Deputy Ken Harvey until Jack Lucas took over. Whilst the normal life of the Mark continued, an interesting tradition began in 1955 – at Tubby’s instigation – that continued for many years. Mark III played a central role in it.

Romans Mark III Banner prominent

The Mark III Romans march on Tower Hill

Tubby, a keen historian particularly in relation to Tower Hill, wished to commemorate Julius Classicanus, the Roman Procurator who stopped the Romans from ravaging Norfolk after Boudicca’s rebellion. The governor Paulinus was pursuing a scorched earth policy throughout East Anglia but Classicanus, whose role was to take money in taxes, opposed him thus sparing the Iceni from complete annihilation. To commemorate him, Tubby created a pageant where the Iceni were represented by Norfolk’s Scouts and Guides and the Romans from all London Marks but especially Mark III. Gualter de Mello recalls;

The Roman pageant was a fascination. Mark III enjoyed dressing up as Roman soldiers, headed by the Roman Governor Gaius and his wife Julia, followed by Scouts and Guides from Norfolk dressed as Iceni who together marched to Mile End underground on to Aldgate East and a further march to the moat of The Tower of London. A mock battle between Romans and Iceni before going to All Hallows Church for a Thinking Thanksgiving Service and from Tower Hill back home by coach as our Iceni Scouts and Guides had to get back home after tea at Prideaux House


More Mark III Romans. The Mark Banner is nicely displayed.

However there was no getting away from the fact that those seeking life in a hostel were looking for something a little different now. And however you dressed up Mark living as a way of life, the building it was being lived in was still a Victorian Rectory!

Planning to replace Mark III began in the late fifties and outline plans were approved by London County Council by the end of 1958. It was an ambitious plan too – Toc H was looking to have its first ever purpose-built Mark at an estimated cost of £50,000 (Just over £1 million in today’s terms).

Artists Impression PH

Artist’s impression of the first purpose built Mark

An initial plan allowed for 12 three-bed rooms plus quarters for the Warden, Padre, a guest room, sick room and a separate suite for the housekeeper and her assistant. The Chapel and Quiet rooms would adjoin each other on the first floor. Additionally there would be a dining room, games room, TV room, lounges, laundry and a dark room plus the necessary bathrooms and showers on each of the three floors. Quite a rebirth. An appeal was launched with Henry Willink as Patron.

Artists Impression 1962 rebuild

How the inside was planned to look

The last guest night of the old Mark III was held on the 29th November 1960 and the Mark closed on the 10th December 1960 with demolition commencing on the 15th.

Once complete, the new Prideaux House (named for Lancelot Prideaux-Brune, a foundation member, early Warden of Mark I, and holder of many other roles in Toc H) was a much modernised hostel. The fundraising had proved a great success and many of its donors were remembered by having rooms named after them: The Chapel was dedicated to John Bewley, former warden of Mark III and a Welfare Adviser for the RAF Association; the Padre’s room was the Owen Watkins Room – Watkins being a Toc H padre and Deputy Chaplain General for the army and a legendary figure in Toc H. Other rooms were named for sponsors such as The Wolfson Room (The Wolfson Foundation contributed £5000); The Building Industry Room; the St Michael Room (Marks and Spencers), The Henry Hildesley Room (A local printer who covenanted £100 a year to provide a memorial room in the name of their late MD);  the SEDOS Room (Stock Exchange Dramatic and Operatic Society who put on a performance of Kiss Me Kate to raise funds); the Unilever Room (They donated £1000);  the Frederick Bain Room (The Quiet Room was to be named for the former Deputy Chairman of ICI and a Toc H member); the Arnold Power Room (W H Smith); the Borough Room (Hackney Council) and many others. Perhaps the most poignant was the Our Twelve Room. Endowed by Mrs Alexandra Louise Gray, it is memory of twelve members of her family who gave their lives during the First World War.

PH ANother View

And the finished building

Unfortunately, it retained the old Mark practice of multi-occupancy at a time when people were looking for private bedrooms. This limited its life as a hostel but more of that later.

Originally due to open in February, inevitable delays meant that the new Mark was eventually opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother at 4.15pm on Friday 1st June 1962.

The new Honorary Warden was to be Charles Young, of Carlisle branch and Northern Area Secretary, who with wife Kate had been the second Wardens at Dor Knap. Charles got Prideaux House up and running but retired early in 1963 having established a younger team. W. Anthony (Tony) Lee was warden mid-1964 and was also elected as a Central Councillor. John Boddy was Warden in the summer of 1965 at time of third anniversary open house celebrations. However, in 1966, came a man who would leave his mark on the Mark indelibly!

Gualter de Mello joined Toc H in his native Brazil in 1953 when Archdeacon Townsend started a group in Sao Paulo. Gualter was initiated by Alison Macfie who was on her travels in South America. In 1957 Gualter spent a year at Mark I whilst acting as Tubby’s weekend ADC and then some time at the Brothers’ House where he met Neville Minas. After doing his theological training at Ely, partly funded by the Toc H and All Hallows Trust, Gualter was ordained at St Paul’s in 1964 after which he took a curacy at St John of Jerusalem Church in South Hackney and became padre for Mark III where he moved in in September 1964. After his curacy finished he became Warden as well as Padre.


Your author’s wife with Neville Minas and Gualter de Mello at Ely

To understand the work of Prideaux House under Gualter I can do no better than suggest you seek out a copy of Kenneth Prideaux-Brune’s Any Problem Is No Problem published by the Community of Reconciliation and Friendship in 1996. What follows is but a glance.

Under Gualter’s guidance Prideaux House began to turn from a hostel into a community centre. The docks were closing and this part of Hackney needed community spirit. It would become an integral part of the community with local mayors, councillors and religious leaders becoming involved.

In the summer of 1967 the first ever Toc H project based on a Mark took place at Prideaux House. A number of painting and decorating jobs on behalf of the Hackney Borough Council Welfare Department were carried out by a party including one boy from Poperinge, a Czech, and a German.

Drawing of PH by Min Tabor

A drawing of Prideaux House by local Hackney artist Min Tabor

The Mark itself was highly multinational with its residents representing 22 nations in late 1967. One of the Marksmen around this time who later became better known was the musician Peter Skellern. He was seen as an ideal hosteller – somewhat different to guitaris Chris Spedding who got thrown out of Mark II for constantly arriving back in the early hours.

Gualter arranged a community survey and it was established that the local elderly community was most in need of services. In 1968 Gualter began holding lunch clubs at the centre for local elderly folk. This lunch continues 50 years later!

PH Lunch Club 1970 Gualter and Miss Ann Brace

The long running lunch club. Gualter is far left at the back

On the 28th November 1968 a new Toc H Service called Friends Anonymous began. Later it would be havied off as a separate entity and, now known as the Community of Reconciliation and Friendship, this service is still going. Other services included chiropody, a club for people with disabilities on Friday nights, an open night with films on Wednesdays

PH Postcard

Another view showing the Friends Anonymous Service sign

In 1969 the rooms were converted into two people rooms and the following year the first six women moved in. One of these was Marolyn White who met a young Toc H worker (and former Tubby ADC) John Burgess at the house. In December they married. They play a further role in this story as you will shortly see but more importantly, without John Burgess, who hooked me into Toc H, I would not even be writing this blog.

1970 Playgroup Photo JUB

The first playscheme

Another community survey was held in 1970 which highlighted the need for playgrounds and clubs for young people. This led to the establishment of Summer Playschemes that same summer and, in 1971, the Rainbow Playgroup for 5-12 year olds. There were also residential camps at Colsterdale and Rhyl that gave local children the opportunity to enjoy a break on the countryside. These were led my Mark III resident Brian Harding.  Realising that schemes being run only during the summer holidays didn’t solve all the problems, Gualter started a Youth Club over the winter of 71/72.  He soon realised that there were too many young people for Prideaux House and a purpose built Youth Centre was required. Luckily there was a vegetable patch at the rear of Prideaux House that would be a perfect site. However, its birth was not without complications.

In January 1972 Gualter pointed out to Toc H that the young hostellers who were involved in their own student lives were not the best people to engage in Toc H activities and that future long-term residents should be fully committed to Toc H work. He recommended that only the top floor be residential (long-term) and the first floor be turned over to conference facilities and short term accommodation.

Unfortunately, whilst the management committee of Prideaux House supported Gualter fully, Toc H nationally didn’t necessarily agree with his views. There were further clashes regarding the building of the Youth Centre and finally in December 1972 Gualter resigned. One wonders if his great friend Tubby’s death on the 16th December had any bearing on his decision.

Captain Roy Leech of the Church Army (He was also 26 years in the army – Tank Corps and RAOC) took over the reins after Gualter left but on the 16th June 1973 when the aforementioned John Burgess took charge.

John was born in Clacton in 1945 and introduced to Toc H by his father when he was 16. He was District Secretary 1964-66 whilst working as a Marine Diesel Engineer. He then joined the staff and was Deputy Warden of the Toc H Services Club in Paderborn. On returning to the UK he lived at Mark III and became Projects Officer helping the Project scene grow massively. After his stint as Warden at Prideaux House he would continue to work as a Development Officer and, well he deserves a blog to himself some day!

Under John’s wardenship the spirit of Gualter’s Prideaux House was maintained. The community fun continued with Mad Hatter’s Tea parties and Happiness Marches across Wells Common. Stamp Clubs started and the Summer Playschemes went from strength to strength. They carried out a third community survey in 1974 reaching over 1000 local homes.

In the autumn on 1974 the go ahead was finally given for a Youth Centre on waste ground at the rear of Prideaux House. The cost of £22,000 was to be met by grants from the Inner London Education Authority and Toc H but £10,000 still had to be raised locally – Toc H West Essex District took up this challenge. It was opened in on the 3rd November 1975 by Angus Ogilvy. The youth leader was Alison Hutchinson, who had cut her teeth in Darlington. Around the walls of the new centre were a series of handwritten signs bearing messages such as “If you swear, do it quietly”; shades of Talbot House! Bob Haimes was a later Youth Leader.

Bob Haimes Warden Toc H Youth Centre Hackney1979

Bob Haimes, Youth Centre Warden, with some of his young people

Meanwhile in 1973 Gualter had returned to Hackney and opened Friendship House after a sojourn in West Malling working with Ugandan refugees. This would have an important bearing in the not too distant future.

In early February 1977 Jeff Bird arrived as Warden allowing, on the 2nd April, John Burgess to leave Prideaux House for the next phase of his long Toc H career. Jeff came in from his position as Long Term Volunteer Assistant Warden at 42 Trinity Square. He struggled a bit and was replaced by Mike Giddings, a former Mark III resident, and then by Geoff and Liz Taylor for a few months. Geoff, a teacher, and his wife Elizabeth, a Social Worker, were also both former residents of Prideaux House before they married.

Activities at this time included a Sponsored Walk around Wells Common led by Youth Leader Bob Haimes supported by 28 Marksmen and many members of the local community. A fete and barbecue to support he event was put on my Prideaux House. Indeed the annual ‘Feet Fete’ festival on Wells Common was a popular event. The Lunch Club and Summer Playschemes were still going strong and the latter attracted an International selection of volunteers.

Little Wallet Booklet FC

The cover of a Prideaux House pamphlet

But the Marks were out of fashion with Toc H and once again the writing was on the wall for Mark III. In March 1982 Toc H’s Director Ken Prideaux-Brune relayed the CEC’s decision to sell off the Marks. Mark III wasn’t ready to go though and this time though it didn’t have to close as such. With the help of John Burgess, Hackney Council and many others, Friends Anonymous bought it from Toc H and reinstalled Gualter to run things.

In 1982 Toc H Management decided to sell Prideaux House Mark III and we had 5 days to make a decision and purchase it with Hackney Borough Council’s Help. We moved back to Prideaux House and, despite of the changes taking place in society throughout the world, maintained the old Mark III principles of fellowship and service. I retired from Prideaux House in September 2013 after nearly 60 years.

One of the first things Gualter did was to set up a room containing Tubby’s original dining room furnishings. They were rescued by Gualter when 42 Trinity Square was under threat.  The room was recreated at Prideaux House and reopened along with the house on the 11th July 1982 in memory of Tubby.

Strictly speaking Prideaux House was now no longer part of Toc H. Nonetheless, the links were strong and the ethos similar on so many levels that the spirit of Toc H continued and continues still. In terms of hard facts the most significant change came in 2002 when Prideaux House was torn down and a new Prideaux House rose in its place. Then in 2013 Gualter retired to Brazil (Sadly dying just three years later). One era ended but a new one began.

Prideaux House II

Prideaux House rebuilt again in 2002

So we will end the story of Toc H Mark III here but what a journey it has had from its grimy beginnings in Lambeth to its place at the heart of South Hackney’s community. The Cinderella Mark turned out to be the fairest of them all.

Steve Smith (c) 2020

  • Sources
  • The Journal (Various)
  • Point 3 (Various)
  • Any Problem Is No Problem – Kenneth Prideaux-Brune (1996)
  • The Silver Fleece – Bob Collis (1937)
  • Unpublished autobiography – Henry Willink (1968)
  • Various other Toc H books, booklets and pamphlets
  • John Burgess

A Week End at Dor Knap

Another guest post this time. I’ve reproduced a little booklet put together by Ted Curry of Harrow branch in the sixties. It documents a June 1961 Week End at Dor Kapp, Toc H’s Cotswolds Conference Centre between 1959 and 1979.

The weekend appears to be around meeting between members from West London and South Wales. I have reproduced it in full here (And in order, I don’t know why he numbered his pictures so randomly). Familiar names such as Mayne Elson and Jeremy Topham feature.

If you want to know more about the Dor Knapp centre you can do no better than tracking down a copy of Dor Kapp – The House on the Hill by David Encill, Ray Fabes, George Lee, and Lionel Powell. Published by Cortex Design in 2004, it tells beautifully the history and Toc H life of Dor Knapp.







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.


Advertisement for VADs

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 (Dozinghem) 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 Dozinghem 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)