By Steve Smith
Whilst the Toc H was a Movement made up of thousands of unpaid members in groups and branches across the globe, the organisation would have seized up if it wasn’t for a large and active staff team greasing the wheels and pushing the whole thing forward. Somewhat like the church, Toc H staff were expected to serve where they were needed and it was common-place for field staff to be moved from pillar to post to apply their skills where they fitted best. A fine example of this would be Stuart Greenacre, known widely in Toc H as ‘Greeno’. From his early beginnings as a branch member, Stuart joined the staff team in 1931 and spent 27 years serving Toc H across the UK and abroad and even passing over ‘in the saddle’ as we shall see. This is his story.
Greeno was born on the 25th of November 1901 Birmingham to Edward and Mabel Greenacre. He was christened Arthur but later preferred to be known by his middle name of Stuart. As a youngster he was a member of the Church Lads’ Brigade, a good indicator of where his life was heading.
Like his father and many of his family members, Stuart began his career as a salesman in home furnishings but he was clearly looking for more than work from his life. In November 1923 we find one A. S. Greenacre as Honourable Secretary of the Oxford Federation of the Church of England Men’s’ Society (CEMS). I believe this is Stuart and given that quite a number of Toc H men were also in the CEMS, this may have been Stuart’s route to Toc H.
The first mention of Stuart being in Toc H is a newspaper report that retrospectively reports that he had been a member of the Nottingham group of Toc H where he held the post of Jobbie or Jobmaster, the man responsible for finding work for the branch and its members to carry out. He would have been a member in July 1924 when the group were elevated to Branch status and in December when their Lamp was first lit by the Prince of Wales in London.
It would be his transfer to the Manchester branch which would give him a role he could really get his teeth into. In January 1926 the Manchester district branches had opened a hostel at 16 Rutland Street in Hulme. An old pub, they retained the pub’s name of Bleak House and deliberately set out to attract the working class of the Hulme district. Toc H felt that it’s standard houses – the Marks or hostels it had opened across the country – were “too pleasant, too suburban”. Bleak House was something of a homeless shelter, working with the “down and outs” although former regulars of the pub also used to call in for a chat.
In the autumn of 1926 the main bar was turned into a coffee ‘stall’ and named in honour of the fallen as most rooms in Toc H hostels were; in this case it was the Unknown Soldiers’ Room. The Journal announced that “a coffee stall will be opened very night from 9’o’clock until 6 a.m., staffed by three members recruited from Manchester and Salford area”. Stuart was one of those members. It was popular with cabbies, tram-drivers and night workers and in a report he made to the Manchester branch in 1927 Stuart concluded
“people look to the Coffee Stall as a powerhouse for service – from dressing injuries to clearing up family differences and caring for the homeless.”
Stuart remained in the Manchester area until 1931. As well as running the coffee stall at Bleak House (until at least April 1928) he was the Honorary District Secretary and Salford District Pilot, all voluntary unpaid roles. However, in March 1931 The Journal announced that “A.S. Greenacre (“Greeno”) is to become the Secretary of the Southern Area, now enlarged by the addition of the Thames Valley and Oxford Districts”. This was a paid staff job and his postal address was listed as 47 Francis Street, London, Toc H’s headquarters at that time.
The role of the Area Secretary was varied and was fundamentally to act as a conduit between the branches in his area and Toc H HQ. He would represent Toc H by attending and speaking at local groups and branches, rallies (gatherings of groups and branches in an area), initiating members and presenting Rushlights and Lamps to groups as they earned them. He wouldn’t have done this in isolation though as HQ stalwarts like Tubby, Barclay Baron, Peter Monie and Pat Leonard all liked to attend rallies and so Stuart would have known all the Toc H executive very well. This meant that his abilities were brought to their attention and explains why – in October 1931 after just over six months in his first paid role – Stuart was assigned to Special Work. He left the Southern Area and was first sent to Northern Ireland to spend some time helping the groups there and the lone branch in Belfast. After Christmas he was sent to Scotland to do similar work there with Bob Sawers and then was posted to the South Western Area in a holding position until Easter.
In May 1932 it was announced that he was being appointed as Area Pilot in South Wales and Secretary, in the Western Area. His address is listed as Toc H, Insurance Buildings, New Street, Cardiff. This was the home of the Cardiff branch of the North British and Mercantile Insurance company, of which Walter Southwell-Jones was a director. Southwell-Jones was the Toc H benefactor who gave Mark V Southampton to the organisation and even sat on Central Council for a while. The fact that Toc H in Cardiff used this building was presumably no coincidence.
By the time of the staff conference in September 1932 Stuart was listed as South Wales & Western Area Secretary. This was two distinct Areas and quite a big responsibility given how quickly Toc H was expanding. In fact by July 1933 Stuart had relinquished South Wales and was focussing on the Western Area. His address was now the Bristol Mark but I don’t know if he was living there or it was just an office.
Then in October 1933 Toc H announced that six men were to be dispatched overseas (Two to New Zealand and four to Australia) to strengthen the groups and branches. Stuart’s brief was to forge new and stronger links of personal friendship between Toc H in the UK and in Australia, and also to assist Toc H Australia to solve for itself its own constitutional problems. Whilst several Ambassadors (Not least Tubby and Pat Leonard) had toured the Dominion to get Toc H going, this is the first time staff men have been assigned a formal tour of duty abroad.
He left Southampton on the 17th January 1934 for Fremantle, on the Jervis Bay, a Commonwealth Line steamer built by the Australian government for the purpose of shipping migrants. His companions were Rex Calkin and Ronald Wraith. The fourth man seemed to have dropped off the list but Ronald’s new wife Doris travelled with them. The party became known as Regron (REx, GReeno & RONald). They were certainly busy travelling right across the continent and they seemed to meet their brief. In the 1935 Annual Report it was said that “the results of their visit exceed our most sanguine expectations”. In practical terms this was reflected by the six independent Toc H Associations in Australia effectively restructuring under a parent association.
Stuart often enthused about his time in Australia and was a good friend of his travelling companion Rex Calkin, who was the General Secretary of Toc H. Stuart and Rex arrived back in England on the 2nd February 1935 (Leaving the Wraiths in Australia) and Stuart was posted as Acting Secretary East Midlands Area, switching with Alan Cowling who was sent to take up a Secretary post in Australia. After a permanent Area Secretary was appointed in May, Stuart returned to Bristol to be Western Area Secretary again.
It was whilst he was in Bristol that Stuart met Gertrude Bolton, the woman he would later marry. Gertrude was a staff member of the League of Women Helpers having left teaching after being been drawn to the Movement by Phyllis Wolfe. Phyllis was a fellow teacher at Camden House School in London and member of Toc H but both she and Gertrude joined the staff and formed something of a triumvirate with Elsie Potter, something of a legend in the LWH. Primrose recalls
“Mum told me about travelling up to Manchester to speak to groups of women about Toc H and what a shock it was for her to experience the conditions under which people lived. She also told me about taking East End kids on camping holidays and having to find shoes for them.”
Stuart’s next role change came in July 1936 shortly after the huge 21st birthday celebrations at Crystal Palace. A post-festival ‘cabinet reshuffle’ saw Stuart sent back to South Wales as Area Secretary (His place in the Western Area taken by Reg Smith whom we have featured in this blog). A year later, an unwell Stuart was replaced by a Mr Johnston. On recovering he was sent to help out in the Lincolnshire division of the East Midlands area but in December 1937 was posted to the South-Western Area as Area Secretary based at the local Toc H HQ at 42 St David’s Hill, Exeter. He was still holding this role at the time of the 1939 Register and his address was given as 12 Richmond Road, Exeter, a boarding house. As well as his paid role with Toc H, the register also recorded that he had some sort of voluntary role with the Women’s’ Voluntary Service Motor Transport unit. Incidentally, at the same time, Gertrude was living in lodgings at 21 Victoria Park Road, Exeter and was Regional Secretary for Toc H Women Helpers Travellers English Office. Three months later, on the 9th December 1939, they were married. Gertrude left the staff at this time.
This was of course a time of great change for the entire world, not least Toc H, who had turned their attention to opening a new chain of Talbot Houses across the UK and around the world to serve the pastoral needs of Service Men and Women. I am working on a blog about these Services Clubs for later this year. Stuart was assigned as Warden at the Toc H Services Club in Plymouth and whilst running this he became a father for the first time when his son, christened Timothy, was born. Tim’s godparents were his mother’s great friend Phyllis Wolfe, and John Brunger. The family were living in Dawlish at the time and Stuart was still South Western Area Secretary and also Pilot for the region.
On the 1st February 1941 Stuart was privileged to become the Warden of a unique Toc H Services Club. The Toc H Services Club of America at 46 Union Street, Plymouth was funded by the British War Relief Society, an American humanitarian aid organisation. Tubby and Barclay Baron were at the opening which was performed by Lord Astor, Mayor of Plymouth.
The Union Jack and the American flag both hung over the front of the building causing some confusion since the USA was of course not yet in the war. On March 11th the Duke of Kent paid an official visit but then on March the 20th there was a surprise visit from the King and Queen who were visiting the nearby YMCA. Stuart recalled the event
“The first I knew was the arrival of a breathless sailor, having run all the way from the YMCA to tell me that ‘they are coming here. Lady Astor asked them and they said yes.’ I had just time to put my tie straight and walk to the door, and up came the Royal car. It was a great joy to receive and welcome them on behalf of Toc H. Most graciously they talked to many Service folk and lady helpers. Both the King and Queen said what a delightful house this is and wished it every possible success.”
However, two hours later Plymouth was undergoing its worst bombing yet and Stuart said
“All night we fought hard and saved the buildings opposite, fed and watered firemen and A.R.P. workers, bandaged the wounded, and cheered [up] the women and children.”
The next night the Toc H Club was damaged in further bombing and they shared with the YMCA whilst it was being repaired.
However Stuart wasn’t just running the club for Servicemen and women. He also organised an appeal for clothing for various citizens of Plymouth who had lost theirs in the dreadful bombings the city suffered. The South Western branches responded admirably and sent speaker vans around the streets of Devon and Cornwall and within 36 hours two branches alone (Seaton and St. Austell) had collected and sent to Stuart some 2000 items of clothing. Stuart wrote
“The story of St. Austell’s great gift is good. The Secretary [of the Toc H branch] is a school teacher. He showed my letter to the Head. The Head called the school together and read my letter to them and then sent the children home, and by the afternoon a lorry set out loaded with clothes for Plymouth. Within 48 hours of the second ‘blitz’, Seaton again sent 50 sacks of clothes.”
Stuart travelled to St. Austell on Saturday 3rd to open their new headquarters. In his speech he told the assembled crowd of Toc H men and signatories that he had had only 4½ hours sleep since the previous Sunday due to many further bombing raids in the Plymouth blitz.
He may well have welcomed a change of scenery when, by August 1941 he had been posted to Leicester as Area Secretary. He and Gertrude were living here when a daughter, Primrose arrived. Old friend Rex Calkin would be her Godfather.
Growing up as the daughter of a Toc H staff man presented Primrose with some difficulties. She recalls
“One of the things I found difficult as a child was explaining what my dad did, what his job was. Other kids had dads who were postmen or factory worker or doctors but what exactly was Toc H and what did dad actually do? ¨Well he goes to meetings and he meets lots of people and he likes helping people.”
Stuart was soon on the move again and by September 1945 was posted to London where he became the London regional Secretary based in the House of Charity in Soho Square which Toc H used during the war. After this regional office closed he was relocated to the main HQ at 47 Francis Street.
In October 1945 Stuart returned to Exeter to speak at a large gathering of Toc H (Women’s Section) as the League of Women Helpers were now known. He praised the efforts of all in the Services Clubs but stated
“I am anxious that the public shall not judge Toc H by its wartime suit – that was only an expression of our will to serve.”
And Stuart certainly still had the will to serve. One of the first things he did in London was get a Bayswater branch up and running.
Whilst in London, Stuart and Gertrude’s third child, Mark was born. His Godfather was Austen Williams, a Toc H Padre who had recently spent most of the war interned in German Prisoner of War camps after being captured working for Toc H with the BEF. His other Godparent was Elsie Potter, still a leading light in Toc H (Women’s Section).
The children were all quite young when the family relocated again to Chandler’s Ford in Hampshire when Stuart was appointed Southern Area Secretary in 1948. This would prove to be his final posting. It was here that the family really grew up and they have fond memories of the years spent in Hiltingbury Cottage in this pretty area near Southampton.
Primrose adds that
“during and after the war there was absolutely no anti-German talk in our house in fact I think Toc H must have befriended some German families after the war because I can remember a very grateful Herr Claus”
Stuart was based at the Talbot House Seafaring Boys’ Residential Club where Inky Bean was Warden (ably assisted by Mrs Bean). The children occasionally accompanied Stuart to work. Mark still has a half size Valencia Acoustic Guitar bought for his 10th birthday from a Spanish sailor. He has strong recollections
“I distinctly remember being taught the game of billiards and snooker by a large sailor and thinking how huge the table was and how smooth the surface was. Then the Hythe Ferry going down the Solent past the Cunard Queens if they were in dock. Going on the little steam rain on the Mile long Hythe Pier. That’s a wonderful memory.”
The family also knew well the nearby Mark V at Bassett. Mark again
“We all remember Toc H Mark 5 on the outskirts of Southampton. I remember garden parties and fund raising fetes there in the summer months. I usually got myself into some sort of trouble.”
“Lots of the Toc H people had nick names; Tubby, Sawbones (Hugh Sawbridge), Inky Bean, etc. We met lots of these people. They came to the house or we went to them or we met at various Toc H functions. I liked it when Tubby came or Miss Macfie because they both had terriers, Tubby’s was called Chippy and I was allowed to walk him round the garden holding onto the lead.
We also met some of the Winant volunteers. I can remember Dad being delighted because Anne Rockefeller was coming to see us. She of course being the granddaughter of the American business magnate.”
The Southern Area was huge and included the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands so he was away a lot at weekend conferences and evening meetings. Primrose says
“When he went to Jersey he always brought back some cherry brandy and we were allowed a thimbleful to taste. He was not the sort of Dad who went to the pub, he was a half pint man and he also found Mrs Bean’s dinners too huge to eat when he had lunch at the office in Southampton.”
Stuart started a Toc H branch in Chandler’s Ford in the mid-fifties and then restarted a Milton and Eastney group in early 1958. He was a church warden at St Boniface church and leader on a committee which planned St Martins in the Wood church as an offshoot of St Boniface. Primrose again
“I can remember being very pleased when Dad started up a branch of Toc H in Chandlers Ford because the Dads of some of the kids we knew joined and then they would maybe know what Toc H was.”
Unfortunately, in the early fifties Stuart got an infection in the spine, a spinal streptococcus. They operated at a hospital in Alton, Hampshire he was there for about 12 months. Mark remembers visiting him there several times with their mother. He says
“A very kind Toc H man built a device which allowed him to read a book lying down. That was so helpful during a very long stay in hospital. It took months to get him back on his feet again with them gradually increasing the elevation of his bed. Stuart wasn’t one to hang around in bed. He wanted to get back working for Toc H ASAP. I remember Mum saying that she thought he should have convalesced for a lot longer before returning to full time work with Toc H.”
Sadly Stuart’s great service to Toc H was to end too abruptly and when he was far too young. On Thursday 15th May 1958, Stuart had been attending a meeting of the Management Committee of the PM Boys’ Club run by Toc H (so called because it served the hotel page boys and bell-hops who were only free in the afternoon). He was on the platform of Westminster station when he had a heart-attack. He was taken to hospital but died later that day aged only 56. Mark says
“A Red Cross nurse was standing next to him and she got some men to lift him off the train onto a station bench seat. He was taken to St Thomas Hospital on the south side of the river Thames. That Red Cross Nurse contacted Mum and they met later in London, what a wonderful woman. Many years later when Mum died whilst having lunch in the Cafeteria of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square she was also taken to St Thomas Hospital.”
If it was a great loss for Toc H then it was a tragedy for his family, the children still quite young and deprived of their father. Mark remembers
“I was in the cricket field across the road packing up the stumps after practice with a friend called Chris White who lived down the road. Prim came running out of our house calling me and screaming the news that dad had died. I remember dropping the stumps and just running off into the neighbouring corn field where I ran into John (Pop) Vining the farmer who did his best to comfort me with some very kind words.”
And Primrose adds
“I can remember the dad of one of Tim’s friends being heartbroken when dad died. I saw him crying at the Memorial Service. I was fifteen at the time and it made a great impression on me that so many people, the church was packed, would come to honour my Father. In the local paper the headline was ‘Friendship was his Forte¨ and I remember that because I had to look up the word forte to see what it meant.”
As well as a local memorial service at St Boniface (11th June) there was a service at All Hallows and Stuart’s ashes are in the Columbarium under the church. Gertrude’s ashes were also placed there when she died in 1984. Southern Region Chairman John Goss said of Stuart
“His outstanding quality was that he made a personal friend of everybody. He would go to tremendous lengths to help others in difficulties and try to share their burden.”
According to Primrose, Stuart’s philosophy was
“Get involved if good things are being done,
get involved to stop bad things being done
Always do your share”
I think it’s fair to say that Greeno got involved and certainly did his share.
Grateful thanks to Mark, Primrose and Tim Greenacre for their help in putting this blog together.
Primrose and Tim went to Poperinge with a Toc H party led by Rex Calkin in 1961. She says:
“Going into that loft at the top of Talbot House is something I will never forget especially the iconic sign Abandon Rank all ye who enter here. I love that.”
Mark’s ended up emigrating to the country his father so loved:
“The last time I saw Tubby Clayton was when he visited my Mother at her cottage near Shaftesbury in Dorset in 1971 the year I emigrated to Melbourne, Australia. Tubby was very supportive of my move to Australia and gave me the name of one of his most distinguished contacts Sir Edmund Herring, Chief Justice and Lieutenant Governor of Victoria based in Melbourne. Needless to say I didn’t actually follow up on that contact.”