By Steve Smith
I suppose this particular blog ought to have appeared in December but sometimes things just don’t work out the way they ought to. It was only over Christmas when I was tidying up some papers, that I came across a Souvenir Card which has its rear covered in signatures. I can’t recall where I originally obtained it but it can’t have attracted my attention much back then. This time, I quickly realised that it was related to the World Chain of Light in December 1930, an event which at least one picture of has previously appeared in the Toc H facebook group, and of which I wrote briefly in my Barclay Baron article a while back. So this time the card registered and I decided there was a short blog in it. When I set out on my research journey I hadn’t realised quite what a story it was.
The now annual World Chain of Light originated in Australia in the spring of 1929 at the Federal Birthday Party on May 14th. The concept captured the imagination of Toc H and in 1930 it was shifted to December to coincide with the Birthday Festival.
What follows is retold mostly from an article by Barclay Baron which appeared in the January 1931 Journal. Additionally in June 2022 I came across Alison Macfie’s account in a journal of hers held at the Toc H archives. I made some amendments and additional comments at this time. The article is enhanced by a few photos of that night. One purports to show the entire party and by good fortune, the number of people pictured tallies with Baron’s count so perhaps we can assume it is everyone. Naming them all is a different kettle of fish but working from the list of signatures scrawled on the back of the souvenir card have done my best to figure out as many as can who attended and also – though far less successfully – to identify them in the photo. First though, let us share Baron’s recounting of the journey because it proved to be an epic one.
In December 1930, for the first time, the growth of Toc H meant that the Birthday Festivals – an annual celebration held each December close to the anniversary of the original opening of Talbot House – were to be broken down regionally rather than having one big national Festival. The London Region would hold a service in St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday 5th December followed by a Guest Night at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 6th. The events both there and worldwide would incorporate the World Chain of Light and it was decided that the Chain should begin in the Upper Room at Talbot House, so recently returned to the Movement through the generosity of Lord Wakefield. Although the House had been ‘retaken’ by Tubby, Neville and 30+ Padres in April 1930 it would not officially open until Easter 1931, so this visit to commence the World Chain of Light there was a big deal for the Movement.
Thus a party of (mostly) Foundation Members (a Foundation Member being an affiliate of Toc H who actually visited Talbot House during the war) led by Tubby, assembled to travel out to Poperinge. The mission from HQ was simple and clear
The group assembled at St Pancras Station at 10pm the preceding evening ready to start the journey to Belgium. They were originally fifty-five in number and several had already travelled long distances to get to London. These included Tubby’s brother Jack, in from Malaya (and one of the few, if not only, non-Foundation members in the party), and another, Philip Rathbone, from South Africa. Yet another was from Orkney and his story is told below.
The party bore a ship’s lantern protecting a flame lit from the Prince of Wales’ Lamp that stood in All Hallows. All Toc H Lamps of Maintenance were initially kindled from this lamp. They also carried a Toc H lamp – The Talbot House Lamp – that they would present to the house where it remains to this day. It is dedicated “to the Glory of God and in Proud Thanksgiving for the lives and examples of all the Elder Brethren”. Additionally they were returning the Westminster Chimes, carrying some parcels of lampshades, and several bundles of rosemary.
The journey was to be on the SS Flamand, the night ferry from Tilbury to Dunkirk run since 1927 by the Angleterre-Lorraine-Alsace company, a subsidiary of London Midland & Scottish and Nord. Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that just two months earlier Parliament defeated a bill in favour of a Channel Tunnel by 179 votes to 172. Where is all this leading? What happened on the night of 4th December 1930 that concerns us? Well up in Edinburgh Ronnie Corbett had just entered the world but no, that’s not it. Fog! Fog is what concerns us. The channel and the Thames were both so thick with it that the Flamand was laid at anchor midstream, not daring to dock. Indeed, the entire Thames was at a standstill.
At this point the length of the delay was not determined so the Toc H party decamped to a waiting room (Third Class) where Tubby took off his overcoat, climbed up on to a large oak table and to the consternation of the few other passengers already sitting there opened a Toc H Guest Night. Fairly soon the “sleepy English folk, three depressed Indians, two voluble French and a smiling Japanese” were drawn in to the group of fifty-five Toc H members along with some LMS employees including one Colonel Speir. He could offer no good news about the inclement weather and the fog-bound ferry so a decision was made to “Parade at Victoria Station at 8am tomorrow” to make a second attempt at invading the Continent. Unfortunately, eight of the party including Padre Noel Mellish V.C. had to withdraw from the new plan leaving forty-seven members seeking overnight accommodation. They found this at Talbot House on Tower Hill; the Pierhead training centre in Wapping; and the Brothers’ House south of the river in Kennington. Paul Slessor set off in a taxi and having sent a sheaf of telegrams to Belgium to notify them of the changed plans, came back with over £100 worth of new tickets.
The next day, the forty-seven set off from Victoria. Macfie says a press photographer was there and took the group’s picture. I wonder if that is the main picture below perhaps taken in a waiting room at Victoria? Macfie also suggests at least one gentleman of the press accompanied them. They headed to Folkestone where they were able to get a ferry to Boulogne as the fog was lighter; in fact Baron described it as a mist and the channel as oily-smooth. The ferry arrived in France just half an hour behind its scheduled time and the Toc H party from England were met by a transport column – well two buses (One huge, one smaller) – led by Monsieur Florent Dumortier, Toc H’s goto for local transport in those days. Florent Dumortier ran a café on the corner of Sint-Jorisstraat in Poperinge. He, his wife Julia Vieren, and son Henri, ran taxis and coaches on regular routes as well as hired on demand.
The transport had left Poperinge at 5am in thick fog and headed for Dunkirk to meet the Flamand as originally planned since Slessor’s telegrams had not found their target. Eventually they received the updated orders and struck out for Boulogne where they met the English party. Incidentally, across in Limburgh in the Meuse Valley some 60 people died this day in what was known as the Belgium Death Fog. At first some believed it to be an escape of buried wartime gas but it was later discovered to be an early example of smog – pollution combined with fog – something that London itself would later know all about!
But I digress, as I am want to do, so let’s get back to Boulogne. After coffee and sandwiches Tubby went ahead in a car along with the three women Foundation members present. (You can read there story here). This was Alison Macfie and her cousin Dorothea. The third I had always taken to be Kate Luard, but looking at the signatures on the Souvenir Card, I think it was actually Dorothy Allen. Macfie’s journal later confirmed this for me. The remainder followed on in the buses. It was by now, early afternoon. Bear in mind that these were nearly all Foundation Members, the bus was alive with stories of where individuals had spent time in the war. Baron suggests that the stories got taller and taller as people tried to outdo each other but that they largely dealt with estaminets where they ate and the people who ran them, rather than the more depressing aspects of the war. The journey took some three hours and included a halt on the Grande Place at Saint Omer for a quick break and then continued, the last leg of Baron’s detailed description probably familiar to anyone who has made the drive from Calais to Poperinge. Though he notes that in Steenvorde there was no line of gun carriages and limbers on the street, whilst at Abeele the houses no longer had painted boards on the front directing divisions to their HQs, nor were the hop-poles draped in camouflage to hide the convoy from German eyes on Kemmel. And then they were in Pops, Talbot House in sight; the old signboard flanked by British and Belgian flags to mark this special day. They had been due to arrive at 10am that morning and it was now 6pm but there was still time for dinner.
Dinner was at Skindles, just along the street, where Mademoiselle Zoe – supported by Hector the waiter – still held court. After dinner one report suggests they headed to Ieper for the Menin Gate Ceremony at 8pm and returned in time for proceedings to begin at Talbot House at 8.30. It seems hard to believe that such a large group could do this so perhaps it was just a select few? Anyway at 8.30 the party headed for the Upper Landing of the Old House and were joined by members of the Ieper branch. The lamp rested in the place where the old altar originally stood for seven weeks before the chapel was moved to the attic. It stood on an oak pedestal which once bore the candles and altar cross in the chapel at Mark III in Waterloo. In the pictures below I think the object to the left of the lamp may well be the ship’s lantern the flame was carried in from England. The crucifix incidentally, was carved by a woodcarver and Passion Player of Oberammergau and brought home by Herbert Fleming – the first Administrative Padre of Toc H – in 1922.
Just before 9pm, Rene and Olida Berat – the house stewards – also joined the party and they all ascended the ladder stairs to the attic. The Lamp was placed on the carved pedestal normally used for the small font. Tubby stepped forward and opened the Ceremony of Light with some words he had written for the occasion
Nor let the loving-cup of fire
Be lifted over land and sea.
Now may the faith of friends inspire
Our scattered souls with unity.
For other merits to-morrows, these
Broke from their dreams, wade brief their day.
Heirs of their spirit will not please
Themselves, but school themselves, and say—
“ LIGHT ”
He then lit a taper from the ship’s lantern and in turn kindled the Talbot House Lamp. The words of Remembrance were followed by a minute’s silence. Then the party spoke as one,
The Ceremony of Light was followed by a short services and some hymns and prayers before Tubby closed proceedings with a Benediction.
Now the World Chain of Light spread westwards, each region lighting its own lamps at 9pm local time and then a good night’s sleep for the party before the race for England and the regional Birthday Festivals commenced. Some twenty-four stayed in new beds now adorning the Old House whilst the rest stayed at Skindles. The next morning they replayed their journey in reverse riding the busses to Boulogne then a ferry to Folkestone and a train back to Victoria where they went their separate ways. Tubby and many of the others had only to get across town to the Albert Hall for the London Birthday Festival but Baron had to get up to Nottingham to join the regional celebrations there. The Guest Night at the Royal Albert Hall – with some 7000 members – included two songs with new Toc H words by S. Donald Cox, one of the members of the Poperinge party and perhaps now is perhaps a good time to look closer at just who the party were.
I have not been able to find a complete list of the forty-seven travellers (let alone the original fifty-five) but my best clue is this Souvenir Card clearly given to all attendees who then proceeded to obtain the signatures of their fellow travellers. The card in my possession and pictured here belonged to Frank Bolton. Frank Henry Martin Bolton was elected (initiated) to Toc H on 1st January 1921 and served as Chairman and Treasurer of Croydon branch as well as a spell on Central Council. He died on April 26th 1946. His signature appears near the bottom of the right hand column.
The others that I can identify, starting at the top of the left hand column and moving down then across are:
William Henry Nicklin who was a well know early member who took on responsibility for the upkeep of the Toc H Sports’ Ground in Barnet where he lived. A piano tuner by trade, he was elected to Toc H on 1st July 1920 and died in 1938.
Below him the signature appears to belong to one Parkin of whom I can tell you nothing with any certainty but next is F.I. Godwin, of Ilford branch and a Central Councillor 1924-5. Next in our list is the Reverend Guthrie James Larwell. From Sussex, Larwell was appointed a Chaplain on Probation to the East India Company in 1926 and two years later promoted to Junior Chaplain. He has put India next to his signature on the card and was almost certainly attached to Toc H in India whilst serving the Company out there. He later returned to the UK and died in Western Super Mare in 1976.
The next name is difficult for me to make out but I can see he is the Pilot at P. Green which I take to mean Palmers Green, a Group on the verge becoming a Branch in 1930. The name looks like F H Ishner or perhaps Isham but I can’t find anyone like that in my records. Maybe other eyes can tell me what they think the signature is. However, no such difficulty in identifying the next signature even though he hasn’t signed using his given name of Arthur Pettifer. Instead he has just signed GEN for The General, the name he was always known by, and Tottenham as this is where he lived. Every time I mention Pettifer in this blog I say something like he needs no introduction, yet I realise I have never done him biographical justice. I will endeavour to rectify that this year.
Our next member is from Orkney and this is a most wonderful story. In the summer of 1930 Tubby was up in his beloved Orkney recruiting volunteers and generally pushing Toc H. He befriended Thomas Sutherland Ritch, a 21 year old boatman who ran his craft across the dangerous strait between Stromness on Orkney and the island of Hoy. Tom had never even been to Scotland nor see a train but Tubby persuaded him to climb aboard one at Thurso and head for London to join the trip to Pops. According to Barkis Tom was given the privilege of carrying the ship’s lantern with the flame in it, though Macfie says he carried the Westminster Chimes. He was of course another of the small number of non- Foundation Members in the party. I wonder what became of him. Other than the fact he appears to have been marksman sporting shooter in his twenties and died in 1995 whilst still living on Orkney, I cannot tell you.
The next name is easily recognisable but I’m not going to talk much about Barclay Baron here. Regular readers may recall I wrote an epic blog on him almost two years ago. You can read it here . I will just repeat that it is his story of the trip in the Journal that informs the first half of this blog.
Now we have what looks like H. J. Bidden but no other clues to help me narrow it down so I’ll move down past an almost illegible scrawl (Arkwright?) to what I believe to be Alex Miller. Macfie identifies him as Colonel Miller but that’s all I have. I’m reasonably confident that the next name is Edwin Alexander Bellman, a Poplar painter and decorator who served in the Labour Corp during the war but the following signature floors me. I can’t even read the normally helpful word in brackets – probably his branch – but sandwiched between a Poplar man and a Stepney man, I wonder if it is another East London unit. And that Stepney man: Dick Mitzford perhaps?
Our next chap, Samuel Donald Cox, was actually one of the lesser known war poets (As S. Donald Cox), his works appearing in several publications. Some, inspired by his visits to Talbot House in 1916, appeared in the regimental magazine The Direct Hit and were reprinted in Tales of Talbot House. He also wrote poetry and song words for various Toc H Festivals and his words appear under a famous sketch of the chapel altar much used in Toc H literature. Cox served in the London Rifle Brigade and then was in Highgate Toc H. He also edited the London Toc H magazine. Outside of Toc H he was a big wheel in the world of dentistry.
William A. Jenner from Tunbridge Wells, was in poor health after the war due to injuries received serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Tubby asked that members of Cheltenham branch visited him when he was released from hospital. This led to him being a loyal member of Toc H at Cheltenham and later Tunbridge Wells until his sudden death in June 1933.
Below William sits the signature of Alison Macfie, the spearhead of the League of Women Helpers and one of the eight Women Foundation Members of Toc H. As we said earlier her story can be found here. As can that of Dorothy Allen whose name is inscribed below Macfie. For some reason I had assumed that Kate Luard was the third female Foundation Member to travel with the Macfie cousins but this signature and the photograph (which doesn’t appear to feature the striking Luard) suggest otherwise.
After a nice run of recognisable signatures I’m now met by a scribble I just can’t interpret. Billy Lamour? Billy Connor? Any suggestions most welcome.
Next looks like F. W. Wright but without additional clues it is far too common a name to identify an individual although there was an Honorary District Secretary of exactly that name in the wonderfully named Toc H Heavy Woollen District in Yorkshire at about the right time, so maybe!
That possibility notwithstanding we move on to another scribble that makes my handwriting look good. Sorry, I can’t even make a guess at this one but underneath is our third Woman Foundation member Dorothea Macfie whose life is also told on the blog mentioned above.
Finally in the first column we have what looks like John Paget. Macfie helps me identify him as Jack Paget, who was acting as Tubby’s ADC at the time. The next looks like Billie Peavey, unusually the forename spelt the way women traditionally use it but that hasn’t helped me locate him. Thankfully we are on safer ground with Alec Smithers whose signature sits below Peavey’s. I have written about Smithers recently but let me repeat some of that information here to save you flicking about between blogs. Alec – and that was his true first name not a diminutive – was born in Camberwell on 29th August 1878. He later trained as an architect. On 31st March 1913 he was admitted to the Honourable Artillery Company which was a charity as well as a military company. The following year, in July, he married Irene Chaplin (1880-1967) and they moved to The Manse in Water Lane, Bishops Stortford where they remained throughout their life.
Originally in the ranks of the reserve battery of the HAC, Smithers was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery (154th Heavy Battery) in 1915 and entered the war as a Lieutenant in April 1916.
Alec, an early committee member of Toc H, is renowned for two other things: firstly he designed the elaborate and ornate casket to house the Prince of Wales Lamp; secondly, after the destruction of All Hallows in the Second World War he was partly responsible for the redesign of the church. He died on 23rd September 1949 and his ashes are in the Columbarium at All Hallows.
James Gould Scott, who was next to sign, was a Civil Servant and the Secretary at Highgate branch in the late 1920s. He had served with the London Rifles. Scott died in December 1964. Below him is Jim Lock, who doesn’t give us much to go on though I do find a Tim Lock active in Toc H around this time. Could that be the flourish of a pen on the bottom of a ‘T’?
We are on firmer ground with William A. Dodd who have met briefly in a previous blog. Once short-listed as a potential treasurer for Toc H Lt. William Alexander Dodd served in the Royal Garrison Artillery under Guy Sydenham Hoare (another Toc H stalwart) and visited Talbot House at this time. Dodd was also assistant treasurer at Mark II 1924.
The signature below Dodd flummoxed me for a time as I was sure it said Clayton and yet the word Malaya in brackets indicated the writer was from that neck of the woods. Then I read a short newspaper article that mentioned that Tubby’s brother Jack (Reginald John Byard Clayton) was amongst the party that travelled to Pops that December and he of course, as Commissioner of Singapore, lived on the southern tip of the Malay peninsular and had helped his brother set up several branches in British Malaya. Like Ritch (above), he was one of the very few party members not to have visited Talbot House during the war.
Onwards – or rather downwards – and Herbert Ralph Morris’ name appeared on the first ever Branch Secretaries list that was published in July 1920. He held the position of Secretary of Maidstone branch from then until early 1928 when he appeared to move to Chelmsford and took over as Secretary of that branch. (I can’t prove conclusively it’s him but he stopped being Secretary of Maidstone about the same time, and sharing the same name I think it’s more than a coincidence).
Now the next name might have fooled me as the surname appears to be Seedley. Thankfully John Edward Jones is a well-known Toc H figure and I was aware that Seedley was his obligatory Toc H nickname. One of the earliest Toc H members in Lancashire, he was known as the father of Toc H in Manchester and was later associated with Salford branch. A successful business man and a strong churchman, he once gave an entire year’s profit to the Endowment Fund to pay for padres. He died in 1935 and Tubby wrote a pen-picture of him in one of the Bangwent pamphlets.
I think I can say with some confidence that Wytton Perowne d’Arcy Dalton is the only person who signed this card to have a footpath named after him. d’Arcy Dalton Way which spans Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire memorialises his work in preserving England’s rights of way. From Moseley, he served initially in the 6th Cyclist Battalion of the Norfolk regiment before being attached to the King’s Liverpool Regiment and serving at Passchendaele. A great historian as well as a champion of footpaths, he settled in the Oxford area where he chaired the Oxford branch. Dalton died in 1981.
Another difficult to interpret scrawl leaves me with a conundrum. The surname looks like Mayoss and C. W. Mayoss was a migrant from England who helped start Toc H in Canada but I can’t make those initials fit. Perhaps he had a brother who stayed behind. Dick Richards is also proving difficult to pin down as again it is quite a common name and I have no specific Toc H clues to work with. Thus onto that strange moniker below. Is that Courtney? And that surname? Smith? Oh, my eyes hurt.
Dick Martyn then, what of he? Well he is more fully Laurence Dunmore Martyn and, although originally from Cornwall, was a big gun in the East London District. Having served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the war, he came to London to settle. In 1935 he was appointed Honorary Area Pilot and worked mostly in the Hammers and Tower Hamlets Districts. An architect, Martyn regularly gave talks on subjects relating to industrial relations and strikes. At some point he left for Canada where he died in 1969.
Below Martyn is another scratchy autograph though luckily I recognise this one as belonging to Paul Slessor, one of the organisers of this trip. Like Pettifer, Slessor often gets mentioned in this blog but has not yet been fully written about. I’ll add him to my list.
Sydney Ross is legible but gives me nothing else to go whilst Leslie someone or other underneath him, is largely illegible. I’m grateful then than Philip Rabone not only signs his name clearly but gives me more to go on by adding N(orth) Rhodesia after his signature. I can therefore track him down reasonably easily. Born in Islington in 1890 he attended the Royal School of Mines between 1908 and 1912 and became a first class metallurgist. Shortly after war broke out he enlisted in the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment and served in East Africa. He was commissioned in 1916. After training in England in 1918 he was posted to France where he served as lieutenant, R.E. Signals Service. On demobilization in 1919 Rabone took an appointment as assistant metallurgist with Minerals Separation Ltd and remained in this field all his working life. He worked in Spain and Rhodesia but returned to the UK in 1930. He returned to South Africa in 1947 where he stayed until his return to England in 1956. Rabone died at his home in Blackheath, London, on 10th July, 1960, at the age of 70.
The next signature is Frank Bolton – the owner of this particular card – and we talked about him earlier. So now we are left with A. H. Gresswell. I’m not certain but I believe this is Arthur Herman Gresswell who served with the Durham Light Infantry during the war. Born in Southport, his family moved to London when he was young and he settled around North London after the war. A successful business man with a confectionary shop in Tottenham Court Road, Gresswell ended up living in Goffs Oak, the Hertfordshire village where I was born and raised. If it was Goffs Oak and Cuffley branch he belonged to then I possess the beautiful glass sign they used to display when a branch meeting was ongoing. Gresswell died in 1973.
Unfortunately we have to finish with an undecipherable scribble at the bottom which may not even be a name.
Obviously not everyone signed; Tubby in particular is conspicuous by his absence. I count only forty-two scrawls (forty-three if that very bottom one is a name) and yet we have forty-seven faces in the picture. Ah yes, the picture. I have started to try and plot names to faces but I have not got very far, If anyone can add anything to my list I would be incredible grateful.
Thanks to Martine Boone – always a more reliable translation service than Google translate, Barclay Baron whose work is such an inspiration to me, and everyone who reads this, without whom………………………………..