The Steadiest Buff – Arthur Pettifer MM

By Steve Smith

The name of Arthur Pettifer is forever entwined at the heart of Toc H, from its very beginning and long after the owner of the name joined the Elder Brethren. Pettifer – and I shall refer to him as that throughout, not by his given name nor his well-known nickname – was Tubby’s loyal friend and Toc H’s faithful servant. He was quite a character too. A proud Londoner; a canny Cockney; a working class man. When the early committees were flooded with lords and influential businessmen, Pettifer helped keep their feet on the ground.

One story that nods to his character is that sometime during the Second World War, whilst Pettifer was still ministering to Tubby’s needs, a plumber arrived at the padre’s door. Summoned by Tubby to fix a faulty water heater in the vicarage flat, he met Pettifer at the door and asked for the “old Geyser”. Pettifer told him sharply that the “vicar is out” and sent him on his way. To me this lovely little vignette sums up the down to earth nature of the man, not to mention the twinkle of humour always in his eye, for if this story is more than apocryphal, I reckon Pettifer knew exactly what he was doing. And so this, this is Arthur Pettifer’s story.

Pettifer was, at least according to Tubby, descended of Roman stock, which he was happy enough about. So it was fitting that Arthur Pettifer came into this world at 31 Hewlett Road, Old Ford a few yards from the Romans’ main thoroughfare between London and East Anglia, now named rather obviously and blandly Roman Road. Young Pettifer arrived here on the 17th October 1874 to Elijah and Elizabeth. The street was, according to Booth’s poverty map of that era, a fairly comfortable road with families of good average earnings. Elijah was in fact, listed as a gunsmith – probably at the nearby small arms factory –  in the 1871 and 1881 censuses. Pettifer already had elder siblings when he was born; two sisters in Florence and Eliza, and a brother William. Later he would be joined by four younger brothers; Harry, Albert, Ernest, and Edward.

31 Hewlett Road today

The young family never strayed far from Pettifer’s birth place moving a few hundred yards to Ford Road when Pettifer was still a young lad. From here he started at Olga Street infant school in November 1881 but this closed for relocating so a few months later, in March 1882, Pettifer transferred to Monteith Road School next to the factory of the London Small Arms Company and the Hertford Union canal. But four years later the family’s reasonably stable and comfortable working class lives were transformed by the death of Elijah on the 22nd April 1886 at the age of just 44.

Clearly his death affected their situation and on the 1st July 1886 Pettifer and his brothers Harry and Albert (Bertie) were listed as being at Forest Gate District School under the Poor Law register. The school was established in 1854 to educate the children from the Whitechapel and Poplar workhouses so it is a good indication that Elijah’s death forced the family into the workhouse, at least for a while. However by 1888 and the next significant move in Pettifer’s life, the family were living at 35 Monteith Road, so their circumstances must have improved.

That significant move would define Pettifer’s remaining life. East London in 1888 was reeling from the Jack the Ripper murders and the London matchgirls strike. The British army was enjoying a rare period of peace following the end of the first Boer War and troubles in Burma. This was the army into which Pettifer enrolled himself at Dover on the 19th December 1888 as a Band Boy. Incidentally, he did not join up in 1885 – the year of Tubby’s birth – as is often later cited. This, of course, was a Tubbyism. I have frequently said in this blog that Tubby never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The fourteen year old Pettifer was 4’11” (All bar a quarter inch) and weighed just 5 stone 5lbs. As a Band Boy he was posted to the Regimental Band of the East Kent Regiment, better known as the Buffs from the original colour of their uniform.

Cap badge of The Buffs

Formerly the 3rd Regiment of Foot, they were a line infantry regiment traditionally raised in Kent and garrisoned at Canterbury. They had a history dating back to 1572 and were one of the oldest regiments in the British Army. In 1881, under the Childers Reforms, they were transformed into The Buffs (East Kent Regiment).

In 1888 the 2nd Battalion The Buffs were stationed in England, and at the 1891 census Pettifer is listed with them in Farnborough at Aldershot camp. He turned eighteen in 1892 and two days later, on the 19th October he was promoted to Private. It was a rank he would retain his entire career though it is said he turned down promotion on more than one occasion and could easily have made Sergeant had he so desired.

Now, his career get slightly confusing to the modern researcher. His Service record tells us that in 1897 after almost nine years, Pettifer was transferred to 1st Battalion on the 28th October and posted to India where he spent the next three years initially as part of the Tirah Field Force. As the 1st Battalion The Buffs never joined the 2nd Battalion in South Africa, Pettifer was spared the second Boer War instead he went briefly to Burma on the 16th February 1901.

Pettifer’s first service record

However family lore and early Toc H writings based on something Tubby said in Tales of Talbot House suggest that he wore a South Africa medal as well as the India Frontier model. The latter would tie up with his Service Record but the former appears to be an anomaly. Just to complicate matters I can find no record of him receiving either medal in the appropriate rolls. The whereabouts of his physical medals is also currently unknown. Research continues and I will update the blog if new information is received.

So putting that aside for now, Pettifer returned to England for discharge in December 1901, having completed his full service of 12 years (Though in fact his total time amounted to just over thirteen years).

Pettifer then settled in settled in South Hackney driving a cart for the Newley family’s saw mill in Ducal Street, a turning off of Brick Lane. Ducal Street was filled with cabinet makers, fret cutters and other woodworking businesses at this time.

Edmund Newley was married to a Frances Watson whose sister Susan and their widowed mother were both living with the Newley family in Spencer Road, Tottenham at the time of the 1901 census. Pettifer must have become acquainted with Susan, a fancy stationer (In 1901 she made cosaques or cracker bonbons) born in the parish of St Luke’s, Islington in 1874, as on 25th of September 1904, he married her. At the time of their wedding they were both living at 58 St. Peter Street, closer to Susan’s family home turf than Pettifer’s. The wedding took place in St Peter’s, Bethnal Green and was witnessed by Pettifer’s brother Bertie and Rebecca Ann Dowdall.

St Peter’s church

After the marriage the newlyweds moved further east, more or less midway between their respective birth places. Over the next few years they lived in places like Brunswick Street, Wellington Row, Daniel Street, and – for several years before and during the war – at 12 Ravenscroft Road. This was the heart of Bethnal Green.

In January 1905 their first son, Arthur George, was born but died as an infant then in December 1906 Dora Kathleen arrived but only lived a few weeks. Child mortality rates were still high in poorer areas so this was sadly, not unusual. At last, on the 14th July 1907 Arthur Edmund was born and survived. He was joined in April 1909 by William George and their family was complete.

The boys would later be known by Pettifer as the Brigadiers, presumably to complement the nickname he himself would later acquire. They lived a simple life but Pettifer got much enjoyment walking with his children on a Sunday.

At some point Pettifer had signed on to the new National Reserve that was established in 1911 then enlisted into the Territorial Force for four years on the 23rd October 1912 at Bethnal Green. He joined the 10th (County of London) Battalion (Hackney) of the London Regiment. It was formed in 1912 to replace the London Regiment’s disbanded 10th (County of London) Battalion (Paddington Rifles) and took over its battalion numeral. Now demolished, the new battalion’s drill hall was sited on The Grove in Hackney.

In 1913 Pettifer almost certainly would have been with the battalion at the royal review in Hyde Park and that year also went training at Perham Downs on Salisbury Plain. And then the following year, there was another significant event, not just for Pettifer but for the entire world. On the outbreak of what became known as the Great War or the First World War, Pettifer saw that Lord Kitchener was prejudiced against the Territorials and so he applied to re-join his old regiment. Now back in the Regular Army as no. 239 1st Battalion The Buffs, Private Arthur Pettifer arrived in France on the 9th November 1914 at the age of 40.

Billeted at Armentieres, Pettifer was transferred with his battalion to the Salient in May 1915. Here he would have taken place in the fighting at Hooge that saw the death of Gilbert Talbot for whom Talbot House and thus Toc H owes its name. Though Pettifer always says that nothing much impressed him during his first year of ‘action’ except the occasion while on guard duty when he challenged and refused to allow entry to a brigadier. Notwithstanding this, the regiment took losses and by November 1915 Pettifer was one of just 28 Buffs left. This led to an intake of 500 new recruits and a reshuffling that saw Pettifer posted to the Labour Corps as Private 378581. He ended up in an Area Employment Company – or Area Enjoyment Company as the soldiers called it – on the grounds of debility. These companies maintained a list of men, categorised into the forms of employment for which they were best suited such as Cook, Storeman, Clerk, Tailor, Shoemaker, Traffic Control, or Telephone Operator. Pettifer was keen to get posted to a Listening Post but instead he was appointed to be a Batman, a manservant. He was not impressed.

And so in that fateful November of 1915 he was dispatched to Brandhoek, Belgium to find the man he had been assigned to; a padre by the name of Phillip Byard Clayton. He still wore the Dragon of the Buffs as his cap badge over his narrow face and walrus moustache and when he finally found Tubby in the Church Army hut at Camp C he was also wearing Flanders mud all over his uniform. Tubby reputedly said

“I wanted a Batman, they sent me a mudlark”.

For his part Pettifer told Tubby he was no gentleman’s servant, he was a soldier, to which the Padre replied,

 “Very good. We shall soon be pals!”

This was perhaps to prove an understatement.

That first meeting established that Pettifer had no experience of managing a house, though he was to be a fast learner. He was to be a mainstay of Talbot House for almost the total duration of its existence and for the rest of his life both a loyal servant and good friend to Tubby. He was also a good soldier; Tubby says Pettifer refused to wear his Good Conduct Stripes as they would upset the set of his sleeve, this is another Tubbyism as in the photo of the house staff from 1916 Pettifer can clearly be seen with all six of them on his left sleeve.

Pettifer with the other Talbot House staff in 1916

On Wednesday 1st December 1915 Tubby wrote to his mother and the letter contained the following

“My only cares will be parochial i.e. that I’m doing my job, and domestic – the ordering of an establishment with a staff of four servants. My own – Pettifer by name – is an old Buffs man of 28 years’ service on and off, who knows nothing about a house except what he has gleaned from Mrs P. in Bethnal Green. The great difficulty is to prevent him ‘scrounging’ in my interests. He will retrieve anything like a faithful dog of that description”.

It seems it had not taken long for Pettifer’s magpie tendencies to make themselves known! Tubby then went on to describe an incident with a carpet which I’ll tell here as it was originally told in Tales of Talbot House.

“I was, for instance, overheard to say that a carpet for the chapel was most desirable, writes Clayton.

Within an hour a carpet had arrived. Enquiry revealed the painful fact that it had come from next door. “They won’t be wanting it, sir; they do say the family are in the sou’ of France.” ‘

Clayton stood fast on his principles; he takes up the story: “General, I can’t say my prayers kneeling on a stolen carpet.” Silence hereafter for a space: then a bright idea. ‘Well, sir, if yer won’t ‘ave it in the church, it’ll do lovely for yer sitting-room.’ When even this brilliant alternative is dismissed as Jesuitical, and the carpet restored to the place it came from, a few days elapse tranquilly. The General scores heavily one morning:

Yer remember that carpet, sir?’ I admit it. ‘Well, the ASC ‘ave scrounged it now.”

There were other incidents including the acquisition of coal and almost certainly many more probably swept under the scrounged carpet at the time but we’ll leave them filed under Classified!

Pettifer also had a tendency to play practical jokes and Tubby said he was best avoided on April 1st though it was not a joke that left Tubby with a soot covered face. One day in 1916 Pettifer – always up early – set the stove in Tubby’s study alight to warm the room. He quite forgot about it until later and dashed upstairs to see soot blackened ceilings and his boss standing there, awoken from his slumbers, looking somewhat like a coal-miner.

“Gen”, he said “that’s the only silly thing I’ve known you do”

Pettifer agreed and sent Tubby for a bath before despatching him out of the house for the day so he could clean up

He was a likeable character and made friends with people from all walks of life. Neville Talbot was a good friend even though Pettifer once helped himself to Neville’s medicinal rum. When Neville complained that he wanted it for a cold, Pettifer stated that he did too and that parsons should take ‘gruel and boiled onions’.

Perhaps though, the greatest friends Pettifer made in Poperinge were the local children. Tubby said of him,

“There is, moreover, not a child in Poperinghe whose face does not light up at his approach”.

He was dubbed “le Général” by local children a nickname that stuck though generally anglicized and shorted to The Gen.

Sometimes though humour was lacking from the war. Pettifer later told Tubby how he had found the body of a young girl by the side of the road near Hooge. She had been buried but the shelling exposed her grave. Pettifer buried her again wrapped in his overcoat. Much later he and Tubby went to look for the makeshift grave but the area was unrecognisable.

In June 1916 Tubby was in hospital and Pettifer wrote to him, two letters survived. The camaraderie between the two is evident. We also learn that Tubby’s sister was in contact with Pettifer’s family in London and they planned to have tea together. Pettifer’s children also wrote to Tubby asking if they could have their dad home for Christmas.

It was a blow to both then, when on the 17th September 1917 Pettifer was reclassified during a great shake-up. Previous disqualification from front-line service on the grounds of debility was squashed and he was posted to a veteran’s unit – a Labour Company in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders – to build a road near Dickebusch. Tubby sent a letter with him to hand in to his new CO asking that he be returned. Pettifer gave the letter to a Sergeant Major and doubts it was passed on as he was not sent back though he eventually got a pass to travel to Pops and went to see Tubby who refused to let him go back. They went to see a doctor who assigned him unfit to travel. Eventually General May intervened and he was returned officially.

This hiccup resolved, December brought personal tragedy for Pettifer. On the 4th December 1917 his younger brother Ernest was killed in France at the Battle of Cambrai whilst serving with the 24th (County of London) Battalion (The Queens) of the London Regiment. His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Cambrai memorial at Louverval and by the battalion memorial in Kennington Park, a few hundred yards away from The Brothers’ House (Mark XIII). He left a widow, Amy, and two children.

In 1918 shortly after Sir Douglas Haig had issued his famous order “Our backs are to the wall” , the town was to be evacuated and Talbot House ordered to close, Pettifer was awarded the Military Medal by his gallantry in rescuing, at considerable risk, three survivors – a child, a woman, and a man – from Cyril’s Restaurant. Eight died when it was demolished by a direct hit in the early hours of Saturday 23rd March. Talbot House had been shaken by nearby explosion, waking Tubby and his Pettifer. Tubby, in the knowledge that there was no safe dug-out for them to go to, tried to go back to sleep but Pettifer appeared holding a candle and said,

“There’s a woman screamin’ somewhere and I can’t-a-bear it”,

He then set off up the street. Tubby got his other staff to safety and went to find Pettifer. He came upon him in the wreckage of Cyril’s along with Jimmy, the cook from Talbot House, helping the three survivors out. They continued to search the house for survivors and found Madame Cyril herself, still alive though she died shortly afterwards. And – lest we ever forget how brutal war is – they also found the torso of Cyril himself, his head not found until the following day.

Tubby put Pettifer’s name forward for an award which was given a few days later. Gazetted on the 12th June 1918 his Military Medal joined the Mons Star (and later his Victory and British medals) and those other, still to be confirmed medals from his original service.

In the days that followed this act of heroism Pettifer helped with the evacuation of the town and was particular about assisting the bed-bound to get out.

And so, as 1918 drew to a close, the Talbot House adventure was over. Tubby was off the Knutsford to the Test School and Pettifer was discharged from the army to return to Bethnal Green and be reunited with Sue and the children. But of course, this was only an interregnum, not the end. Toc H was to be reborn in London and then across the Dominion.

I’m not clear precisely when Pettifer reconnected with Tubby but certainly he was around by late 1919, when the flat at Red Lion Square was leased, for at the committee meeting on the 23rd December of that year he was appointed Major Domo there. Although he still had his home in Bethnal Green at this time, he flitted between there and the flat off Southampton Row in his German cap, a souvenir of the war. On one occasion Alison Macfie was visiting the flat with a gift of much sought after sugar and Pettifer implored her to install a new lamp-shade (complete with formal inauguration ceremony). It was later claimed, albeit tongue-in-cheek, that with this request Pettifer single-handedly inspired the formation of the League of Women Helpers whose initial role was – very briefly – to support the men’s movement with domestic chores.

Tubby also states that he admitted or enrolled Pettifer into Toc H after which Pettifer initiated Tubby. I’m not clear when this was supposed to have occurred but if true, Pettifer was the very first member of Toc H.

When 8 Queen’s Gate Place was acquired as the first hostel Pettifer’s role as Major Domo transferred there but regular readers of this blog will know that was very short-lived and a few weeks later Toc H did a moonlight flit to 23 Queen’s Gate Gardens where Mark I was properly established. And here too the Pettifers were established, taking over a basement flat so he no longer had to flit between his charges and his family. Sue also played a role in the running of the house.

Pettifer with Neville Talbot

However the role that would perhaps make him most proud was created on the 15th December 1922 at the first Lamp-lighting Festival. Lamps had been introduced to Toc H earlier in the year to be bestowed upon units as they gained Branch status. At each annual Birthday Party (and later at other Regional Festivals) new branches had their lamps lit for the first time from the Prince of Wales’ Silver Lamp. It was, from the very beginning until at least the outbreak of the Second World War, the job pf Private Arthur Pettifer, late The Buffs, to enter the hall bearing the lit lamp (which otherwise stood burning in All Hallows). He would take it to the Prince himself (or his stand-in when he was unavailable) who would use it to light a taper and then the new lamps. For the first few years Pettifer paraded the lamp in wearing his old uniform but by 1929 he switched to civvies.

In April 1924, at the Central Council meeting, Pettifer was appointed a Vice President of Toc H, a position he would hold until his death by which time he would become the Senior VP. Once the vote had passed the meeting was suspended whilst Pettifer was fetched and asked to address the Council. Th efollowing year he chaired the Council meeting. In 1925 he was in the esteemed company of fellow Vice Presidents the Earl of Cavan, Field Marshall Methuen, Sibell Countess Grosvenor, and William Hamilton-Fyfe. It is said it was the Earl of Cavan himself who demanded Pettifer join their ranks.

In October Pettifer’s fiftieth birthday was celebrated with a party at Mark I and the following year his tenure as Major Domo there would come to an end. This meant the loss of his Toc H salary so a fund – managed by Major Herbert Shiner – was started to pay him a wage in his new post as Clerk of the Works at All Hallows. Pettifer became the odd-job man at both the church and, from around 1929, at the new Talbot House at 42 Trinity Square (not to mention all the other Toc H properties in the area). In particular Pettifer was made gardener for All Hallows although initially this would mean creating a garden to tend. He was now a member of Tower Hill branch and became a very familiar figure around Trinity Square. Pettifer could talk to everyone at their level. He had an aptitude for getting on their wavelength – a great skill that made him many friends, both male and female.

It would be the garden he created at the east end of All Hallows that became his pride and joy and also led to an incredible archaeological discovery that delighted Tubby. The story as told by Tubby said in 1926 Pettifer’s spade slipped from his hand on the churchyard’s inner edge and disappeared beneath the ground. He had rediscovered an ancient crypt .

The newspapers’ version at the time was that in the late summer a gravel path was being excavated when a step was found. The steps were cleared and found to lead to burial vaults dating from the 18th century that held the remains of former All Hallows’ clergy. No further excavation of their last resting place was required so the pit was back-filled but it seemed Pettifer’s spade had gone wide of the steps and when Tubby shone a light over the area some medieval moulding was seen. Pettifer was charged with digging out the entire area to reveal a 27’ long and about half as wide crypt. The cleared crypt was in remarkable shape. It is said that no repairs were needed and vaulted arches had sustained the weight of the South Aisle since 1320. It now took on a new lease of life as the chapel of St Francis of Assisi.

8 Strode Road today (The cream coloured house)

By 1923 the Pettifers had found themselves a house in South Tottenham at 8 Strode Road which would become their family home until Susan’s death, though Pettifer generally spent weekday nights on the Hill. He was also often absent on travels with Tubby including, in the summer of 1930, a trip to Orkney. They went as guests of the Graemes of Graemeshall, Kirkwall; Patrick Sutherland-Graeme was a member of Harpendon branch, later chairman of the Central Executive, and the main orchestrator of Toc H’s later war work on Orkney. The intention was for Tubby to recuperate from illness but instead of relaxing Tubby turned his attentions to establishing a branch in Kirkwall, a school prize-giving ceremony, various talks and services, and discovering Orcadian history. The latter included Pettifer wielding his spade for some excavations. Tubby revealed, in an article for the Cornhill Magazine, that during their holiday on Orkney, Pettifer shared some never before told stories, a sign surely of the increasing comfort the manservant felt with his charge. The pair would later return to Orkney in very different circumstances (See below)

Incidentally the Cornhill article, entitled Pettifer’s Point of View may be read here

Again, regular readers of this blog will be aware that in December 1930 Pettifer was with a party that travelled to the recently reacquired Talbot House to start the World Chain of Light. Amongst the party was a young man, Thomas Ritch, from Hoy whom they had met during their stay on Orkney. That story can be read here.

The 1930 World Chain Of Light at Talbot House. Pettifer almost dead centre

In 1931 Tubby wrote and published a small booklet to raise money for the Pettifer salary fund. Called Gen in 4 Fyttes it appeared in the Toc H Bangwent series (The series apparently so called because they cost sixpence and it was a play on the phrase that – slightly insultingly – mocked Scottish thriftiness, as in “London is a ruinous place Mun, a had na’ been the-erre abune Twa Hoours when—Bang—went Saxpence!!!”. A fytte, incidentally, pronounced ‘fit’ is a section of a poem.

In the spring of 1931 All Hallows carried out a Mission, the Work of Courage, which built on the constant visiting of offices and other workplaces by All Hallows clergy. It was a busy week in which services conducted by the Revd. Timothy Rees MC – later Bishop of Llandaff – took place on wharves, on the Hill, in warehouses and factories and even in pubs. The days began in the early hours talking to the fish porters of Billingsgate and continued with office juniors and then City business men until late at night. The mission touched the lightermen and tug-owners. In gratitude they presented All Hallows with a fountain. This was to become the centrepiece of a patch of rubble that Pettifer was transforming at the eastern end of All Hallows. This was his garden

Pettifer the gardener perched on his fountain

Tubby said of the labour,

“No words can indicate the lets and hindrances experienced in this laudable effort; the obdurate church wall, the no less obdurate tangle of regulations prohibiting the lifting the paving stones of Barking Alley. All these were overcome: the turncock satisfied; the meter built by Gen into its holy chamber; the basin dug and concreted; the pillar round the pipe made gay with shells of an astonishing amplitude. Then at last came the goldfish, creatures of a grave demeanour”.

The goldfish were in a pond around the base of the fountain. One of them was called Ghandi by the Marksmen of Mark I.

The turning on of the fountain 1931

The fountain was turned on at a ceremony on 11th June 1931. Guest of honour was William Pizzey, winner of the 1904 Doggett’s Coat and Badge, the prestigious Thames watermen’s race. He was dressed in the 18th century regalia that adorned winners. Other guests included Tim Harrington, Lords Halifax and Gorchen, and, of course, Pettifer smartly attired in suit and tie but declining to make a speech. He was however proud of his little garden. As Padre George Newton, who had years before helped Pettifer with the garden of Talbot House, said,

“Gen’s garden at All Hallows is not easy to find. It is overshadowed by a huge box of a building, better described as a monstrous tea-caddy. When the obstruction labelled Mazawattee is cleared away, the public will be able to sit in the garden looking over the ‘King’s Green’ which is to be recreated there after centuries – and watch the ships sail past the Tower”.


Two artist’s impressions of how they hoped to extend the garden once the warehouse was gone

They never got the King’s Green but a paved terrace instead and the garden itself was lost under contractors’ supplies when All Hallows was being rebuilt after the war

At the end of May 1937 Pettifer’s mother Elizabeth died at the grand age of 97 having never left Old Ford and then later that year, in August, there was another sombre occasion when Tubby took a memorial Service at Canterbury to commemorate the Buffs. Pettifer was of course by his side.

Then at the end of July 1937 Pettifer’s son William married Kate Down (Kittie) at St Paul’s, Oslo Square, Kensington. Tubby attended the wedding which is another indicator of how close the two men had become.

The marriage of William and Kittie 1937

And as the end of the thirties came into view, storm clouds were of course gathering on the horizon. When war broke out the government took a register of all civilians so we know that in September 1939 Pettifer was staying with Tubby at 42 Trinity Square (Talbot House) and listed as Clerk of the Works All Hallows. Susan was still at home in Strode Road but interestingly their eldest son Arthur Jr and his wife May were living at 6 The Crescent, a property just behind Talbot House that was leased by Toc H. His profession was listed as Verger, presumably at All Hallows.

However Tubby and Pettifer were not destined to stay on the hill for the duration. Orkney, which the pair had visited almost a decade earlier, was the site of the Scapa Flow naval base, one of the key naval establishments of the Allies. The population of the islands was swelled by various military personnel and the associated services. At the suggestion of Patrick Sutherland-Graeme, late chairman of the Central Executive whose family seat was on Orkney, Toc H were to provide rest centres for the sailors and auxiliary personnel. Since Toc H’s war work was centred on providing sustenance and entertainment to servicemen and women – a real return to its roots – this idea caught Tubby’s imagination. This is a story that needs telling in full although an earlier guest post on this blog did look at some aspects. Suffice to say in this context Tubby and Pettifer packed their bags (Well I expect Pettifer packed both) and headed north (Tubby was officially assistant to the Arch Deacon of Orkney- Edward Kissack – deputising for him whilst he was on sick leave). They arrived in early October not long after the aforementioned register was taken. A club – eventually several – was quickly established and Pettifer became a familiar sight in his khaki gold jacket with his pipe hanging out of his mouth.

Of course the war had devastating effects on everyone and Toc H, Tubby, and Pettifer were no exception. On the 8th December 1940, as Tower Hill felt the worst of the Blitz, a High Explosive shell almost destroyed All Hallows (It would be finished off by a fire three weeks later). The explosion showered Pettifer’s garden, in particular the fountain, with debris though it just about survived as, astoundingly, did the goldfish! Pettifer’s brothers Bertie and Edward and son William helped with the immediate repairs to All Hallows.

Pettifer’s fountain just about escapes the Blitz

Pettifer and Tubby returned in early 1941 for a service for Toc H’s original registrar William Musters who died suddenly in January. Though All Hallows was largely destroyed the crypt survived and the service was held there. Pettifer made the arrangements as Tubby explained,

“We entered under the Cromwell tower….thankful that the winding staircase stood unimpeded….the Undercroft was lit by lamps and candles and Arthur Pettifer was there in charge with all arrangements beautifully ordered”.

They would return to Orkney but in late 1941 Tubby left to take a post as Chaplain for the oil tanker fleet and in due course Pettifer returned to the bosom of his family.

Cartoon copyright Punch

He was in his early seventies when the war ended and his health was starting to fail so Pettifer pretty much retired now. His place as caretaker and general factotum on Tower Hill was taken by ‘Sunshine’ Woodley but Pettifer’s boots were impossible to fill. He would still make weekly visits to the Hill to see his old boss and other friends but now turned his Toc H loyalties to Tottenham branch. As the forties turned into the fifties and Pettifer neared 80 it became clear his days were numbered. It is said the last time he visited Tottenham branch, he lingered longer than usual as if knowing he wouldn’t be back. In his final days visitors included the Mayor of Tottenham – Alderman Mrs Annie Remington – and, of course, Tubby.

So on the 16th June 1954, Arthur Pettifer, late The Buffs, joined the Elder Brethren. His passing happened at their Strode Road home and he left a loving wife, two sons, their wives and two grandchildren. He was also survived by his sister Eliza and brother Harry. His death even made The Times.

His coffin rested in All Hallows for several hours and people flocked in to pay respects beginning with the Billingsgate porters in the early hours and continuing with cleaners, office juniors, river men, policemen and more. The Queen Mother sent a message which was framed and hung on the wall of their Tottenham home. Later (7th May 1955) a commemorative plaque would be unveiled, a parade of Toc H banners accompanying the unveiling.

Pettifer was cremated privately at Enfield Crematorium on Monday 21st June and there was a memorial service at All Hallows at 6.30pm on Wednesday 23rd. Brigadier Eric Foster Hall was present along with several other Buffs, past and present.  An unusual feature of the service was the playing of the regimental march by a Carillion of bells. John Callf, the Administrator Toc H read the lesson and Tubby gave an address including two pieces of verse about Pettifer by Lord Gorrell, editor of the Cornhill magazine at the time Tubby’s piece on Pettifer was published. This was followed by the Ceremony of Light. The Gen’s ashes were then taken down to the columbarium in the undercroft where the service was completed. Six friends, all ex-servicemen, took up stations around the urn and when the Buffs bugler, Corporal Tampin, sounded the Last Post and Reveille, they saluted their comrade. Pettifer’s mortal remains rest there to this day. His beloved wife Susan who died on 21st September 1958, two sons, their wives, and one grandchild have since joined him, as of course has Tubby, his master and friend.


As ever I am indebted to a number of people and sources for their help in putting together this blog. In particular I consulted Tales of Talbot House, the three excellent biographies of Tubby, Barclay Baron’s Half the Battle, Jan Louagie’s A Touch of Paradise in Hell, various issues of The Journal, the Log, and the Dragon (the latter being the magazine of the Buffs), and Tubby’s own tribute Gen in Four Fyttes. As for people, I was particularly fortunate to make contact with Pettifer’s great-niece Lesley Batt and I thank her for her input, and similarly thank Arthur Pettifer, late The Buffs, himself, without whom……….and of course, the great Tubby Clayton, even if his flamboyant tales do sometimes muddy the waters of research.

2 thoughts on “The Steadiest Buff – Arthur Pettifer MM

  1. Well done! Steve,
    I was so pleased to have read your appraisal of this great man, who was so behind the scenes to enable Tubby to function through so many difficult times. A real insight to this mans true character. Excellent. Such detailed research. 🙂


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