Talbot House (Toc H)

The Toc H symbol Some time in 1944 I was with my Regiment in the jungle in the Far East, when I first came in contact with Toc H, together with the Salvation Army and other helpful and friendly organisations for the troops serving abroad.

I was so impressed with all that Toc H had to offer me and other soldiers who attended their meetings, that I can say their early help and religious influence on me was to come to my aid for the rest of my future life and what I did.

Years later, when I had left the Army and eventually ended up living in Leicester as a single young man, I once again came across Toc H and learnt all about the good it was doing for all young men, especially those single and living away from the their homes. I, like other young men, took advantage of this good work by moving into a Toc H house at 44 Princess Road, Leicester, as a resident, staying with them for about two years until I found my feet and a new life started. Toc H had a large number of houses around the country. They were all called Mark and given a number, e.g. Mark 5.

It was a large house where about 24 young men stayed. We all came from different backgrounds and walks of life, and worked at different and varying trades. But the one thing in common was that we all agreed on the principles of Toc H: living as one community in friendship and brotherhood. We shared bedrooms, usually three or four to a room, had two communal lounges to relax and socialise in, a large dining room, and kitchen with staff, and a games room with table tennis and other games. Most importantly we had a small chapel in the basement for weekly Holy Communion services. We would hold small dances and social evenings when nurses from the hospital, girls from the University, YWCA and others, would be invited. This meant that we also were invited out to their dances and socials. So, apart from our daily work, we all led lovely social lives together.

There was only one small problem with all us young men living together. We all had different jobs and experience, but with many of them working in the hosiery, boot, shoe and clothing industries, one could never return from shopping without one of them pulling you to bits with what you had purchased. They would feel the quality of the cloth, if it was a suit, examine your shoes closely if new, even to see if the socks you bought were wool or other materials. Mind, all this ribbing was never malicious, it was all done in fun.

It was here that I really started my charitable work, though I had actually started in a very small way whilst serving with my regiment during the war. A number of men who were called up were unfortunately unable to read or write, so I would read out many a letter to them and also reply on their behalf. My OC who after leaving the Forces became a teacher and later took up holy orders, would take us to the local military hospital to visit the sick and as we had formed a small choir, we would entertain them also.

Back to Leicester. From our hostel here we would visit patients in the Royal Infirmary and do a weekly ward round with the Library books. We had a few probation officers living with us, and some of us would help out with the young offenders in the Probation Hostel during the evenings, playing games or football with them. We were each involved in one way or another with our own local churches, Anglican, Methodist and URC, so we would also attend our own church services each Sunday.

Now, you may be wondering, what is Toc H? so here is a brief history of this charitable organisation, which has grown from strength to strength over the years, and is well known for all the good work it does.

Toc H is an organisation made up of groups of people meeting together and serving their community in worthwhile projects. It got its name from Talbot House and became known from its initials, TH. Using the signaller's language, this became Toc H. The original Talbot House is in Peperinge, Belgium, set up to provide the basic comforts to the young men going to and from the battlefields of the Western Front. It was named in memory of Lt. Gilbert W. L. Talbot, who was killed at Hooge in Ypres on 30th July, 1915. The house was opened and Toc H founded by Revd Philip Thomas Byard Clayton, known universally as "Tubby", in December 1915.

The lamp was adopted by Toc H as a lamp of maintenance. It is an oil lamp and has the cross of Ypres upon it. It burns with a dim light, hence the expression "as dim as a Toc H lamp".

Toc H most certainly taught me to reach out to all, to offer friendship and neighbourly help whenever needed, and most importantly, that friendship is possible between people who are very different.

Ashley Collins

The Toc H website

St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 12th July 2003