“Sharing this wonderful fellowship”- The growth of the Toc H Movement in the New World in the Twentieth Century
When Tubby Clayton, the Founder of Toc H set out on a world tour in April 1925, Edward, Prince of Wales, talking about the movement of Toc H, expressed the view that the young men that they met in different countries would “have the chance of sharing in this wonderful fellowship… I feel sure that some of them will receive the torch that you carry.”
This sentiment in some ways embodied the attitude of the new Toc H movement in the early twenties, expressing the almost paternalistic and colonial attitude which hoped to share the ethos and purpose of the movement world- wide. To what extent was the spread of Toc H , particularly in the new world , a one way journey or as the 20th century developed did a more reciprocal relationship developed in which the tenets of Toc H developed and deployed to the mutual advantage of the old world and new? The ‘wonderful fellowship’ that he was referring to sprung from a movement which had its roots in the battlefields of the First World War. Talbot House, in Poperinge, Flanders, had been set up by a chaplain the Revd P.B. ‘Tubby’ Clayton at the end of 1915 as a rest house for troops just behind the line. It became a unique institution, referred to by the men by its signaller’s symbols, Toc H. At Talbot House troops could meet and “forget the war” relaxing in the garden and rooms, writing letters and engaging in debates and games. Although in the house generally the conventions of rank were observed, an egalitarian atmosphere prevailed, especially in Tubby’s study, which had a sign saying “All rank abandon ye who enter here” and where private would sit down for tea and a yarn with an officer or general. At the end of the war Tubby rescued from Talbot House many scraps of paper with the names of people who had been communicants during the war. These were to be the “foundation members” of an organisation that was crystallising in his mind to perpetuate the work and ethos of Talbot House which was to become the Toc H movement. At a meeting set up the aims and growth of the movement. Tubby was particularly concern with the plight of young men flocking to the cities to work in the post- war years. Plans were put forward to offer a reasonably priced hostels for young working men and students and to “Infuse in them the traditional spirit of the old house and to lighten the loneliness of lodgings.” The plans emphasised the forward looking nature of the movement by stating that “Youth made the greatest sacrifice and it is to this youth that the world owes most in return.”
Many of the troops that had visited Talbot House during the war had been from the Dominions, particularly Canada and Australia. When they returned home, they formed groups of ex-servicemen, who seeing the growth of the Toc H movement, resolved to start groups of their own. Tubby described how Toc H had taken started to take root in the dominions, not as a movement imposed from London, but considered that it the natural result of men who had known the fellowship of Talbot House in the war to attempt to replicate it in their own countries after the war: “It was an empire growth from the beginning: Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians, who had never thought to set foot on English soil, until they came to share the agony they could have easily avoided, created Talbot House and stood by its true spirit”. He considered that the growth of Toc H abroad was a result of: The survivors, scattered in all parts of the world, who regarded Toc H as the turning point in their experience did not attempt to keep it to themselves, but were unanimous that they should transmit the truth of Christ in Flanders to the next and subsequent generations.”
He was pleased to be invited to Canada in 1922 by Lord Byng, the Governor General of Canada. Lord Byng had distinguished himself as a general in the War, and had led the Canadian victory in April 1917 at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, an historic military milestone for the Dominion that inspired Canadian nationalism. Tubby was pleased to think that the nascent branches in Canada had been noticed by the Governor General. Tubby set sail on January 6 1922 and received a splendid welcome at Government House, Ottawa. After a rest of two weeks with the Byngs he set out on his travels to lecture about Toc H and give encouragement to groups armed with his magic lantern apparatus. The tour was a success, generating large audiences, enthusiasm and managed, as well as raising the profile of Toc H, to raise funds for its work. As a direct result of his visit the Winnipeg group became a branch. In the first lamp lighting ceremony in London in 1923 Winnipeg was the first overseas branch to receive its lamp. Travelling next to New York, Tubby as first not impressed with the City, but after he had been there two weeks, supported by the rector and congregation of Ridgefield, Connecticut, he wrote to his father that he had found “the genuine New York”. Tubby’s problems with the USA stemmed from his perception of it as a materialistic and modern county, and tired from his Canadian tour, perhaps he had an unduly pessimistic outlook. He certainly made an impression in New York, and made contacts which were to bear fruit during and after the Second World War. By 1925 funds were need to support the rapid expansion of Toc H, and in the light of his successful tour of Canada and New York in 1922, it was decided that Tubby would make a world tour, accompanied by the energetic and successful Toc H padre of the Manchester mark , Pat Leonard. The Times reported that Toc H was “seeking friendship and free growth all around the world” Tubby and Pat Leonard, it said, would deliver lectures about the aims and methods of the movement. The expense of what The Times called ‘the Empire Tour’ was being covered by donations supporters of Toc H. Letters of support were received from among others, the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Duke of Devonshire and Lord Salisbury. The Prince of Wales wrote: I would like all my friends in Australia and in the United Sates to have the chance of sharing in this wonderful fellowship. You will meet many fine men on your journeys and I feel sure that some of them will l receive the torch that you carry.
A further article on February 4th explained in more detail the scope of the tour and set out the achievements so far of Toc H in establishing outposts of the movement across the world The report emphasised this was due to the efforts of individual Toc H members: Every year adds to the numbers and courage of these amateur agents, for the schools and offices from which Toc H … recruits its members are continually sending their sons to the outposts of empire and beyond. In this Toc H can do much for their welfare and usefulness by being equipped not only to send them but welcome them on their arrival. A good few member have thus been drawn to Canada already: and a friendly and familiar wisdom of Toc H Has stood them in good stead in their entry on their new careers. It can be seen that an important aspect of Toc H was to look after British settlers in Canada Tubby and Pat Leonard, ex- chaplain and full time padre for Toc H, set out on Thursday 8th April 1925 on the RMS Antonia. A royal Reception was held on board and 30-40 Toc H members attended. The expedition was provisioned for 44 weeks and took 17 trunks and packing cases which Pat Leonard was responsible. He later described their contents: In addition to a complete range of clothes… including field service uniform, Arctic underwear, tropical evening clothes, scout kit … there were several boxes of lantern slides and a magic lantern… two or three Toc H lamps, a portable altar and much Toc H literature. It is interesting that Tubby and Pat Leonard put much emphasis on taking with them a booklet containing facsimile reproductions of the letter that they had received from the Prince of Wales and others, wishing them well. It proved an invaluable asset. Pat Leonard remembered “few of the thousands we met were able to resist its appeal.” It seems that the intimate links that Tubby and Toc H had with the great and the good back in England stood them in good stead in impressing the people of the new world.
Tubby described his visit to Halifax as ‘joyous’ and then sailed on to New York. At New York Tubby had arranged a lunch on board for important contact in New York and Pat and Tubby were photographed from “every conceivable angle.” There he preached three sermons on the Sunday, attended “various lunches and meetings of all kinds. At the end of his visit to New York he reported: “We have had a good time in New York. Not large sums of money, but what is better- real deep keenness which will I trust issue in Toc H being really formed as a native USA movement.” The American tour included talks to service men and the Navy Club with Theodore Roosevelt in the Chair. Pat Leonard reported that although the Americans were very polite and charming but that it was difficult to get below the surface. He considered that at Philadelphia and Baltimore: “Something will doubtless happen though it may not be Toc H as we know it” Tubby wrote to a young worker for Toc H in England: “North America was full of emptiness, geographically and a great deal of spiritual vacuity as well.”
On the twelfth of March Tubby was reporting success in Boston. He was giving daily lunch time talks on “The Christianity of service and sacrifice illustrated by Toc H” and the congregation grew as the week progressed, Tubby reporting congregations of over 1,000. He wrote to his father: “We are both very happy here, much more so than in New York. The schedule of his stay in Boston reveals how strenuous the tour was, with three, sometime four appointments. Pat Leonard agreed that Boston and Harvard were “much more congenial” and said that the fame of the movement had clearly spread, so that church leaders, state leaders and business men were glad to help. Altogether in New England Tubby and Leonard delivered 63 sermons, speeches and magic lantern lectures. After a few days in Ottawa Tubby and Pat had three days rest at Government House as the guests of Lord Byng, Governor General , which Tubby described as ‘rest and refit’. During April in Canada their Hosts included Methodists, Baptists and Congregationalists as well as the Anglican church in Canada. Pat and Tubby visited the major Canadian cities amid much enthusiasm. Canadians were occasionally prone to think that Toc H was a Canadian invention. Someone said that “I hear that you are starting Toc H in England.” From Toronto Tubby sent a request for more copies of the Toc H journals, as “The journals are the most vital link… they are the best expression of the life and scope of Toc H and thus the best appeal matter.” The journey across the Rockies and the visit to British Columbia left Pat Leonard with two abiding memories. One was that of a man who had been a ‘church warden’ in the chapel at Talbot House, who hearing that Tubby was in Sicamons, travelled 150 miles by canoe and trail and foot to meet “the little man who had been priest in that chapel.” The other was the group of men who travelled from Chilliwack to Vancouver for a guest night and then back again to be in time for morning milking on their farms. Tubby wrote an exciting article for the times on his journey to Chilliwack to see this nascent branch and to encourage them.
By the end pf Pat and Tubby’s visit in 1925 there were eight active units and by the end of 1928, due to the effort s of Revd Huw Sawbridge and Padre Harry Ellison there were 42 units. Many of these later became inactive due to the lack of full time staff. However, of the units set up from 1930 onwards, (17 ) only one become inactive. There was extensive reorganisation and rationalisation of regions in the early thirties which resulted in Toc H in Canada being in a strong position in 1936.
The Trust set up in 1928 had reinforced the link between All Hallows and Toc H , encouraging Tubby to see the world as part of his parish at All Hallows and overseas units to think of All Hallows as their spiritual home . These concepts had already been encouraged by Tubby’s Tours in 1922 and 1925. The tour to South America was partly to further reinforce this world wide ministry of Tubby and All Hallows to world- wide Toc H units. Although South America was not part of the formal British Empire, there had been strong economic links with Latin American countries, particularly with Brazil, Chile and Argentina developed in the nineteenth century. B 1914 50% of foreign investment in Latin America came from Britain, and more than 20% of its trade was with Britain. A Brazilian Toc H member, Revd Gualter de Melo, A Brazilian who travelled to Britain in the 1957 to become an ADC to Tubby and was subsequently ordained ,considered that in the first decades of the 20th Century: Many men and couples who could not find jobs in the UK, had the opportunity of going to Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, etc., to work with British import and export companies. São Paulo in Brazil had a massive number of British companies helping to improve the quality of life of its citizens, a brilliant railway system, light and power Companies, trams, banks and an active St. Paul’s Anglican Church” .
Trade with Argentina was the most important link with the southern continent which continued until the late 1930’s. Between 1840 and 1914 50,000 Britains had entered Chile as economic migrants. Consequently there was a well-established British presence in parts of South American cities, e.g. The City of Valparaiso, Chile, where there were two football clubs established before the First World War. It was not surprising therefore, that a strong British diplomatic presence was maintained to oversee the interests of the many young British men being required to move to cities in South America. As The Times put it, in a report on the visit: “British Communities outside the empire exercise a corporate ambassadorship to the Latin Peoples, in which the wellbeing of the young British Fellows fresh out from home was a supremely important factor for the future.” Tubby was concerned that the Toc H movement, taken to Latin America by keen members of Toc H, might have grown with a much larger ‘social club’ element rather than drawing on the elements of service to God and Man enshrined in the ‘four points’. He considered that the main difficulty was: “The fact that Toc H consists mainly of foreigners in a strange land” and had to work hard to change distrust in civil social and industrial life by friendliness and cooperation.
Tubby’s party arrived at Rio De Janerio, where a mark had been set up, to be greeted by a launch containing two Toc H members who whisked them off, despite the lateness of the hour to the central club, where the Toc H group was waiting for them, along with the British Ambassador and the archdeacon of Rio. Tubby spoke to them about the need for strong local leadership in branches that were so far removed from the centre of Toc H in Britain. After taking services in the English Church the next day, Tubby continued this theme of the importance of well-run Toc H Branches in international settings when addressing a large group of people at lunch with the Ambassador. Moving on to Buenos Aries, the party was put up at a mark which had been established in a busy part of the city, Chacabuco. Apparently the party felt that the chapel at the roof of the house was superb but that the rest of the house lacked the friendly informality to be found in British Marks. William Lake, who had been working in South America since the beginning of the century, was a leading light of Toc H in Buenos Aries, and In the Birmingham university archives there is a scrap book, possibly compiled by him, which echoes Tubby’s impression of a very ‘social’ scene in Buenos Aries. Tubby spoke to the Toc H council and once again emphasised the necessity of strong local leader ship and the Christian ethos and practical agenda of Toc H as opposed to a purely social function. Perhaps with this local leadership in view he also arranged meetings with the Spanish speaking population of Buenos Aries. Using Buenos Aries as a base, Tubby then visited Montevideo, Bahia Blanca, Santa Fe Rosario, Mendoza, and other towns all with Toc H branches of various sizes. Tubby was appalled by the group in Mendoza, and told them so in no uncertain terms at a tempestuous meeting: “This place should have been called ‘men doze here”. However, some consciences were stirred and several members approached him later to suggest reforming as a new group run more along the lines he had suggested. Following an exciting and scenic trip across the Andes Tubby arrived at Valparaiso, Chile and visited the group there, where he was well received , and which made a better impression on him than those of Buenos Aries. While he was there, there was a dinner for sixty people, the local English speaking paper ran a special Toc H edition and six new members were enrolled. The energising and reorganising of the movement in Latin America had been a tough proposition, Tubby emphasising needs for energetic local leadership Gualter de Melo recounted the situation in Brazil, during the overthrow of the ‘old republic’ government by Getulio Vargas. The HQ of the Rio branch in the Missions to Seamen building was mistaken for a political premises and looted and destroyed. Their lamp of maintenance and banner were destroyed. Toc H was also caught up in the revolution against Vargas in 1932 : “The Toc H person looking after the Toc H lamp (in Rio de Janeiro) was threatened to be thrown down a 4th floor window of his building. They did throw the lamp down! , probably thinking it belonged to a lodge.” A member recalled the occasion: The crowd shot the ground floor to smithereens, and then came upstairs. And there was our notice board, and our papers and our lamp and banner, - no wonder that thought they had spotted a sinister secret society. So they set to work and hard to smash up all our gear and the missions and shove it all through the windows into the street. We just carried on- in another spot of course. We use a candle got ‘light’ at first and after a bit brought our old rush light into commission again. Lady Alston. Wife of the British ambassador gave us a new lamp and The Prince of Wales lighted it for us when he came to Rio the next year.” However Toc H in South America was able to keep up traditions of hospitality and did much work in looking after British workers who were working in the import and export business and also improving the infrastructure of cities. In 1936 there were 3 units in Buenos Aries, at Shackleton, Bahia Blanca and in the southern suburbs. A Toc H committee sanctioned by the central executive is in control. Chile had groups in Antofagasta, Santiago and at Valparaiso.
In the inter - war years Toc H Members and the Toc H League of Women helpers had been working closely with the Salvation Army: “A recent emergency engaged both their forces during the Earthquake in Concepcion. When the Salvation Army recently gave a dinner for homeless men using their shelter it as natural that Toc H and LWH members.”
A Toc H Linkman , Sam Scarsdale, made a tour of Toc H In Latin America in 1938, and reported back to the Toc H Journal on his findings. He firstly travelled up the Amazon to found a new branch, in Para, Brazil, and then visited a new ‘Talbot House’ in Rio de Janerio, while staying in Brazil, a fresh burst of revolution against the president had broken out. On this occasion the trouble subsided quickly, but one of the Brazilian members explained how careful they had to be not to appear political: Since the last revolution, no foreign societies and clubs are allowed to exist in Brazil. Our new official name is Sociedad Brasileira do Toc H – A national show- but we are still allowed to have British members and we have Dutch, German Swiss and Hungarian members in. We are the best mixed unit, so far a nationality goes, in the world . He continued, describing how they had some really good Brazilian members and probationers. The members of the Brazilian branches seemed to be achieving some of the aims of the Movement in terms of social service and good fellowship between men of all classes and nationalities. Sam found that in Buenos Aries, Argentina, the groups were struggling with the tension between Anglo Argentinians who often felt resentful of young British men brought in to positions of responsibility over their heads, and the British employees who considered Britain as home and would one day return there. Sam believed that the Toc H branches were helping by integrating these two groups by fellowship and service. It seems that by the mid-thirties Toc had a good base in Latin America, which was slowly changing from a society which primarily looked after the interests of the ex -pats to one which was trying its best to carry out the four points of the compass and become a place where men of different backgrounds could meet and address some of the problems of the countries in which it was established . In December 1941 Tubby managed to get himself appointed to the Anglo Saxon tanker fleet as chaplain to the fleet. Tubby had joined the MV Diplodon en route to the Dutch West Indies. He wrote a letter to the editors of the Toc H Canadian Chronicle informing them he was: “Concerned completely with the welfare and wellbeing of this tanker fleet”. Although he admitted that conditions had improved since he was last on tankers that the tanker fleet had been having a rough time. The petroleum board had asked tubby to “undertake a survey of conditions affecting them at sea and at ports.” This was, he considered “a vast and complicated task. If I am to do it properly, I must stick to my last”. He explained the importance of oil in time of war: “It is oil not gold which rules today.” On the Diplodon he started preparing men for confirmation. The Toc H journal reported in February that Tubby had landed at Aruba, in the Dutch West Indies, and then went with the tanker to San Francisco. Tubby then spent a little while visiting tanker ports on the west coast to “build up near tanker ports some little groups of quiet friendly folk who would open up their home in order to provide a happy welcome for future personnel of the British Tankers.” The journal, keeping track as best it could of Tubby’s movements reported in April that Tubby had crossed the continent and would likely be spending Easter at New York. From the West coast he travelled to Chicago and worked his way down the East Coast to the ports of Texas. Everywhere he went he appealed to American people to support and welcome the tanker crews. He had to undergo a minor operation while in New York and convalesced in Cooperstown. While he was there he used the opportunity to write to the local press about tankers crews. “My mind is more than constantly concerned with the hard times which my beloved shipmates have been having in the battle of the Atlantic, especially along your Eastern coast.” Tubby went on to explain, that due to the nature of their cargo they must spend time docked in supervising loading and unloading, therefore only usually having a few hours ashore, Tubby wanted to build upon the East Coast groups of friendly homes who would provide a haven. He suggested to the people of Cooperstown, as they were too far from the coast to do this, they might supply boxes containing cards and games, books and magazines musical instruments, phonographs and records and most importantly local souvenirs for the men to send home to their families. Wherever he went in America he found good will for the tanker crews and the publicity engendered resulted in a resurgence of interest in Toc H, which had been dormant in America in the 1930s. After visiting Texan ports, Tubby found time to visit the Bahamas, as the guest of the old friend of Toc H, the Duke of Windsor and the Duchess of Windsor. He sailed home on the MV Eulima In December 1940 the guild church of Toc H, All Hallows, was hit twice by German bombs and very nearly completely destroyed. Tubby considered that: “In Toc H with no guild church I am homeless, and I believe many share that view.” After his busy war and over 60 years of age Tubby set about raising funds and physical material with which to rebuild the church. In a letter from the archbishop of Canterbury to the presiding member of the Episcopal Church in 1945, he particularly mentioned All Hallows as having a claim on the sympathies of Americans and a result Tubby was invited out on a tour of the United States to raise both the profile of Toc H and raise funds for the rebuilding. He used the good will and contacts built up in during his time in USA in the war. He emphasised the links with America in All Hallows history. It was there that William Penn was baptised and John Quincy Adams was married. Typical of his engagements were those accomplished when visiting Baltimore. He preached in St Paul’s Episcopal Church and spoke to the Maryland Historical society on “Tower Hill London through nineteen centuries”. He gave a particularly good performance to the Newcomen society where he gave “A brilliant and restrained summary of England’s difficulties and the trials and stubborn courage of Tower Hill” . It was at a meeting in New York that the suggestion was first made that Groups of Young Americans should come to England and volunteer some of their holidays to help be the friends and leaders of youth in the East End. He considered that this would improve the friendships between American and Britain’s which he considered essential to world peace and security The scheme was named the Winant volunteers, after the war time ambassador to Britain, John Winant, who had first-hand knowledge of the conditions in the East End of London. From 1948 Groups of American students starting arriving to spend their summers helping with social work and relief in London’s East end, based at All Hallows church under the umbrella of Toc H. The rebuilt church of All Hallows was dedicated July 1957 in the presence of the Queen Mother. The success of its resurgence owed not a little to Toc H’s friends in the new world. The steel need to reinforce the walls was provided by Boston, the steel for the South Aisle from Houston. In all 21 American states contributed steel. The carillon of Bells came from Toc H friends in Montreal, and flooring from friends in Canada. The high Altar came from Argentina
Although Tubby continued to visit the USA and Canada during the 1950’s the situation of Toc H in USA and Canada was declining in this period. Despite the warm relationship between Tubby and Toc H and America during the War and the undoubted success of the Winant Volunteers, Toc H as a native institution had never really taken off in the states, the editor of the Toc H Journal in October 1949 commenting “Toc H , so far as it is known at all, is not considered in the states to be successfully transplanted- it is too British.” In Canada the immediate post war situation for Toc H looked hopeful, with a thriving Mark 11 in Toronto and regular reports in the Toc H Journal about the social work initiated by Toc H , However ,as had been the case from the 1920s the distances involved in Western Canada made organisation difficult. 1953 was described, however as “a year of conflict and pain- Toc H is not firmly established as part of the life of Canada” Similarly, the situation looked promising for Toc H in Latin America in the years following the war, with the branch in Buenos Aries celebrating its 21st birthday in 1947, but by April 1955 there were reports that attempt to repair and rebuild the main house had failed and that it had been sold. So what can we conclude about the relationship of Toc H with the new world? The spread of the Toc H movement started as a paternalistic one, with ex- service men returning to the Americas wanting to perpetuate the ethos of Talbot house and the new Toc H movement. In Canada, both after the First and Second World Wars ex- service men were heavily involved. Toc H always stronger in Canada as a result of this, however, the vast distances in Canada always militated against a movement that demanded regional organisation to flourish. Initially in Latin America Toc H was looking after interests of British ex- pats but slowly involved Anglo American and Spanish people. In USA there was a slow start in 20s and 30s possibly as its tenets of equality and dissolving barriers between people were not so relevant in the less stratified society in post Great War America. There was change in the relationship during and after the Second World War when in a reversal of roles, USA became the giver , helping to support British Tanker crews, giving funds to rebuild Toc H’s guild church and sending the Winant Volunteers. Tubby continued to travel to Canada and the USA till the late 1960s, keeping up personal friendships and maintaining the profile of Toc H. It is possible that with his death in 1972 an essential element of the transatlantic relationship was lost. Today Toc H still exists in Australia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, India and relatively recently in Belgium. There is one small branch in Ghana which links itself to the UK and a Paris branch that insists it is really UK. There are individual members New Zealand and U.S.A. However, Toc H as an institution has ceased to exist in the New World. To our 21st century eyes the development of Toc H in the new world seems very paternalistic and even colonial. Toc H in the Americas, however changed from being a transplanted British movement to one that tried to address the needs of the populations it settled in. It was never as strong in U S A and Latin America, as in the dominions. However the attempts to encourage it sprung from a genuine desire to spread the joy from Talbot House, as members earnestly strove to carry on the work of the Movement that had emerged so triumphantly and positively from the trenches of the Great War, and to influence the thoughts actions and relationships of the next generation by being part of the world wide movement that Toc H became in the 20th century.