13 Oct 2015

A Touch of Paradise in Hell. Talbot House, Poperinge - Every-Man's Sanctuary from the Trenches

A Touch of Paradise in Hell. Talbot House, Poperinge - Every-Man's Sanctuary from the Trenches

Away from the turmoil of battle in the Ypres Salient, the town of Poperinge developed into the nerve centre of the British sector.

In the heart of this bustling town, the Army Chaplains Philip ( Tubby ) Clayton and Neville Talbot opened an Every-Man s Club . It was an alternative place of wholesome recreation where all soldiers, regardless of their rank, were welcome. The inspired way in which Tubby ran this home from home , turned Talbot House, or Toc H , into the best-known soldiers club of the British Army a sanctuary for half a million men on their way to or from the Front.

The first part, Portrait of an Every Man s Club, paints a graphic picture of Talbot House against the immense background of the waste and horror of war, from its early beginnings at the end of 1915 till the private owner s return early in 1919. The connecting thread is provided by a wide selection of Tubby s letters, mostly to his mother. These are supplemented with extracts from his diaries and other wartime writings, as well as letters and accounts from dozens of other eyewitnesses. Together they provide an intimate, vivid and complete picture of what life at the House was like.

They give us a fascinating insight into the lives that Tubby and his guests were living, the kind of thoughts they were thinking, and the visions, hopes and ideals that gripped their minds. Indeed, they tell the authentic history of Talbot House. In the second part, A Home from Home, Tubby shows us around the House so that we get a clearer picture as he passes from room to room, from the lively and noisy gaiety in the canteen to the peace and serenity in the chapel.

This guided tour is flavoured with recollections of some 40 officers and other ranks relating how they experienced the unique atmosphere radiating from the various parts of the remarkable building. In A House of People, the focus is first put on the Padre and his batman, Private Arthur Pettifer. Then follows a colourful palette of stories by the innkeeper , each about one particular customer who, for one specific reason or another, stood out in his experience.

But also a number of Talbot cousins have a tale to tell. Browsing through their memories, five of them relate a significant incident that will forever be associated with Talbot House or Tubby. The final chapter takes us beyond the walls of the Old House.

In a few poignant sketches it describes Tubby s visits to his parishioners in the slums of warfare. It portrays the comradeship of shared experiences, the excitements and the miseries, and the triumph of the human spirit over unimaginable suffering. Some rare reminiscences of the short-lived and much-tested daughter-house in Ieper complete the picture.

The appendices, all wartime documents produced at Talbot House, shed further light on its early history, management and day-to-day working. "A Touch of Paradise in Hell" can not only be enjoyed by the reader at home but also can be used as a guidebook during a visit to Talbot House and serve as a Talbot House guide to the Ieper Salient and the Somme, as it links people and stories to locations.

The annotations contain a wealth of interesting background information. Contains 203 b/w & 68 colour photos, & illustrations.


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