Reflections



Talbot House Garden


We were suffering from  “Battlefield Fatigue”………almost a week of facts, museums, memorials and cemeteries were taking their toll of both D.J. and myself!!

 

Now we had some idea of the immensity and complexity, which characterised the First World War.

 

We knew about the dreadful casualty rates, the bravery of heroes and the quiet, steady courage of young men who could see that they were about to die.

 

We could desperately sympathise with those who were afraid and who were shot for cowardice. Would we have done better?

 

Personally, I felt enormous admiration for the conscientious objectors: those who could not bring themselves to kill their fellow men but who enlisted as stretcher-bearers or medical orderlies – taking appalling personal risks to save lives.

 

Then there were the doctors and nurses who attended the wounded and dying and those who had to bury the dead. They included the heroic Scottish women doctors (including surgeons) whose services were refused by the British War Office but who opened a hospital anyway and saved the lives of thousands of French and Belgian troops.

 

Working under sometimes-dreadful conditions, they had a superb success-rate, losing only 4 % of those on whom they operated.

 

Also involved were the padres – the ministers and priests who took the gospel to the front line…and, bearing this in mind, Ailsa and David took us on a different journey, this time to the little town of Poperinge which in those dark days lay a few miles behind Allied lines and was simply known as “Pop”.

 

It was a place of rest and relaxation for soldiers on short leave from the horror of the trenches and there, even today , is a building which has changed little since it was an oasis of tranquillity , warmth and friendship for all ranks under the genial chaplaincy of a remarkable little padre called Philip “Tubby” Clayton.

 

Talbot House (for which the signallers’ code was “Toc H”) is a three-storied townhouse in a quiet street surrounded by a beautiful garden.

There are some interesting notices in the hall:  “Abandon rank all ye who enter here”,

“Come and see the chaplain – if you dare “ or (mysteriously) “If you are accustomed to spitting on the carpet, please spit here!”

 

In the common room is a map of the Ypres salient. Parts of it are almost obliterated by many fingermarks where soldiers pointed out where they had been, or where they had last seen comrades.

 

There is also a message –board where notes could be left for friends.

 

Up in the attic of the house is a chapel. Even today it emanates an almost tangible atmosphere of peace and tranquillity.  Here many of the soldiers received their first, and, sadly, often their last communion.

 

When we came downstairs again to have tea and scones with the wardens, I was invited to play the soldiers’ piano.

 

I gently strummed my way through “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” as we reflected on war and how wonderful it would be if we could stop doing it:

 

“Where have all the soldiers gone long time passing?”

“Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?

“Where have all the soldiers gone –gone to graveyards, every one”

“When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?

Freda Drysdale

 

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