Lt. Col. May later said: ‘I did not mind what the house was called so long as it was not called “Church House” and suggested he should call it after his own name. He did so but really dedicated it to his lost brother Gilbert.’ Gilbert Talbot had been killed in battle in July that year.
So- it was decided that the name was to be Talbot House. On December 11th 1915, it opened for the first time and the Every Man’s Club, run by Tubby Clayton, began to welcome war weary soldiers. The name they had settled on probably helped to promote a convivial atmosphere. As they were not on the front-line, Tubby wished to downplay military status - hence the sign on his office- “all rank abandon ye who enter here.”
There were no subscription fees, no waiting list to become a member and entry was free. The main thing in common for the ad hoc ‘members’ was that they had all seen and experienced things that were traumatic and that they preferred not to talk about with outsiders.
No-one knew if they would be back again once they resumed frontline duty: many didn’t make a return visit to ‘Toc H’. Tubby Clayton had to deal on a daily basis with saying farewell to men who he knew could soon be dead.
On my visit there, I was struck immediately by the club spirit of this haven for soldiers as well as by the many similarities with our clubs back home. We should perhaps remember here that it was some of the surviving soldiers who who went on to set up many new clubs after the war ended: the Ex-Servicemen, Old Comrades, Done our Bit clubs and so on. The Royal British Legion was established in May 1921, made up of four organisations of ex-servicemen and they went on to open hundreds of their own clubs.
Perhaps some of those post-1918 club founder members had passed through the doors of Talbot House Every-Man’s Club. I’d like to think some did!
What Happened in the Every Man’s Club?
There would be a lot of sitting around, chatting about this and that, with friendships formed. The soldiers would have felt the warmth, cleanliness and relatively safety of the house. After the harsh conditions of the nearby front, it must have seemed like paradise on Earth. Or the ‘first stop after hell.’
Although all the men would be there because of the war, Tubby Clayton tried to lessen its presence. He wrote: ‘So far as possible, the House took no interest in the war. In all things it maintained a civilian standpoint not out of any disloyality to the Cause…. ‘ The aim was to offer a sort of ‘home from home…. a place of light and joy and brotherhood and peace.’ It was not an army camp in any shape or form.
These words are remarkably similar to those of Henry Solly writing decades earlier about the ideals for working men’s clubs- mutual support and benefit, friendship and brotherhood.
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