Talbot House : "An oasis in a world gone crazy"
For almost the entire duration of WW I, Poperinge remained one of the few unoccupied towns in Flanders. Directly behind the furmoil of battle in the Ypres Salient', Pop', from early spring 1915 on, was the focal point of the British sector of the allied armies. Very soon the quiet hoptown grew into a burstling and colourful metropolis. Its narrow streets were crammed with thousands upon thousands of soldiers marching to or coming back from the front. 'Pop' was regarded as a haven, the first (or last) place where some sort of normal life was possible. There were shops around that sold everything a soldier could dream of. He could go to a film or watch a fancy show. Similarly, the local officers' clubs, restaurants, estaminets and coffeehouses did a roaring trade. Poperinge was also a place of rest. Whether billeted in the town or crammed into huts and tents in nearby camps, soldiers found shelter and a place to relax. But for a great many soldiers, Poperinge was also hell. The garrison town was frequently shelled and bombed. The hospitals and casualty clearing stations tended the wounded and healed the sick. But all too many found their last resting-place on one of the nearby cemeteries. Some of them had been sentenced to death as deserters and, after having spent their last night in the death cells, were executed in the courtyard of the local town hall.
On 11 December 1915 two enterprising army chaplains, Philip Clayton - universally known as 'Tubby' - and Neville Talbot, opened an 'EVERY MAN'S CLUB' where all soldiers, regardless of their rank, were welcome. The house was rented a 150 francs a month from Maurice Coevoet, a banker and hop merchant, who had sought safety with his family further on.
It was called 'Talbot House' in honour of Gilbert Talbot, Neville's promising younger brother, who had been killed some months previously. Gilbert soon came to be seen as a symbol of the sacrifice of a "golden generation" of young men whose lives were being sacrificed in the Ypres Salient.
With more than half a million visitors in hardly three years, Talbot House or Toc H - in the army signallers' code of those days - would become the best-known social and religious centre of the British Army, 'a home from home' that catered for a man's bodily, mental and spiritual needs. "On pushing through the door," wrote one visitor, "I found myself at once in a different world. It was amazing. I felt like Alice when she stepped through the looking-glass."
"Come along in and have a look round. Don't dally with the doormat; is is accustomed to neglect." (Tubby)
(Info : Brochure 'Talbot House', vzw Talbot House van Poperinge)