A Touch of Paradise in Hell
Jan Louagie
A Touch of Paradise in Hell
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, the visions, hopes, ideals that gripped their minds. Indeed, they tell the authentic history of Talbot House

In part 2, 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, has stood out in his experience. But also a number of  ‘Talbotousians’ 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 appendixes, 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 cannot only be enjoyed by the reader at home but can also 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.

Technical information:
  • Author: Louagie, J.
  • Publisher: Helion & Company
  • ISBN: 9781910777121
  • Date of Publication: 15th October 2015.
  • Binding: Hardback
  • Book Size: 245mm x 170mm
  • Number of pages: 392 pages
  • Images: 275 photos, ills
  • Language: English text
  • SKU: HEL0592

Published: 15 October 2015.
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