The memorial at Poperinge contains details of some of the English soldiers from the World War One conflict who were shot at dawn, in addition to Eric Poole.
Eric Poole, aged 31. Second Lieutenant in the 11th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment. Admitted to hospital with shell shock in July 1916 (around the time of the Battle of the Somme). Despite his panic attacks he is sent back to the Front.
On 5th October 1916 Poole’s platoon arrives at the Front Line near Flers in France. However the 2nd Lt has disappeared. Poole is arrested days later and sentenced to death for desertion. He is the first officer in the British Army to be actually executed.
The execution took place on December 10th 1916 at 7.25am at Poperinge jail. Shot at Dawn.
It was a poignant moment on the fifth and final day of our tour of Flanders when we went to Poperinge a few miles from Ieper. In a courtyard there is a metal post that now serves as a memorial to soldiers killed there for breaking military law.
Several years ago a former President of the National Union of Journalists George McIntyre led a campaign to clear the names of WWI British soldiers court martialled e.g. for desertion and shot at dawn by a firing squad.
Climbing almost heavenwards up a flight of steep and narrow wooden stairs you reach the upper room at Talbot House. This was used as a chapel by the founder and chaplain Reverend Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton.
This is where Anglican services would be held for the troops during World War One.
There was a prayerful and reverent atmosphere amidst all the reminders that this is where soldiers would have gone for some spiritual comfort during the long days of conflict in the battles in Flanders.
Mark K. Smith (2004) has written about the founder of TOC-H, Army padre Reverend Philip Clayton. See: Smith, M. K. (2004) ‘Philip “Tubby” Clayton and TocH’, the encyclopedia of informal education.
Army Chaplains Neville Talbot (left) and Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton opened a club for soldiers in the heart of Poperinge in December 1915. For more than three years, Talbot House provided rest and recreation to all soldiers entering, regardless of rank.
Remembering those souls who have died
Philip Thomas Byard Clayton (1885-1972), Philip Thomas Byard Clayton (1885-1972) was known to his friends as Tubby. He was born on December 12th 1885 in Queensland. At the age of two his parents returned to England. Educated at St Paul’s School in London and then at Exeter College, Oxford, he gained a First Class Degree in Theology. While reading for orders under the Dean of Westminster he became involved with the boys’ club work of the Oxford Medical Mission in Bermondsey.
John Stansfeld (‘The Doctor’), the founder of the Mission, had, according to Philip Clayton, ‘passed like the Pied Piper, through the ‘Varsity and bidden us to the boys’ clubs at Dockhead, Gordon and Decima’ (quoted by Baron 1952: 206). He worked there one night a week, joining a remarkable group of workers that included Alec Paterson and Barclay ‘Barkis’ Baron (who was later to join the central staff of Toc H and edit the Toc H magazine).
A soldiers’ rest and recreation centre named Talbot House was founded in December 1915 at Poperinge in Belgium. It aimed to promote Christianity and was named in memory of Gilbert Talbot, son of Edward Talbot, then Bishop of Winchester, who had been killed at Hooge in July 1915.
The founders were Gilbert’s elder brother, Neville Talbot, then a senior army chaplain, and the Reverend Philip Thomas Byard (Tubby) Clayton.
Talbot House was styled as an “Every Man’s Club”, where all soldiers were welcome, regardless of rank. It was “an alternative for the ‘debauched’ recreational life of the town”.
The original building at Poperinghe has been maintained and redeveloped as a museum and tourist venue.
Branches of Toc H were established in many countries around the world. An Australian branch was formed in Victoria in 1925 by the heretical Reverend Herbert Hayes. Another was formed in Adelaide the same year.
Poperinge or simply ‘Pop’ as the Tommies referred to it is a village about eight miles west of Ieper in West Flanders. The region is famous for growing hops.
During World War One the town was one of only two in Belgium not under German occupation. It was used to billet British troops and also provided a safe area for field hospitals. Known familiarly as “Pop”, it was just behind the front line and formed an important link for the soldiers and their families, especially through the rest house known as Talbot House (or “Toc-H“). A grim reminder of that time remains within the town hall, where two death cells are preserved, and outside in the courtyard, where there is a public execution post used by firing squads.
Another reminder is the location of a number of military cemeteries on the outskirts of the town with the graves of Canadian, British, Australian, French, German, US servicemen and men of the Chinese Labour Corps. One of these is Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery for soldiers who had been wounded near Ypres and later died in the large Allied casualty clearing stations located in the area.
A new statue on the market place brings Eliane Cossey or “Ginger” back to Poperinge. Ginger was a red haired girl that worked at the La Poupée café and had a mesmerising effect on many soldiers. An initiative that bring “Little Paris” back to life.
Willie Redmond MP wrote in his war diary about Ginger’s: “A cheery spot it is, bedecked with the flags of the Allied nations. All the appointments of the place ara good: clean cloths upon the little tea-tables, little bunches of flowers here and there, and altogether an air of brightness and comfort about. Very grateful indeed to eyes weary of the drab dismalness of trench and hut. In the hours of the afternoon the tea-room is crowded with officers from various units, and it is of interest to observe that they represent very often branches of the army in the field from almost every corner of the Empire.“
Day five, the final day of our visit to Flanders. After an exhausting fourth day that turned out to be a record heatwave, we started exploring some places near the centre of Ieper where we were staying.
St George’s Church which I will cover in a separate article is a Church of England (Anglican) place of worship. It contains several interesting memorials, some with Irish connections.
Close to St Martin’s Catholic Church (former Cathedral) where there was once a monastery, there was a building site where the façade was being carefully preserved. Large steel girders propped up the beautiful brickwork. It made me think of how the shell of Castleblayney Market House was being treated. In Belgium much more attention seemed to be given to preserving the old alongside the new.
At the rear of the Cathedral, where a funeral Mass was being held, we came across a Celtic cross with a tricolour flying. This is a memorial for the Royal Munster Fusiliers (more later).
We moved on to the village of Poperinge where the TOC-H house is situated.
Our final stop on the way back to Brussels Airport at Zaventem was in Ghent. Unfortunately we did not have time to stop at the site of the Battle of Waterloo (Westerlo) as planned. But it is a site I have visited before.