Celebrating a Centenary
Our Youth Ambassador Jessica Halligan traveled to Poperinge for the Toc H Centenary in December 2015. While she was there, she kept a diary of just what she got up to.
My arrival in Poperinge came a few hours later, and with a few bumps more than I had planned, but nonetheless I finally made it, landing on the doorstep of Talbot House at 6pm on December 10th. I was swept inside to the bustling foyer, and immediately given a tour of the house before heading up to my room. Once settled, I headed back downstairs, where everyone was gathered, chatting over coffee and preparing for dinner.
There wasn’t a face in the room that I recognised, and the large group, where everyone seemed to know each other, was intimidating to me. However, I was quickly swept up in conversation with first one person, and then another as the night passed.
The next day was an early start, as we headed as a group to the church for a service, interspersed with passages by various members of Toc H. The service was 60% Dutch, and 60% English, which was definitely an interesting mix at times! The two highlights of this service for me were the choir, and the wicker displays that ran along one side of the church, depicting a mixture of traditional Catholic imagery, and images of violence and suffering, from wars past and present. The artist also took the stage to give an explanation of her work, the themes of which tied closely with the themes of the Toc H conference itself.
Following the service, we filed through the rain to the town hall, for a reception with the Mayor Christ of Dejaegher, including a short but moving speech by An Kestier, who presented Mayor Dejaegher with a gift, to thank him for his support of Talbot House and Toc H during their Centenary.
During lunch there was plenty of opportunity to get to know other Toc H members from the different chapters. I was seated between Eilis, a young girl whose parents were part of the Queensland chapter, and Beryl Collins from Toc H UK, who had received surgery on her collarbone the week before, but had persevered to attend anyway. After lunch, those of us who hadn’t seen it before were taken for a tour of Poperinge’s hope museum, and then we were free to explore or relax as we chose.
That night was the Talbot House Gala Event, and the Toc H World Chain of Light Ceremony. All of us dressed in our best, and filtered out into the grounds and through to the marquis. After a few opening words, the guests of Talbot House remained for the beginning of the meal, and the members of Toc H travelled up to the Chapel on the 4th floor to begin the World Chain of Light. I was honoured to take part in this ceremony first with a reading about the Friendship point of the Compass, which calls us to Love Widely, and then by carrying one of the lamps back out to the marquis where it could be watched alongside the three others until the end of the celebrations. Once again the ceremony was accompanied by an incredible local choir, the Ypres Salient Singers. The end of the night came not just with dessert, but with an incredible replica of Talbot House made entirely of Belgian chocolate! We also signed the thing.
I ended my night at 4am, after 3 hours at vigil over the lamp of Friendship, set in the kitchen where the residents of Talbot House have had pots of Talbot Tea and a warm welcome ready since the very beginning.
This day started a little later (10am) after my late night. After a quick breakfast, I headed out to my next vigil in the Slessorium, where 2 hours passed quickly as I observed the art sent by different Toc H chapters around the world, and took part in a collaborative art project using charcoal that all Toc H visitors were invited to take part in.
That night we climbed once again to the chapel, gathered the lamps together, and performed the closing of the World Chain of Light.
This day was entirely dedicated to reminding ourselves of the origins of Toc H, as we toured through a number of memorials, museums, and gravesites around Ypres. It was a fittingly cold and dismal day, and having come from the beginnings of an Adelaide summer (it was 40C back home that day), I was wrapped in four jumpers, scarf, beanie, gloves and boots, awed and miserable at the thought of the conditions in which the soldiers involved in the war had to live through.
I was struck both by the enormity of the death involved, travelling over grounds in which hundreds of thousands of soldiers were buried, as well as on a personal level, seeing graves of men who had been killed at my age, or younger. Our guide was particular in pointing out the grave marker for a young boy, only 13, who was the youngest known soldier to have been interred in Ypres.
The day ended at the Menin Gate, where the Last Post Ceremony was played, as it always is, at 8pm, with a special inclusion of Toc H, involving the lighting of the lamp. I was honoured to lay a wreath, alongside 5 others, on behalf of the 6 locations of Toc H worldwide – Australia, UK, Belgium, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and India.
This was the first day of the conference. We heard an opening address by Tilde Frederix, followed by presentations by or on behalf of each Toc H chapter around the world. After a break, we were led by Terry Drummond, the Chair of Toc H UK’s board of management through his paper regarding the four points of the compass, before splitting of into groups to discuss how those values could be adapted to fit into a changed society with different needs. I was a part of the group focusing on the value to ‘Love Widely’, and had the opportunity to present to the rest of the conference. I shared our thoughts on how to balance a commitment to Toc H in among the other demands of life, and also how we can take this value from a vague turn of phrase into actions that we carry through as individuals and as an organisation.
The day ended with a Toc H quiz over dinner, based on information we had received during our entire stay.
This was my last day in Poperinge, so I started the day by getting my things together, and making an all important trip to the supermarket, in order to get some Spekuloos to take home with me!
Our conference re-started mid-afternoon with a guest speaker, Mark Vandael, from the Centre for Development of Creative Thinking. He guided us through group exercises aimed at enhancing our creative thought, and encouraging individual as well as collaborative ideas. We used this to discuss the image of Toc H we wanted to present going forward, and how we might do so. Once again, I presented on behalf of my group.
After some afternoon tea, we were led by Sally Simms and Steve Smith, to talk about the previous international collaborations that Toc H had taken part in, and to suggest and commit to further international projects in the future.
Finally, Ian Hussein, the head of the Talbot House association spoke about the ongoing commitment between Talbot House, and the organisation of Toc H. This ended with signatories from Toc H, signing the charter with Ian, to reaffirm this relationship.
A final closing speech was made by Tilde, and then it was time for me to run off for my train. I made goodbyes to many people that I hoped to see and work with again, and caught my train hopeful about the future of Toc H.