Toc H: A Refuge from the War

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While at Poperinge, we visited a key site in the story of the British Army in the Ypres Salient, the establishment of a refuge from the war at Talbot House. Rev. Phillip ‘Tubby’ Clayton became an army chaplain in France and Flanders where, in December 1915, he and another chaplain Rev. Neville Talbot opened “Talbot House”, a club house for soldiers, regardless of rank or status. It became known as Toc H, this being signal terminology for “T H” or “Talbot House”.


With its simple accommodation, garden and chapel in the eaves, Toc H fostered a spirit of friendship across social and denominational boundaries and enabled soldiers to enjoy rare moments of peace and entertainment, a home away from home. After the war, branches were set up across the UK and in several Commonwealth countries.

The Battle bus group were delighted to be given a guided tour around Talbot House in April and a visit there with the bus in September will be essential. The House still has many features surviving from the First World War – the peaceful garden, Clayton’s study, framed aphorisms on the walls and artworks such as the sketches of soldiers by Christopher Nevinson, working as an ambulance driver, who later designed posters for the Underground group.

A full size reproduction of a photograph of soldiers relaxing in the canteen room around the piano occupies the same room today and brings the past of the House vividly to life. It is still possible to stay overnight B&B in Talbot House and exhibitions tell the story of the house and the Ypres Salient.

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Unveiling the restored B-type Bus

Today, on a glorious sunny morning, the Museum unveiled a restored double deck open top B-type bus No. B2737 in Covent Garden Piazza as part of its commemorations of the First World War.

Battle Bus

Appearing in public for the first time and featuring advertisements from the pre-war era – including Camp coffee, Veno’s cough medicine and Wright’s coal tar soap, the bus was resplendent in its red and cream livery in the early summer sunshine.

Battle Bus Press Launch Venos Advert

Battle Bus Press Launch

Throughout the day the public were welcomed on board the bus to admire the decoration on the lower deck saloon with its wooden fretwork panels and the original cushioned moquette fabric seat covering design, recreated thanks to a fragment of material that was discovered during the restoration process.

Battle Bus Interior

After navigating the narrow staircase, it was hard not to imagine the challenges of travelling on board the upper deck with its exposure to the elements and signs warning passengers ‘keep your arm inside and do not lean over the side of the omnibus otherwise you may receive some hurt’.

Battle Bus Press Launch Warning Sign

One of only four surviving B-type London buses, B2737 was built at the AEC Works in Walthamstow in 1914 and served on route 9 out of Mortlake garage in south west London operating between Barnes and Liverpool Street. The B-types could reach a top speed of 16 mph and seated 34 passengers. With its top deck open to the elements and solid rubber tyres providing a bumpy ride, travelling on the B-type was not a comfortable experience for passengers or indeed the drivers who were also exposed to the extremities of the weather.


At the beginning of the War over 1,000 B-type buses were commandeered into military service and deployed for use on the front line along with their civilian drivers and mechanics. With their windows boarded up and painted khaki to disguise their bright red livery they were used to transport troops, and also served as ambulances and even mobile pigeon lofts enabling messages to be sent from the Front Line back to headquarters.

B-type turned into a pigeon loft during the First World War. Copyright TfL.

The public will have a limited number of opportunities to admire the restored bus before its transformation into a war time ‘Battle Bus’ in September, after which it will embark on a tour to the battlefields of France and Belgium visiting  key sites including Ypres, Arras and Passchendaele to pay respects to the sacrifices made by so many during the First World War.

London’s Buses on the Western Front

Poperinge WW1

Recently we launched a crowdfunding campaign asking you to help us get our ‘Battle Bus’ back to the Western Front. But what does this really mean, and why is it so significant?

During the First World War London’s buses were to become crucial to the war effort. Our B-type bus, B2723, was one of the 1,200 buses requisitioned by the War Office and used as troop transport, ambulances, lorries and even pigeon lofts. In September, the Museum is taking B2737 back to key sites in Northern France and Belgium to commemorate the Londoners who fought and the busmen who supported them in the early months of the war.

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Back in April we reconnoitred the route and places to visit. We tried to compare postcards and photographs of buses at the Front with those places today. This sometimes possible, such as in the market square at Poperinge in Belgium. In other places, rebuilding after the devastation of the war, as at Bethune, had radically changed the view and such comparisons were not possible.

It is difficult to reconcile the small towns and rolling countryside of the Somme and the wooded Messines Ridge today with the devastation of the wartime photographs, the huge systems of trenches of the aerial photographs, the highly dangerous places like Hell Fire Corner, now a roundabout on the Menin road out of Ypres, or the evocative place names where so many men fell, at Passchendaele, High Wood, Gommecourt or the Hawthorn Redoubt. Visitors need a mental overlay, such as provided by a good guide, in our case, Andy Robertshaw, to ‘see’ the First World War once again in the landscape.

Goodbye Piccadilly: World War 1 Facts

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The B-type bus was surprisingly easy to adapt for military use. Many buses were used to transport troops into battle. However the London bus chassis was versatile and could be adapted into a range of specialised vehicles, from ambulances and messenger pigeon lofts to anti-aircraft gun carriages and freight lorries.



Can you help get ‘Battle Bus’ to the Western Front? You can get involved and back the project for free by becoming a project Cheerleader and sharing it with friends and family or make a pledge from as little as £20 and in return for your support you’ll receive some exciting and unique rewards!

Find out more:

Navigating Eros in 1919

1  1998-88554 Piccadilly Circus traffic scene dominated by B-type buses. Copyright TfL.
Piccadilly Circus, 1919. In the background the Pathé film, J’accuse, directed by the influential filmmaker Abel Gance (1889–1981) is showing at the Pavilion. It was a spectacular success throughout Europe, using innovative filming and editing techniques and real soldiers as actors.

Recently we’ve received a great deal of feedback on the photograph above which seems to show buses ‘circling’ Eros in Piccadilly Circus the wrong way.

Our Curators were as intrigued as you and decided to take a closer look. Upon further investigation it became apparent that the size and layout of the island in the middle of Piccadilly Circus  – not to be confused with a traditional roundabout – has changed several times since Eros was unveiled in 1893. Before the Second World War there was a more complicated road layout with two-way traffic (in 1919 there were not enough vehicles on the road to warrant traffic lights!). In the photograph this gives the illusion of traffic moving the ‘wrong’ way around a roundabout.

Goodbye Piccadilly: Florence Cordell’s Story

Florence Cordell in 1916

Florence Cordell was one of the first women to work as a bus conductor in Britain. She, along with hundreds of other women, worked as a ‘conductorette’ for LGOC during the First World War, replacing the men who had left their jobs for war service. Before the war, Cordell worked for Faraday and Son making luxury lampshades but as fighting  continued it became clear that such luxuries were no longer appropriate and she knew her job was in jeopardy.

In 1916 Cordell began training as a bus conductor, taking medical, IQ and maths tests to determine her suitability. She was based at varying locations including Willesden, Twickenham, Turnham Green and Highgate Archway garages. Women conductors earned five shillings a week less than men and they went on strike to demand equal pay.

As with all women who worked on the buses during the war, the end of the fighting in 1918 meant Cordell lost her job as she was replaced by the returning men.

Florence Cordell’s story features in our Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front exhibition, on until 8 March 2015.


If you have any personal family stories, photographs, mementoes, medals, letters or diaries that you would like to share with us then we’d love to hear from you. You can email us at



Can you help get ‘Battle Bus’ to the Western Front? You can get involved and back the project for free by becoming a project Cheerleader and sharing it with friends and family or make a pledge from as little as £20 and in return for your support you’ll receive some exciting and unique rewards!

Find out more: