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The story of CLOG – how it started and the War part 2


The story of CLOG – how it started and the War part 2

*By Bob C based on his interpretation of "The First Ten Years"
- our official history published in 1947 (author unknown).

The outdoor programme
The main purpose of the group was to organise weekends away with occasional day walks on Sundays. At this time many people still worked Saturday mornings but there were hostel trips every weekend leaving after lunch on Saturday. Cheaper weekends were organised for new members near London at Chaldon (in the North Downs), Epping Forest and Ivinghoe (in the Chiltern Hills). The total cost was 5 shillings (25p). Half of this was the train fare and the other half covered the bed and self-catering.
There was a short-lived experiment hiring coaches picking up members on Saturday at 2pm from Charing X and taking them to under-used hostels further afield which were hard to reach by train such as Patcham (in the South Downs) and Cross-in-Hand (in the Weald). In 1938 a camping sub-section was also formed.
The outbreak of war briefly ended weekend trips. At the beginning, nobody felt like going away and the YHA offered many hostels to the ARP (Air Raid Precautions). Holmbury St Mary (in the Surrey Hills), Ivinghoe and Flackwell Heath (both in the Chiltern Hills) all closed. Holmbury reopened after the war and still exists as a hostel.
However it turned out to be a “phoney war” to begin with. The Ministry of Labour & National Service, Ministry of Supply and Board of Education all encouraged young people to get out into the countryside at weekends. The exercise was felt to be healthy for young people waiting for military training or being drafted over to France, on leave or working long hours in factories in artificial light. Despite this, walkers were unpopular with transport officials because they were using travel facilities for pleasure which was not considered essential.
Soon a scaled-back programme of hostel weekends was organised, often ignoring “Keep Out” signs where the army had taken over large areas of the countryside such as the Surrey Hills and walking through military areas unmolested. There was rationing but it didn’t really affect hostel meals (they may have been quite small anyway!)
The group continued to have weekly trips through the Blitz. On Saturdays they had lunch at a café followed by a couple of hours in the clubroom before taking a Green Line coach to a hostel just as the air raids were starting. They would walk all day on the Sunday then take the train back in the evening. Taking the coach out and the train back was a way of keeping the cost down as coaches were cheaper. However this was no longer an option when Green Line coaches were withdrawn and converted into ambulances.
The group had a tradition of bank holiday camping weekends. These had been suspended because of travel disruption due to regular weekend invasion scares (possibly instigated by the Government to test readiness) and the fact that the Home Guard were very nervy and likely to take pot shots at people camping. However in 1942 these longer trips resumed and a summer camp was held near Basingstoke in Hampshire with young Austrian refugees as guests.
When the war ended travelling became easier but not cheaper. YHA membership and interest in trips soared but half the hostels had closed permanently or had to be refurbished due to damage from being requisitioned during the war. In the summer hostels had to be booked two or three months ahead, even if the group were helping to repair war damage.
Supporting the YHA
The secondary purpose of the group was to support the YHA. The group adopted GOSH (Great Ormond Street Hostel in Bloomsbury) helping out there two evenings a week and sometimes at weekends. They redecorated the hostel and organised dances on Saturday evenings. Every evening volunteers from the group ran a desk giving information about travelling, selling tickets and YHA stuff (such as hostel handbooks). They also organised trips to the Proms for people staying at the hostel.
There were also working parties at Holmbury St Mary, Ewhurst (also in Surrey) and Speen (in the Chiltern Hills). Cutting logs for firewood at Holmbury was especially popular. These working parties lasted till the Second World War when hostels closed or rail fares became too pricey. After the Blitz working parties recommenced at Kemsing (in the North Downs) and Speen. There was no preference for people working at a hostel rather than walking; they still had to pay to stay in the hostel.
The YHA also used the group’s clubroom to hold their own meetings during the war. After the war the YHA reopened GOSH and opened another hostel in Taviton St, Euston. The group helped out by organising working parties at both hostels in exchange for being able to hold their Xmas Party at Taviton St hostel.
How the group was organised
Within six months, Phil Victorsen, the instigator of CLOG who was our first chairperson, resigned. It isn’t recorded why. Maybe there was a personality clash, maybe there was a sex scandal (only joking!) but he resigned unexpectedly. As the group’s first chair, he had been taken for granted as a fixture but of course there’s no such thing as a fixed piece of furniture. Chairs come and go and CLOG would have to find many more chairs over the course of the years.
The new chair was Cecil Malyon, one of many accountants, and it won’t surprise you to learn that he wrote the group’s constitution. He put CLOG on a firm footing but he was active in the YHA at a national level and basically burnt out so he resigned in 1939. Mickie Hartwell (who was to become Mickie Brown) took over as Chair. She was to steer CLOG through the war.
When war broke out, many local groups folded. This nearly happened to CLOG. In 1940 an inquorate AGM voted by 9 votes to 5 to disband the group for the time being (possibly permanently), give notice to quit the clubroom and put their furniture into storage at GOSH. However two members (Ralph Jones and Syd Worral) persuaded some others to ignore this on the basis that it couldn’t be binding as the meeting had been inquorate. So the group continued to meet. In January 1941 an Extraordinary General Meeting reduced the quorum to a more realistic figure, given that only about 15 members were still turning up. Eventually membership increased to about 30 members.
By 1942 there was a new influx of members who were refugees from abroad. Soon there were as many Dutch and Belgian members in the group as British ones but they didn’t always see eye-to-eye. A couple of Dutch sisters, Bubbles and Tuppenny (surely not their real names!), provided fresh impetus but they had very definite views on how they thought the group should be run (they had been in a YHA group of their own in Antwerp before the war). Bubbles’ real name was Margriet Barber and her sister Tuppeny was Vera Barber.
At the October 1942 AGM, they called on the group to be more lively and go-ahead and to do something useful. This was translated into having a competition to design and make a model youth hostel, colouring in Ordnance Survey maps, naming wildflowers picked on weekend trips and making cushion covers for the clubroom furniture. However, human nature being fickle and sluggish, meant that none of these tasks was ever completed and some weren’t even started!
They wanted the group to be involved in setting up an international YHA in London. There was some disagreement about this which ended in a friendly split. In summer 1943, the Dutch and some of the English members left CLOG to run an International Youth Centre. The rest of the members went back to knitting and a more humdrum existence. They remained good friends even when the Dutch returned to Europe after the war. Out of this, a new International Group was set up in London. To begin with this was more active than the Central London group though over time this changed. Many years later the groups effectively remerged when surviving members of the International Group joined the Central London group.
The finances
To begin with, renting a clubroom cost 25 shillings (£1.25) per week. As little as this may seem today, this was considered high and led to regular moves to new premises (there was also a crisis with people booking on trips then cancelling their places). When the group moved during the war to 37 Great James St the weekly rent cost 11 shillings (55p) per week (it is now unthinkable that a flat could be rented in Central London on a permanent basis yet only used for weekly meetings). The dozen members or so at this time kept it going by sharing the costs, paying the rent personally between them, taking turns to buy bags of Coalite, putting money in the gas and electricity meters etc. In February 1941, they rented out one of the rooms to a local councillor every Saturday
The news sheet
The first news sheet (now Clogprints) was published in 1938. It was edited by the chair (Cecil Malyon and then Mickie Hartnell) and produced on a typewriter. In the war the news sheet kept people in touch and came to be seen as vital. Members had been scattered by call-up and evacuation. Letters from members on service abroad and donations of money encouraged those at home to keep going. The news sheet ran a series of articles entitled “What our Members are Doing”. Members were charged a nominal price for the news sheet to cover the costs. The News Sheet was not without controversy. In November 1941, the editor was criticised for appealing more to former members away on service than to the members who had more recently joined. It was always difficult to please everyone.
These first two episodes have been based on a pamphlet called “The First Ten Years” (author unknown, published in 1947 for 1 shilling (5p). I wonder whether the author thought we would still be going 73 years later? Next week, we’ll find out what happened after the War and how this must have seemed doubtful at times…