Old West Downs Society – Memories of the Tindall Era, 1922-1954

From Robin D.J. Bendall, 1939-41

I suppose that for most of us the two terms following the outbreak of World War II seemed little different from any other. There was, however, the novelty of air-raid practice, and dining-hall had all its windows sealed with a powerfully smelling type of cellophane, in case of a gas-attack. This did little to enhance meal-times! The younger masters were set to digging deep trenches which were then roofed with corrugated iron piled high with earth. Alas! Their efforts were wasted when, after a period of prolonged rainfall, they all caved in. After that, proper reinforced concrete air-raid shelters were built, and from time to time we traipsed down to those dim-lit subterranean passages to sit out the occasion on benches that lined the walls.

In Cloister Time came the big shock. The Shakespeare Play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, took place at Melbury as usual, and after it was over we were told that the term was ending prematurely. This came as a complete surprise, and some of us, with parents in the audience, left that very evening.

Short Half 1940 found a somewhat depleted school settled in at Glenapp Castle, Ballantrae. After the rather institutional feel of the Romsey Road building, and its restrictive boundaries, Glenapp imparted a sense of romance and freedom. The wonderful grounds with their woods and ponds and waterfall – complete with suspension-bridge – gave us in liberal doses the feeling of adventure that we had only glimpsed at Melbury. Furthermore, bicycles were encouraged, and with several long drives leading to the castle there was plenty of scope for their use. Unfortunately, the drive leading to Ballantrae was rather steep, and after one boy fractured his skull racing down it I think that it was put out of bounds. This was an incident of considerable drama with the patient’s mother summoned to his bedside; when he was declared out of danger a few of the more honoured friends were permitted a brief visit to the sick-room.

With no proper playing-fields cricket and football came to a virtual stop, although net-ball was played on the courtyard in front of the main entrance. Scouting, however, came well and truly into its own, and Harry Ricardo, the chief scoutmaster, organised many games and activities including the building of a fine scout-hut thatched with heather. Some of the masters boarded out at a house several miles away, and would arrive in an ancient shooting-brake just as morning chapel was ending. The Services and other functions, such as patrol-plays and the school concert, were held in the main reception hall as the other larger rooms were required for dormitories and a dining hall. The classrooms were scattered around the building with S.D.1 and S.D.2 taking pride of place in two luxurious suites well away from the hoi-polloi. S.D.2’s room also boasted a Russian-billiard table which gave endless entertainment on rainy days; well-regulated, of course, as the formidable Mr. Ledgard who presided over this form, and was renowned for his sharp kick, occupied an adjoining bedroom.

K.B.T.’s study was in the rather gloomy basement, and it was here, late one winter’s night, that he saw a trickle of water approaching his desk. On opening the door to investigate, he discovered the whole castle basement awash with hot water. Staff were called out and issued with buckets, the boilers were damped down, and many hours were spent baling-out. It later transpired that a boy in the school, renowned for his interest in experimentation, had dislodged a pipe in one of the turret-rooms. K.B.T. was, understandably, not amused and the usual punishment was meted out – enabling, I believe, the very delightful perpetrator of this incident to claim a new record for strokes received!

During the final term at Glenapp almost the entire school was struck down by a very virulent form of mumps, and owing to staff casualties some parents generously came up to help nurse the boys. Because of this outbreak the annual Shakespeare Play had to be cancelled. This was a great pity as rehearsals had reached a late stage, and the walls and terraced gardens made an ideal setting for Twelfth Night.

I know that the Tindalls disliked Glenapp; the building was ill-suited for a school, unlike Blair Castle which they loved. But for many of us, and especially for those that left before the move to Blair, it was a wonderful year. One hopes that even for the Tindalls there may have been a few magic moments; when watching, perhaps, the spectacular sunsets over the Mull of Kintyre, or Ailsa Craig louring through a storm. If nothing else, they at least had the joy of seeing their younger daughter, Anne, married in a nearby church with the whole school singing that lovely hymn “Praise my Soul the King of Heaven.”

Robin Bendall