Old West Downs Society – Memories of the Helbert/Brymer Era, 1897-1922

From Sir Alex Sharp Bethune, 1918-20

The period I was there was from 1918 to 1920, only two years because I was sent to another school on account of the uncertainty resulting from Mr. Helbert’s death. I was sorry to leave but it was not my decision.

Delving into my memory I recollect the following:-

1. The potato-butter. There was a general shortage of foodstuffs at the end of the war and to make the butter go further it was mixed with mashed potato. At the age of 8 or 9 the war did not impinge closely on one’s daily life, but this potato butter certainly made its mark on me. Otherwise school life seemed pretty normal.

2. Peter Scott. The regime was fairly tough at West Downs then. My recollection is that every morning one was compelled to plunge into a cold bath and then run half-a-mile and back to a milestone up the Romsey road. I used to wear warm underclothes and I think all the other boys did too, but I was amazed to see that Peter Scott only wore an Aertex shirt and seemed to thrive on it! This impressed me very much and the explanation was that his mother was determined that he should be as tough as his explorer father.

3. Lady Astor and Christian Science. My mother had recently become a Christian Scientist and she may have expressed a wish that I should receive some instruction in Christian Science, if any was available. Another contemporary was William Waldorf Astor (though I see he was 18 months older than me). As a fellow Christian Scientist I remember being invited to tea (or was it Christian Science Bible-reading?) by Lady Astor on one or two occasions. The place where we met, in my recollection, was in the garden above the highest of the football grounds, surrounded by a hedge (no doubt during the summer).

4. Of course I have happy memories of Melbury (over the road). What I seem to remember is having a tag or coloured tape a few inches long hanging from my belt at the back, and trying to get through the enemy lines without losing one’s tag; or alternatively capturing an enemy tag. All very exciting.

Alex Bethune