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

From Lt.-Col. T.C.P. Brooke, Irish Guards, 1947-51

I have always believed that West Downs was, strictly in KBT’s era, the best prep school in the country. I have much pleasure in jotting down a few spontaneous memories which may be of some use to you – many, if not most, will be recalled by others.

1. Personalities.

Miss Herbert – matron – her angora cardigans.

Miss Payne – assistant matron – everybody’s friend.

Canning and Waite – kept our shoes in repair and polished the floors.

Tubbs – the groundsman.

2. Smell.

West Downs had a unique smell of its own – a smell based on floor polish.

3. Chapel.

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, played interminably after Sunday evening chapel by ATT.

The furious loss of temper by KBT the Sunday morning, or was it evening, when some of us hissed the Christian in Onward Christian Soldiers. This was contrary to strict instructions by KBT in choir practice the previous Friday. KBT said we would never sing the hymn again, and indeed we did not in my time, although we did ask for it from time to time.

The Advent Jaw. We have already been prompted on this. The theme was always our motto, but Purity took up 75% of the time.

4. Gardens. The summer evening and Sunday – after letter-writing activity for those who were interested. 3 or 4 of us shared each of those 16 or so 4 by 4 ft. concrete bordered plots. We bought our seeds from Hilliers – there was a gap in the wire behind the lower pavvy. Our seed bill was reflected in our money cards. Why was it that the Savege brothers were, quite rightly, always awarded the most points for their gardens under the lime tree? What was their secret in obtaining such a fine soil.

5. Remembrance Sunday.

We gathered round the War Memorial in the Private Garden. Mr. Baleine always had the task of signalling to the bugler to sound the Last Post behind the yew hedge. What his cue was, or what was the signal, we never knew, but the point was always made by KBT at rehearsal.

6. Swimming. 2 periods a week, and extra swims were reserved for very special occasions – one of the anachronisms of West Downs. There was a lovely swimming pool, and we were seldom allowed to use it.

7. Stoning the second game. The Second Game had been used as a car park by the military during the war, and had not, by 1947, been brought back into use. We spent many breaks, during ’47, and, I think, ’48, walking back and forth across the Second Game, picking up stones, and collecting them in kangaroo-like pouches formed by turning up the fronts of our jerseys.

8. Winter 1947.

The school was very very cold.

The ice froze in our basins overnight.

We tobogganed on the golf course up the Old Sarum Road.

9. School Walks. Almost invariably up the Old Sarum Road. Shouts of “Car” echoed up the column.

10. “Play Up West Downs” – that awful vocal siren, wailed in unison, as we watched the soccer first game (Hichens in goal, do I recall) playing Horris Hill, Stubbington, Marsh Court, Harcourt, Pilgrims, Twyford or whatever.

11. KBT’s study.

The cane on the book case.

The ivory chess set under a glass dome on the side table.

The black ebony club on his desk.

The oar above the door.

12. Test Matches. Those who were interested could sometimes listen to a test match in the private dining room during the 10 minutes before 1230, whilst the school was parading for lunch in the gym.

13. The Gym.

Gym periods under “Sergeant” were chaotic. When “Harry Riz” (Risbridger) arrived in Summer 1947 gym became very serious.

Letters were flicked to the recipient fro the balcony by KBT after lunch.

14. Scouting – very many happy memories.

The solemnity of the investiture.

Tenderfoot and Second Class. Learning knots and lashings has been of lifelong benefit.

Peeling birch bark from birch trees on the far Melbury slope for tinder to light fires.

The prime spots for fires during Sunday afternoon scouting in Melbury, at the roots of certain trees, and in the fork of the fallen tree on the right of the Melbury “theatre” auditorium.

Playing “Fighters and Bombers.”

“Dampers” and “Twists.”

15. Foricas and one’s foci (chamber pot).

16. Temperature queue – a broken thermometer cost 2/6d throughout my five years.

17. Parents’ visits – visits by “our people.” Usually only once a term – lunch at the Royal or Southgate Hotel, and tea at Potter’s Heron.

18. DH-G. Surely my greatest memory of West Downs. He embodied everything that was best in a schoolmaster: a wonderful teacher, an apparent child psychologist, one who had the ability to build one up or reduce one to the size of a pinhead, one who had the ability to inspire duty, loyalty, manners, a conscience and a sense of responsibility. Those who were not laggards and had thus had the privilege of being consigned to “C” classroom, missed out on one of life’s most formulating experiences.

I could go on, but I am sure you are bored by now. May I wish you luck in your project and I look forward to reading your book.

Tom Brooke.