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

From Sam Cameron, 1943-47

My father-in-law, Group Captain Collingwood, has already written to you, and will be writing again. He will be 89 in a few weeks time, and this book is giving both of us a lot of fun and interest. Some of the staff, Mr. Ledgard and Mr. Rose for instance, were there with both of us. Our age difference is some 34 years.

I was lucky to go to West Downs and luckier still in that a large proportion of my time was spent at Blair Castle.

It was like a dream world:- suits of armour, ancient weapons, areas of wall covered with swords and claymores, other areas of wall covered with stags heads. A long tree lined avenue, highland ponies in the fields, turrets on the castle, flagpoles, the lot.

Providing that one gave notice of one’s route, we were allowed to go up to the moorland for short periods of time. There we saw grouse, woodcock, snipe and herds of deer. We came down from the moor through a small bit of woodland, and one day we disturbed a capercaillie – I thought the end of the world was at hand.

“Shakespeare” at Blair was a high room with the upper parts of the walls covered with stags’ heads. There were high windows, and these had to be opened and closed with cords. There was a piano at one side of the hall near to a radiator. At the end of one term, while we were waiting to be taken to the station, I was sitting on the radiator, swinging one of the window cords, as the piano was being played. Quite unknown to me, the cord hooked over one of the antlers, and as I swung the cord, down came the whole trophy. One horn went through my ear and into my shoulder. By the start of the next term all the stags’ heads had been removed.

At Winchester the highlight to me was the annual summer play in Melbury. I was always given a non-speaking, virtually static part. Not very exciting, one may think, but it enabled one to watch the audience. The location was in a hollow, which was inclined to get damp. The audience was static for the start of the performance but as it progressed, so did the flies and midges. The actors were covered with powerful anti-midge, but certainly not even half of the audience! Never have I seen grown-ups in such a state of discomfort!

Mr. Ledgard was unique. The great thing was to be taken by him for first class of the day. There he would be impeccable as ever – stiff white collar, freshly pressed suit, polished shoes and a newspaper neatly folded to enable him to do the crossword. As long as one did not speak one was alright.

He was always in charge of the train party returning from Glasgow Buchanan Street to Blair Atholl. Mothers brought parties of children to join the train. Sentimental farewells were given on the platform, and often the mother had to leave before the train did. Boys returning for their second term were often somewhat upset, and in spite of Mr. Ledgard’s guarding it was not unusual for them to get out of the train and run after their parent. The custodian noticed this event, and gave chase himself.

The hare pursued by an ancient but active hound was worth seeing.

Sam Cameron