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

From Michael Cripps (1939-44)

I was at W.D. from 1939 to 1944, so did Winchester, Glen App and Blair. My father and his three brothers were there, as were my three sons. I have managed to get hold of two of the cricket field seats, which my grandfather gave to the school, one in memory of my father and his elder brother, and one in memory of the other two; they are in remarkable condition considering one is seventy years old

I have several photographs of my father’s – mainly school groups and cricket teams; he was in the first XI for three years, but I expect you have these already. I have also a few snapshots, mainly taken at Blair. If you wanted to use any of these please let me know, as they are stuck in albums at present. Also let me know if you need any further elaboration on any of my notes.

I am so pleased you are taking on this history; it will make a permanent record of something, which in a few years would be totally forgotten.

Winchester — Melbury

I was too junior ever to sleep down there, but I remember going there for ‘Fire and Cooking’; under the supervision of a scout, you were shown where the ‘first layer Place’, ‘Second layer place ‘ etc to enable you to get the fuel for your fire, and once this was lit, you were issued with eggs etc to incinerate on it. A great status symbol was to be the owner of a sheath knife, which was dished out from the master’s lodge on the way down, and withdrawn on return.

Games played at Melbury included ‘Flag raiding with Tails’ in which you had to capture the other sides flags, without losing a small cotton tail which was tucked into the back of your belt, and also British Bulldogs, which entailed lifting a member of the other side off the ground, and shouting “British Bulldog.” I think this was stopped due to damage to clothing. Stalking took place in a field at the top of Melbury in the summer, and involved trying to approach D.H-G. who stood in the middle of the long grass, without being recognised. I only saw one play at Melbury, Twelfth Night; it was a marvellous natural stage.

Lantern Lectures

Two stand out. A programme which KT gave before Christmas mainly devoted to Scrooge and Marley, but at the end there were various trick slides, one of which was a man lying in bed, and by turning a handle on the lantern, his mouth opened and he swallowed large rats, accompanied by loud cries from the audience for ‘One more rat’. There was also the lantern service, when the lantern was rigged in chapel and the hymns and illustrations of the lessons were shown on the screen.

Air Raids

Were a great source of excitement, and also provided a lie-in next morning if they went on long enough. When the sirens went, we mustered in Shakespeare, where each boy had a hook for shoes, clothes and a torch, after which we trooped off to the shelters, behind the Masters’ Lodge, which were still there last time I was at West Downs. We must have spent five or six nights down there, but I don’t remember any bombs, much to our disappointment.


The top story ones were considered the best, and it was a privilege to be allowed to hurl the dirty laundry bag down the stairs on a Saturday night. They were freezing cold, although occasionally Aladdin stoves were lit in extreme weather. In summer cold baths were compulsory for all, but having passed the swimming test, you could go to ‘Plunge’ in the swimming pool, and even dive off the diving board if qualified.

Money Cards

Were run by Mr. Ledgard, who always seemed to know if your parents had tipped you, if you had been out, and appeared from nowhere, with his hand outstretched to deprive you of your cash. At the start of the war, we used to enter ‘Red Cross – 1d’ each week; it was meant to be voluntary but I don’t think anyone dared default.

Miss Squilley.

I note in your letter she is spelt Quilley but I think my spelling is correct; her real name was Miss Hills. My first memory on arriving in LS IIb, and being asked my name was her reply, “I remember your father, he was a very bad boy.”


We had small gardens next to the rifle range; with permission from KT you could go through a hole in the hedge behind the second XI pavilion to Hilliers, and buy plants for your garden.

Glen App

I think we were only there three terms, and memories are limited. The Scouts built a magnificent hut from tree trunks and heather, which was barely finished before we left. Games were very limited, but bicycles were allowed, and on special occasions walks down to the sea were organised. Fermented bubbling jam appeared at tea, and after this was withdrawn, we were given part of the chocolate ration to grate onto bread instead. Tree climbing was allowed, but only on selected approved trees

Blair Castle

Games facilities at Blair were again limited, and scouting became a very important feature, the success of which was entirely due to Harry Ricardo, who ran the Scouts. A Scout circle was built, a mile or so from the castle, with a flag mast; however the halyards were invariably pinched during the holidays, so the mast had to be stepped between two railway sleepers, so that the mast could be lowered, and the halyards removed at the end of term. Week end camps were held on a site near the circle in the summer; two patrols at a time, and an extra one for the ‘Pioneers’. I managed to get into this select band who considered themselves great experts with such things as felling axes, and were also in charge of splitting and carting logs to KT’s study and the common room. Wide games were great fun; Smugglers and Excisemen involved moving play boxes through the woods, without being intercepted. The Duke’s factor generously gave us a free run of the Atholl estates. Expeditions were organised up local mountains (Tulloch?), and to the moors to spot deer. The Banvie Burn was out of bounds, although no one took much heed to this, and we used to explore it on summer evenings. Further down the Banvie ran through a water turbine which produced the estate electricity, and was under the charge of Boland the electrician, who could be persuaded to show one round the generating plant. Towards the end, a regiment of Canadian lumberjacks moved in, to fell large areas of woods, and their huge bulldozers were a fascination to the boys.

One winter there was prolonged and deep snow throughout most of the winter and spring terms; however this provided skating and curling on a loch, and good tobogganing.

A chapel in the woods housed the grave of Bonnie Dundee, who was alleged to rise from it at midnight. I was part of a team of Owls, who got out of the school undetected to witness this event; needless to say nothing happened, and we actually got back again undetected, which was just as well, as detection would have drawn extreme sanctions.

One wing of Blair housed Glasgow evacuees. This was a strictly no-go area, as the evacuees were said to have impetigo.

During our time at Blair, the Duke of Atholl died, and we were privileged to see the funeral, at which he was taken to the burial garden on a farm wagon, escorted by the men of his private army in full highland regalia.

I remember two entertainers who came to Blair. Captain Knight gave us a lecture on Golden Eagles, and then produced his own bird, called Mr. Ramsden, who flew round Shakespeare, Captain Knight having warned any redheads in the audience to keep well down, as the eagle fancied redheads!

There was also a Chinese conjurer called Col Ling Soo (actually an Englishman called Collings), who ended his act by spinning plates and saucers on the tips of bamboo canes. Boys tried to copy this, and much china was broken, resulting in threats from KT of putting canes to other purposes if the practice did not cease.

Food was scarce, and there was much excitement, when one banana per boy was handed out. Cocoa and apples were compulsory fodder at morning break, and empty cups and apple cores were inspected by a master in the passage behind the dining room. The Cocoa was foul, brewed by Gerda and Lotti, I suspect, and the apples fairly rotten. The situation was not improved, when some grouse given to KT, and hanging in a nearby larder, got forgotten, and an army of maggots appeared under the door.

The train south at the end of term was a great event, and sweet rations were hoarded for weeks before. At the start we had two boys sharing a third class berth, but later on we were lucky to get a seat each. Journeys took longer and longer, and one trip was over eighteen hours, when we were stopped at Rugby by a London Air Raid.

Michael Cripps