Whenever I remember West Downs there is one day which is photographed in my mind as clearly as if it all happened yesterday. It was a day which began in the most ordinary way, and seemed likely to continue as it began. Or so we thought until a summons came to go to the dining hall where we normally had our meals but didn’t usually assemble in for other purposes. What had happened?
Rather apprehensively we filed in, waiting for Mr Helbert. After a minute he came in. Then standing at the end of the room he raised both arms. “I have just had a message,” he said. “I am going to read it to you.”
“At 11 a.m. this morning the governments of England, France and Germany signed an armistice. The German Army has surrendered. Fighting has stopped. The war is over.”
It took almost a minute for this to sink in. Then we broke into cheers which seemed as if they were never going to stop.
The War may not have been continuously in our thoughts, nor did we study avidly the map in Shakespeare where coloured pins marked the positions of the various armies. But for as long as most of us could remember there had been this heavy dark cloud over our homes and families and, of course, over West Downs too. There were not many in that room who had not lost someone. Sometimes someone very close.
What happened next was quite unregimented (unusual for West Downs?). There was a rush to put on our scout and wolf cub uniforms, and to fall in outside.
Then we all marched off down the hill into Winchester. By this time others were marching too, and carrying flags.
At the bottom of the hill is the gate into the barracks, then, as now, the regimental depot of the Rifle Brigade. Through it went the throng of marchers, young and old, while somewhere a band struck up.
It was a marvellous exciting moment. We felt somehow that a new life was about to begin. The future, of course, never quite lives up to one’s enthusiastic hopes, and there were to be disappointments in the years ahead leading in little more than two decades to another war in which West Downs will have played its part. But here I conclude my own small footnote to history, leaving others, better qualified, to continue the story.