My first memory of West Downs is following DH-G up the Romsey Hill, leading the London mush; bald headed and wearing his brown harris tweed jacket. Miss Hickey taught LS2 and my first ‘standing up’ to be learned was “I remember, I remember the house where I was born” – on reflection a little inappropriate for a seven year old away from home for the first time. My first evening in chapel, the hymn was “Ye holy angels bright” – but it all seemed very dark and forbidding to me in those days.
Perhaps after a gap a over forty years, to look back upon the teaching of one man must be quite unusual. Such a man, W. J. Tremellen, explaining the French, had such an influence in language that I can never forget him or very much of what he so successfully put across. The brilliance of his football team to explain the firing order of adverbs; with ‘y’ the stitching on the football, Lui and Leur the two fat dative full backs – his “mastam” verbs that conjugated with etre, instead of avoir, and wondrous tunes that taught the spelling of professeur – one ‘F’ and two S’s. Oeil – Yeux the plural of eye was mastered in one easy lesson. He was as much of a character out of the classroom, with his blue tanked Douglas motor-bicycle, upon which he insisted on giving a lift to some unfortunate small boy as he charged the grass bank dividing the lower playing field from the first XI pitch. Often he would come to grief; small boy, Douglas and ‘Melly’, as we knew him, tumbling in a heap to the bottom of the hill. Melly, marvellously athletic, despite his wooden leg.
Mad Adams in his carpentry shop – swearing away at small idiotic children who could not persuade a tiny saw with a heavy ridge along its top to cut through a simple piece of wood – and then showing us how it was done with a beautiful shiny new saw of enormous length and perfectly tuned to the job.
Through into that bootroom with its uncouth smell. With your eyes bound, half a century later, there would be no doubt of your whereabouts. The little open hatch, behind which Cannings and Waite would be labouring, or so it seemed, night and day to replace the studs on colossal football boots; their melancholy labours only broken by the call to duty to wash the cars – Tumpty’s blue 1938 Ford 10 and KT’s large black Wolseley of 1937 vintage, only brought out after breakfast if he was going to London. Tumpty always drove the Ford, but we would watch with interest from SDII over the blue irises as Cannings brought the Wolseley round on state occasions.
How well I recall the dreadful day when K.T. or ‘Guzzer’ as we for some reason called him was dressed at breakfast in his best London suit. Suddenly he caught the edge of his porridge bowl, spilling the contents down his waistcoat. Enraged like a wild purple bull he smashed the bowl to the floor, stood up, stamped on it and stormed out of the dining hall. A terrible silence fell on the room, the continual chatter died a sudden death. What seemed like a minute’s silence at the cenotaph was only broken by the master at our table, Freddy Baleine, bursting into peals of laughter. K.T. returned later having sponged down his suit and his temper. I remember Tumpty’s worried expression – we were all very shocked.
I remember so well lying in bed up in St. Cross or West and dreading the heavy measured tread as K.T. mounted the concrete steps in the evening, knowing full well that without the help of a QC, my inadequate excuses for a nuisance mark or all rounder could mean instant hell in the adjacent bathroom. You learned at an early age to guess the mood of ‘Guzzer’. A hymn being gently hummed as he progressed towards the dormitory meant a 2-1 chance of survival. Silence or black thunderous looks usually ensured the approaching doom of a ‘smacking’ as he called it with a size 13 slipper, over the edge of the bath. The chipped enamel of the baths bear witness over forty years of where his enthusiasm had over stretched his aim.
What bleak places those dormitories were, just after the war. The cream and pale green walls seemed to sweat with condensation, whatever the season. No carpets or curtains to remind one of the comforts of home. The windows with their great sash cords, open to the stars and the still of the evening, sometimes broken by the chinking of mugs from our neighbours in H.M. Prison; a noise that continued far into the night prior to a hanging. We learned at an early age what that was all about. Our little wash stands stood in military rows, filled in the morning with tepid water. New boys leaving the top half of their pyjamas off soon learned the error of their ways as a ‘trade mark’ was planted on their bare backs. If you had any sense, birthdays were kept a secret until K.T. gave them away after lunch, since the ritual birthday bumps in the dormitory were designed more to let out the dealer’s natural aggression than to dissolve into any good wishes for the unfortunate birthday boy.
The extraordinary ritual of the dormitory in the evening with the sliding of the huge cheeser basket collecting socks, down to the slopping-out of waste water from the wash stands and the eventual removal of dozens of ‘foci’, the ever present chamber pot beneath the bed. All this finally ceased and dissolved into ordered prayer, each boy beside his bed. I remember well, beseeching my Maker to deliver me one day from such stench! Little did I know that fellow inmates, down the road, also suffered such insanitary atrocities.
Our lives were fairly extraordinary in the morning. As well as the ritual thermometer round, morning and night. We were subjected to a most regimented system of bowel movement. Taking ’numbers’ to order without the aid of much privacy or the Times, was an humiliating experience, especially in early life at West Downs, when the mornings ‘production’ had to be offered as a ritual sacrifice to Miss Payne – a dear, dear lady, whom King George VI should have decorated.
The second eleven played cricket, just after the war on a length of matting. This was due to the condition of the ground, which had been used as an army truck park during the hostilities. We were sent out on Sundays with a basket each, on our hands and knees, collecting stones – slave labour if ever there was such a thing, in the Winchester area. Any part of the grounds to the west of the pavilion and the long yew hedge were strictly out of bounds – the squash courts were never restored in my day and the ‘private’ garden was very private indeed, none of us could even glimpse the sweet peas of which K.T. was so proud. We had no half term in those days and there certainly were moments when it all felt like a considerable custodial sentence.