Old West Downs Society – Memories of the Cornes Era, 1954-1988

From Anthony N.G. Duckworth-Chad

Dear Mark,

It was very nice meeting you at the weekend discussing West Downs. It certainly brought back many memories, some happy some not quite so enjoyable! You asked me to let you have my reminiscences on Mr. Tremellen and Risbridger.

Mr. Tremellen (or Melly as he was known by most of us) was a great character. He had a bad leg, which had obviously been incurred in the War and rode a motorbike with gay abandon. If one was off games Melly was put in charge of us and the main occupation used to be to take us for a walk down to Winchester and to stand on the bridge watching the trains go by.

He taught us French in the most memorable manner, vividly illustrated with somewhat lurid stories, the most memorable of which was about a boy who had had great difficulty remembering his French grammar. Melly’s story went that the boy died young. However, as he was being buried and his coffin was being lowered into the ground the lid of the coffin was raised and the boy was heard to to say “ai, as, a, ions, iez, ont,” or whatever the French endings are for the future tense! I am afraid my French is so bad that I cannot remember. As the boy reached the last word the lid fell back with a clang and the poor child was buried. I do remember clearly that this method of teaching had a lasting effect upon one, and although I now cannot remember the exact endings I certainly did during my ten years at school!

He was a splendid chap; probably a bit of a rogue, and certainly reminded me of the immortal Captain Grimes in Waugh’s “Decline and Fall.”

The other great character on whom you asked or an anecdote was CSM Risbridger, who was in charge of P.E. Firm, but fair and universally liked. I well remember his telling us that at some stage, I assume between leaving the Army and going to West Downs, he had bean in charge of the birching of recalcitrants, who had been given the birch as their punishment by the Courts. He used to tell us that the victims were fastened to a board by their hands and legs and that a leather band was put across part of their back to protect their kidneys, prior to his beating them. He used to tell us that if they had been given ten strokes he only administered eight, and kept two up his sleeve, which he would administer if they were ever sent back to him again, in addition to their further punishment. As you can imagine this was electrifying news to us nine year olds, but to be fair to him he was not a sadist and whilst a strict disciplinarian was very popular with us all. Apart from being in charge of the gymnasium he taught all to swim and to shoot with a .22 rifle and an airgun.

I do remember at the Christmas Carol service that three masters used to sing the verses of the Kings in “We three Kings of Orient are.” I quite clearly remember that Rawson was one and Jacques another, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Harry Risbridger might have been the third, but I cannot be sure on that.

Do let me know if I can help any further. It was fascinating talking to you.

Yours sincerely, Anthony Duckworth-Chad