Old West Downs Society – Memories of the Helbert/Brymer Era, 1897-1922

L.H.’s Obituary notices in The Times, November 1919

From The Times Of Saturday 8th November 1919

The death took place yesterday at Black Heath, Saxmundham, Suffolk, of Mr. Lionel Helbert, proprietor and principal of West Downs School, Winchester, aged 49. The funeral will take place at Brookwood cemetery on Tuesday, at 3 p.m.

From The Times of Monday 10th November 1919

Mr Lionel H. Helbert

We regret to announce the death on Friday last of Mr. Lionel Helbert, the headmaster of the well-known preparatory school at West Downs, Winchester.

From his earliest days Helbert had always been a remarkable man among his contemporaries, both as a boy in College at Winchester and afterwards at Oriel: remarkable for his humour, for his courage in big and little things, for his abilities, his warm-heartedness and his humility. The latter qualities were in his early days overshadowed by the humour; and at Oxford he was chiefly known outside his immediate circle, as a brilliant entertainer and a pillar of the O.U.D.S. But his intimates knew better, and as time went on the humour, undiminished, became the background in the light of which the other qualities stood out clearer and clearer.

On leaving Oxford in 1893 he was for some years a clerk in the House of Commons, where his quick interest and companionableness made him widely popular and where a pleasant life seemed before him. But even in those days he occupied vacations and even the week-ends that the Parliamentary arrangements of those days allowed, in teaching; and when the opportunity opened it was plain that he was a born schoolmaster. His sympathy and his eagerness to try new ways of doing things found there a natural field. To have twice found a line of life that exactly suited him was remarkable; and the change, with all its risks, showed much power of choice and essential courage.

To his second career he brought his natural gift of looking at the best side of people and his natural enthusiasm, and success came quickly and fully. The best account of his school at West Downs will be written in the lives of the men who were boys there, and already one or two striking testimonials to him and his work have appeared in memoirs of young officers killed in the war – that best form of testimonial which is given in the unconscious judgements that lie behind the careless comment of a schoolboy’s letters. In his school work he inspired confidence as an optimist who quite realised the difficulties and the chances against him. He was courageous in his enterprises; and if “research” were practicable in preparatory school education he might have started and followed out suggestive lines of enquiry. Even as it is he has probably made a permanent impression on the profession. But the unceasing demands he made on himself, through holidays no less than through term time – took its toll of his strength. Even before the war his health had given uneasiness to his friends, and under the manifold strain of the war it broke. A long rest did some good, and he had returned to work this term. He died, as he would have wished, in harness and before any failure of power has made it necessary to consider what failure in health would, to almost any other man, have long ago made imperative.

A correspondent writes:—

Helbert cared for the school and worked for the school, all the time – weekdays and Sundays, term and holidays, it was his wife and child, his whole purpose in life. And yet it was not for the school in the ordinary sense; it was for the boys in the school. He could easily have become a rich man if he had worked and slaved as he did work and slave, simply for the school. But he lavished money on anything and everything that might tend to improve conditions for the boys and for the staff. Never for himself or for the dividends of the school.

What Helbert was capable of in the way of endurance, of making himself do in the face of fatigue and strain, few will ever know. For several consecutive weeks he tended with loving care all night his dying father in rooms that he had got for him near Victoria Station in London. During all of these weeks he was at his school at Winchester from breakfast till supper and the boys never knew he was away at all; his day’s work was done as usual, in spite of the night’s vigil, the early train to Winchester, and the late supper train at night. He must tend his father, but he must not diminish by an atom what he believed he ought ceaselessly to give to the boys.

Of Helbert it is truly said that he will have the finest life after death that a great spirit can yearn for or attain to – the best that ever he would have wished for, since he cared only to live in and for his flock. Of Helbert are George Eliot’s words indeed true, that he has joined –

                “The choir invisible
Of these immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence; live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deed of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable sins that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars
And with their mild persistence urge man’s search
To vaster issues, So to live in Heaven.”

From The Times of Tuesday, 11th November 1919

Mr. Lionel Helbert

There will be a short memorial service for Mr. Lionel H. Helbert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields on Friday afternoon at 5:30. The funeral takes place today at Brookwood at 2 p.m. A special train will leave the private station at 121 Westminster Bridge Road at 11:50 a.m.