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

From an anonymous contributor

The Hurricane of October 1987

Contrary to popular belief lights come on during a power cut; or at least that was the case at West Dawns. There were battery powered emergency lights in all the dormitories. As the power cut lasted all night, so, much to the dismay of the matrons who tried to calm us down and get us back to sleep, did the lights.

I think that most people were woken by the lights, but then not everybody had one of the panes of glass in the window above their bed sucked out, producing a howling gale.

When the lights did come on we all looked out of the windows and watched the wind shaking the trees vigorously and listened as all the windows rattled. We soon, nevertheless, became bored with this, and so we messed about, running around the dormitory (Top) until one of the matrons came up to calm us down.

My next door neighbour and I proceeded to play “Top Trumps” for the rest of the night (and morning) as we were determined to stay awake all night so as to tell our friends the next day that we experienced all the drama. It always seemed to be the case that if something out of the ordinary happened over night, while there were no day boys or girls about, they would be they would be told every detail of what had happened, how brave we had been while the wind had pulled down trees (and sucked out window panes). The last point was my favourite tale: how, if it had gone the other way, it would have landed on my head! That usually received a good response, and then I would go on to tell someone else.

As it became light outside we returned to our windows to inspect the damage – and there was enough for us to feel very brave to have experienced such weather. There was one tree down in the main drive, and over the games pitches there were hundreds of branches (some quite large) and a carpet of leaves.

While waiting in our form rooms for breakfast we watched as a handful of masters disassembled the tree with the aid of a chainsaw.

When the day boys and girls arrived most of us told our tales, but of course there were the select few who had been given the gift of sleeping through everything, even hurricanes! They listened as intently as anyone to the tales of what had happened.

The day passed much as any day passes, except that in break we had to pick up the leaves and branches from the fields, and, as we all agreed, the end of the day could not have come soon enough, as we all went to sleep very quickly, some even in form – given the chance.

Looking back at the hurricane now, perhaps it could be seen as Nature’s way of punishing the school for closing down.