Old West Downs Society – Memories of the Tindall Era, 1922-1954

From Michael Priestley, 1940-42

My brother and I were evacuated from our previous prep school to West Downs in 1940, and had two terms at Winchester and three terms at Glenapp Castle during the early part of the last war. My son, David, also attended West Downs, from 1970 to 1976, obtaining a scholarship to Winchester College from the school; he may send some reminiscences of his own.

Memories from the Winchester Period (1940)

Waking up in the dormitory to find it empty, everyone else having heard the air raid warning and gone to the shelter; myself hurrying down to Shakespeare to be marked off on the duty master’s list before joining the others.

On the last day of the summer term while waiting to go home, noticing a man running along the boundary fence beyond the cricket field, shortly followed by warders from the nearby prison!

“Flag raiding with tails” in Melbury. I associate Melbury with burnet moths and their rugger jerseyed caterpillars.

Cold baths in the morning – a quick dip into an icy bath or a plunge into the Pool.

First experiences of gardening in the little square gardens.

The strangeness of the uniform – especially to someone coming from another school – especially the knickerbockers!

Jeremy Morse as a contemporary in SD1 being commended for an essay in which books by various authors conversed in the style of the authors.

Mr Rose, Mr Ledgard – both very old, but kindly. Being taught to keep accounts of pocket money expenditure in beautiful copperplate.

Of the younger masters, Robert Schuster comes to mind. A good example of the high quality of the teaching staff.

Watching the open air production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Melbury.

The Glenapp Period.

The elaborate turrets of Glenapp Castle. Our dormitory in Lady Glenapp’s bedroom, with chandeliers everywhere. The sight of Ailsa Craig out to sea off Ballantrae.

After a violent storm once, the Scoutmaster decided to build a log cabin with fallen young pine trees which we were told to collect while he did the building. After a while, fallen trees ran out, so we began cutting down live ones, with the result that when the hut was finished, the Scoutmaster saw that the surrounding woods were filled with stumps of trees cut off three feet from the ground – it was like something out of a Bateman cartoon! We were set to sawing off the stumps at ground level and covering them with pine needles.

I remember the organisation of the school into scout patrols. The champion patrol was decided on the basis of the least number of points awarded to patrol members for being late (½ point), being a nuisance (1 point), or, worst of all, an “all round” mark (2 points). I remember myself being elected patrol leader of the Eagles in my last term.

Collecting scout badges. Mr. Tindall testing me for the First Aid Badge, asking what kind of bleeding was indicated by a steady flow of bright red blood, myself trying Arterial, Venous, and last of all, Capillary, which was correct, and failing!

The cold spell in the winter of 40-41 bringing an opportunity to try curling on the nearby frozen loch, but finding it more fun to sit on the curling stone and let the wind blow one across the ice.

You may be interested in the enclosed letter from Mr. Tindall which I have kept all these years. It shows the interest he took in the boys even after they left school. He was a fine headmaster who set the standards and tone of the school. I should be grateful if you would return it to me. With best wishes for the success of the history.

Michael Priestley

From KB Tindall to Michael Priestley dated Dec 28th 1944

My dear Michael

I was so glad to get your letter and we have both enjoyed hearing the latest news of you and John. Congratulations on being a prefect and on your Higher Certificate; John was never a great performer at Latin or French, but it will be a pity if these subjects hold him up from going to Oxford.

Very many thanks to both of you and to your people for the generous contribution to our panelling fund. When we get home I shall set about finding out when oak and labour will be available for continuing the panelling; we have now enough money to do quite a lot more. We are making an effort to get West Downs derequisitioned, so that we may be able to return there as soon as possible after the end of the war in Europe.

Mr Schuster was set free by the Italians when they capitulated, but was recaptured by the Germans; he escaped from a train when it was bombed by the RAF, and after many adventures managed to make his way back to our lines. He returned home in the summer, but I don’t know where he is at this moment; a letter addressed to his home, Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire, would no doubt reach him.

The school is very young now, but numbers are keeping up well; Spooner and Methuen and Gouldsmith are the only ones who were with us at Winchester, and there are not many survivors from Glenapp days.

Love from us both to John and yourself – and good wishes to you all for 1945. With renewed thanks for your gift.

Yours ever, Kenneth B. Tindall