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

From Charles Romer-Lee, 1918-1922

I was at West Downs from April 1918 to July 1922, so I saw the transition from Lionel Helbert to KBT via Wilfred Brymer. Helbert I hardly knew, but I remember a very kind and gentle nature towards a very young (& probably very spoilt) 8-year-old. Brymer was a west country landlord, and as we lived in Somerset at that time there was a certain amount of affinity. KBT set me on the right road for life, although at the time his deep booming voice could be alarming!

The enclosed notes may be of use to you; they are scrappy, but still vivid recollections of 4 happy years at West Downs, in spite of miserable home-sickness to begin with.

Memories of 4 years at West Downs

1. The statue in the garden of a small boy (obviously Peter Scott) by his mother, Lady Kennet. The boy holds up his right hand and underneath are the words “Here am I, Send Me.” A sound philosophy for service in life, if properly controlled.

2. Puffing Billy: A small room into which some 12-15 boys at a time were herded. The room was then filled with steam laced with some kind of antiseptic which was supposed to ward off colds. The boys wore their burberrys and could not escape quickly enough, after some 5 minute worth of fumigation.

3. Dormitories: Cold and unwelcoming, through the windows of which an unending current of ice-cold wind seemed to blow.

4. Hockey against the ladies of Winchester Hospital. A sure warning against mixed hockey in later life.

5. Mr Benson, an assistant master, known as, and famous for, ‘Benny Baits’ due to his frequent bursts of temper, even though the effects were harmless.

6. Madame Calvion, who gave me as sound a grounding in French as anyone could have done. Dark haired and somewhat whiskery, with a rubicund complexion, she was truly the “salt of the earth.” I remember her referring to an elderly friend of my mother’s in a description which could equally be applied to herself: “Voilà une femme qui est homme.”

7. Lady Astor, (Nancy) who had 2 sons in the school during my time, appeared at the entrance to the gym at one of those pre-lunch parades and uttered the comment: “On the floor, sit.” Although thoroughly taken aback, an inbuilt sense of obedience compelled all the boys immediately to obey a command given in such a stentorian manner.

Charles Romer-Lee