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

From J.H. Thornton, 1937-41

I thought it might be of interest to have some notes about the Summer of 1940 and then Glenapp from where I left to go on to Winchester.

During that summer term of 1940 we were all aware of the momentous events going on on the other side of the Channel and we occasionally saw various rather battle stained French or Belgian soldiers walking past the school presumably having been evacuated from Dunkirk. With the return of the army there were visits from rather dashing old boys in uniform calling in to have lunch with the Tindalls on the top table and playing in the Old Boys match against us. I do not think we felt any real alarm about the possibly imminent arrival of the Germans. However I do remember discussing with one of my friends what steps we should take to escape if it was decided to send us to Canada, as several were being sent at that time. Little did I know that my parents who fortunately abandoned the idea were at the time thick in discussion with Canadian friends about that very possibility.

That summer Mr. Ledgard used to read out loud to us on the playing field in the evening. Each time before starting he would say “Where did we get to? What were the last lines last time?” And for some reason I became the expert at remembering these lines. One evening early in July the last lines from a book by Rafael Sabatini were “under the stars of Barbary.” I carefully memorised the lines for next time and have remembered them ever since. However in the morning the School unexpectedly broke up and we were packed off home in face of the threat of invasion. In my case after joining forces with Godfrey at 69 Kingsgate Street we went to relations in Scotland not Canada.

Next term we foregathered at Glenapp.

Starting from Norfolk my father drove me and Jeremy Morse, now Warden of Winchester, to Rugby to join the trainload travelling from London under the command of Mr. Tindall (KT). When the train drew into the blacked nut Rugby station KT put his head out of the wrong side of the train so completely failing to be spotted by us on the platform. There followed a considerable parental panic before the rendezvous was eventually achieved.

Next morning after being driven in buses along Loch Ryan we arrived at Glenapp Castle. Apart from the excitement of exploring a new place my main recollection is of our amazement at the chandeliers which seemed to grace every room and were much grander than what moot of us were used to. There was a good deal of “mv dormitory has a better chandelier than yours” etc.

Although the playing fields had to be improvised the grounds at Glenapp were a wonderful place for boys.

My main recollections of my two terms at Glenapp when I was rather anxiously preparing for my Winchester exam are of the high winds which on one occasion blew down some temporary class rooms which had been put up in the garden and of the very severe frost that winter. I do not think we were cold in the house but the small river Stinchar flowing through the grounds froze over completely. Another highlight was going in a small party with KT to visit the coast defence guns at the entrance to Loch Ryan.

As regards the outside world and the progress of the war I remember listening to the account of our tonnage sunk by U Boats each month and of following the progress of Wavell’s campaign against the Italians in Libya. I think the reporting of the sinkings was stopped in early 1941, after it was realised that it was rather helpful to the Germans.

All in all we took the feat of transferring the school from Winchester to Scotland at such short notice very much for granted and were more or less oblivious to the enormous feat of organisation which must have faced the Tindalls.

I have many happy memories of West Downs and you may well therefore ask why we did not send our two boys there. Apart from the fact that by then all the personalities had changed I think there are two things which I suppose influenced me and I mention them because Nick Hodson has very sensibly made the point that an account of a school should not just dwell on the good things.

As a boy who lacked confidence I always found KT an intimidating figure. Of course I realise now that that was not his intention, but that is how he came across to me and I think that was a pity.

The second thing is the obsession with health. As a child I was constantly getting colds and generally had rather poor health, which I gradually grew out of. The care provided by West Downs should have some credit for that but the constant taking of temperatures meant that the possibility of being ill was never out of one’s mind, and I am quite sure that did more harm than good. Actually it did not take very long to develop the technique of holding the thermometer at the right angle without putting it under the tongue, so partially negating the object of the exercise.

John Thornton