I can’t remember anything about my time at West Downs, and don’t particularly want to. I don’t think I ever went back (no doubt the war made that less easy), and I did not consider sending my sons there. With that churlish start my memories include:
A. The natural history interest in the grounds at West Downs and of Melbury – and the encouragement some members of staff gave. The steep fringe of woodland around two sides of the WD sports fields were rich in birds including crossbills. I found a lark’s nest with eggs on the steep bank between the main playing fields, and many slow-worms. Lime and privet hawk moth caterpillars seemed to cope with captivity and somewhere there were newts.
B. Walks along the golf course were also good for amateur naturalists, and fun for cops and robber type games. My only scars, apart from appendicitis much later, were acquired by the golf course – sharpening an arrow with my birthday penknife nearly severed a thumb; someone else’s spear or arrow landed between my shoulder blades and cause the only “distinguishing feature” in my army pay book.
C. In my excitement at opening my birthday cake aged about 11, I threw away the wrapping paper. Days later the absence of a thank-you letter led my mother to ask if I had liked my first wrist watch. Panic, much sympathy from WD staff, and a delay in the school bonfire routine meant that a search of the sodden school rubbish was successful.
D. My first bicycle, aged about 11 – had a will of its own, and quickly crashed expensively into a lime tree.
E. Choir practice. Only a handful (?3) of boys were denied chapel choir practice and had to toil away at Ovid’s Metamorphoses. What an insensitive rule. I now wish like mad that I had been forced to sing vaguely in tune.
F. Open-air Shakespeare plays at Melbury. Superbly done, and the best way of stopping some of us becoming complete philistines.
G. Fire and cooking at Melbury. Ugh – the horror of dampers, but it was imaginatively done.
H. The niceness of Mr Howell-Griffiths, who lived in Devon and became a friend of my parents, and was therefore that rare person, a don whom one saw in the holidays.
I. Taking Staveley to school – now Admiral of the Fleet.
Photographs: I have two of Melbury open-air plays – The Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream. One of a football team captained by Charles Tidbury, I think. Also of the 1938 Paters’ Match. Somewhere I thought I had my school reports but luckily I cannot find them. And I may one day happen on my Lady Goodrich watch, but I haven’t seen it for 20 or 30 years – a pity, as it was a very handsome present. Also a prize book with a KBT inscription.
Come and look at them when you next have a West Country tour, and you can borrow any you want.