MARY M. DALSTON, Methuen (1916-1918)

When I was asked to write something about Godolphin as I knew it from 1916 to 1918, I found that my three most vivid memories, with which all my more trivial impressions were connected, were of the War as it affected life at school, the beginning of Methuen House, and the look of the Salisbury country.
We had a few small but regular jobs of actual War work, including, I remember, mowing our own grounds (with the help of the pony Pegasus, who had to be got into his games’ shoes before one could begin!), working on allotments at Harnham and elsewhere, making hospital splints, trays, writing cases, etc., in the workshops, and sewing thousands of sandbags, fodder bags, and “treasure bags” for the soldiers. Then there were occasional special jobs, done “by request,” such as milking, haymaking, and a little work on ration books for the Salisbury food office (which incidentally provided a fortunate few with an interesting break in school routine!) And of course there were regular collections for War charities, and occasional special efforts, such as a big sale and entertainment held in the grounds in the summer of 1917, which realised £800 for the Red Cross. The school magazines of that time, too, were full of the War. Every number had its list of additions to the names of relations and friends on active service, for whom there were daily intercessions, and every number had its roll of honour, and its news of O.Gs. doing War work in hospitals, or Government offices, or in the auxiliary services, or on the land, or in canteens in England and Flanders, and further afield in Europe and overseas.
But for ourselves, as was inevitable in a school, we shared in the War more by what we did not do than by what we did. Some of the differences that would probably strike people who knew Godolphin only before or since the War were, for instance, that we had no school or away matches for any game, because of the difficulties and expense of travelling, no half holiday excursions beyond walking distance for the same reason, no riding because the horses had been commandeered, no swimming because the town baths had been converted to War purposes, no dances because Saturday nights were devoted to bag-making, very little in the way of dramatics, and, naturally, no Commems. House mistresses had to deal with rationing regulations and supply deficiencies with the experimental concoctions of maize and other queer stuffs, with which most people became acquainted at that time, and, as even laundry starch had acquired a new value, we economised by giving up our uniform white blouses and “stick up” collars for navy shirts (which we did not like) and the present day soft collars (which we did).
My first few terms at Godolphin were spent at The Cedars, an overflow house, nearly ten minutes’ walk away from the school, at the end of the Manor Road. As there were only ten of us there, we combined for games and house concerns with Glenside (which had only four members) and Oakhurst, under the collective name of “New Forest.” But this temporary arrangement was bound to be unsatisfactory from several points of view, and, in the autumn of 1917 The Cedars came to an end, and we moved to the larger house in the snicket, now called South Bank, nearly doubled our numbers, and (by the very kind permission of Lord Methuen) were rechristened Methuen House, with Mrs. Paulley (Rita Douglas) and Miss Chawner as the first house mistresses. Glenside remained affiliated to us, but at the same time Oakhurst also became independent and Lady Hulse renamed it Hamilton House.
These changes were all for the better, but the actual move from Cedars to Methuen had its humours. I believe the place had been a billet before the school took it over, and the very necessary redecoration was not quite finished when term began. Other original Methuens besides myself will remember the new-girl sensations of that first arrival at an unknown house, apparently full of perfect strangers, where, among other minor oddities, a bath adorned the hall, and “lighting up” meant candles. They will also remem­ber the first muster of the new house that evening, when the horrified hymn player, after making a most careful choice of a suitable tune, discovered that the moribund piano, which had been moved in by mistake, would produce nothing more encouraging than a series of muffled thuds, varied by bass chords of startling clearness.
But of course we soon settled down, and our first year, like most beginnings, had its peculiar charms. The first House matches, the first competitions and expeditions, and especially the first win of a team of losers, had an excitement quite their own. Even the appearance of the first snowdrop or the first gooseberry in a garden which had been left to nature and the army aroused an interest probably unknown in more sophisticated establishments. And our inevitable difficulties were more than balanced by the kindness shown us by the many people, in the house and out of it, who were anxious to help give it a good start.
My window in old Methuen looked across to the Clump. Sometimes at night a squadron of aeroplanes, with tail lights like gliding stars, droned past to the newly-built hangars at Old Sarum, but otherwise it was easy to forget the War, as well as one’s more trivial concerns, in the changing aspects of that lovely view.
I remember it as it looked on autumn mornings, when the mist was still heavy on the foot of the downs, and on summer days when, in the frame of the studio window, it seemed nearer than usual, and very warm and green beyond the snapdragons and pinks and lupins in Miss Lucy’s border. It was the goal of many walks, of course, and in the spring the wind rushed through the beeches and swept over the turf like shadows of the bright racing clouds above, but, on a still June evening, after a late cricket match, when the shadows were growing long in the valley and the rooks flying home, it looked so high and sunnily quiet that one could almost hear the tinkle of the sheep-bells from the fold under the charlock field. Even in winter, on days of hard cold, when the Clump was black and remote against the desolate sky, or on sodden days of rain that emphasised its air of isolation, one was still as conscious of its presence as though it were the silent chorus in the play of our comings and goings on the opposite hill.
Once, in fact, it actually was the back-drop, if not the chorus, to a real play, for we had a performance of A Mid­summer Night’s Dream in the school grounds. It had been produced first with a school cast, in aid of a War fund, in the garden of Government House, but afterwards it was done again for our benefit, one cloudless summer afternoon. Perhaps the rarity of the occasion made it particularly impressive, but I think a good many others of the audience must also still remember the charm of those bright pro­cessions that appeared in the gateways of the hedge on Old Pitch, as if from an invisible Athens, and their shining progress across the grass.
One came to know by heart not only the Clump itself, but the very line of the ploughed field below it, and the straggling pine-hedge in the unvisited field beyond, and further still, the solitary telegraph posts on Three-Mile Hill, that van­ished over the downs into who knows what El Dorado. Though once, I remember, it looked as I had never seen it before. One brilliant winter afternoon two of us, whose particular haunt it was, had walked there through the deepish snow and wandered round to the far side. I suppose that, as we came up the slope, our own voices had defended us against the overwhelming stillness, for there, at the edge of the wood, it met and caught us unawares. There was no wind, not a leaf to rustle, not a bird stirring. Even the boughs were motionless under their loads of snow, and when we held our breath to listen, we could hear nothing but the noise of our own pulses and the occasional soft slide and fall of a melting drift. We looked out between the trees on to the glistening fields. There was the warm sun shining on our familiar landmarks, but in that instant something had changed them. We stood there in the sparkling silence doubly enchanted, and felt as though we had come upon a new country.
In the summer of 1916 Miss Douglas started the delightful custom of weekly picnics and, as there was a newly-founded Field Club which made expeditions, as well as houses and forms, we managed in one way or another to explore a good deal of the nearer country.
I remember a picnic to Clarendon Woods when the catkins were out and the great soft buds of the pussy willows breaking on the boughs along the rides, and a summer walk to Bemerton by a way from which one could see Salisbury spire across buttercup meadows; and to the downs to look for wild orchids among the scabious and lady’s slipper, and to hear a (mythical, alas!) nightingale. And, when it was really hot, to Harnham water meadows, where the grass was long and cool, and the streams good for paddling, and to gardens in the Close where lilies and poppies and delphiniums grew in the borders of perfect grass walks, and along the Southampton Road to a place where, on a soft grey day, the peewits were calling and veering over the plough. And though it was not till after­wards that I saw the view from Pepperbox Hill to the Solent, or the London road between Salisbury and Andover, or many other places elsewhere, of which they remind me, I have sometimes wondered whether there is not a good deal of truth in the saying that the ancient type of England is the chalk country, and whether that is one of the reasons why, when so much else is forgotten, the things that stick in one’s mind are the look of the downs above Laverstock and the sound of the larks at Old Sarum.

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