SHEILA E. DIMSEY (1915-1919)

Searching into the recollections of my schooldays (1915-­1919) has made me realise the timeless quality of memory. The impressions that have remained belong not to the dead past, but to the living present, in which the distinction is lost between “then” and “now.” The oak tree is the same and yet not the same as the acorn from which it springs, and memories too grow up to meet our changing stature, so that it is only as the years go on that we who were nourished by Godolphin realise how much we owe to school and the people who made it.
Over the memories of my schooldays there hangs the shadow of the War. Various small jobs of War work came our way, such as the making of sandbags and treasure-bags, haymaking, milking, planting potatoes and so forth, but the real effect on us was the colouring of our outlook on life rather than the modification of any particular activities. The War came nearest to most of us in those lists of relations and friends on active service which were read at school prayers. Life and death stood suddenly close at hand, mak­ing us grow up before our time, and giving us an unwonted sense of responsibility even in our own little daily doings. For we took pleasure far less for granted then than now. Many ordinary amusements were naturally in abeyance; for example, we had no outside matches, and, of course, no Commems.; on Saturday nights we sewed treasure-bags instead of dancing, and we learnt to give up sweets cheer­fully in order to help national economy in sugar. But against this dark background the memory of “a great time” shines out brightly, in a threefold strand of golden fun and laughter, of many-coloured beauty, and of strong deep loyalty.
Our fun was perhaps the more exquisite for being the reaction from more serious aspects of life, and from the enforced simplicity of its nature. We found our rarest enjoyments no farther afield than in our own Houses; especially perhaps on wet Saturday afternoons, when we had a long stretch of “free time” to ourselves. Even now I can feel the thrill of those games of “Rescue,” played all over Fawcett House from attic to basement, with a “prison” in the little sitting-room, from which we made hairbreadth escapes by the trap-door into the dormitory adjoining, only to find an ambush in the bathroom! School plays were necessarily few during the War, but the dramatic instinct will out somehow, and we (the juniors of Fawcett) formed ourselves into a society which, on the aforesaid wet Saturday afternoons, produced before the rest of the House charades and impromptu plays which provided some rare entertainment. (Oh, the unlimited treasures of that acting-box and the unfailing joy of “dressing up”!) We even took our histrionic zeal to bed with us, and I remember a “Five” Dormitory which acted Julius Caesar in bath ­towels in the “Happy Hunting Ground.” The emperor was killed “in the Capitol” with such realism that his groans, and triumphant shouts of the conspirators, drowned the silence-gong, and we were in imminent peril of losing our dormitory pin. An occasional fancy-dress supper (no dress to cost more than threepence) caused great mirth, and I can remember a magnificent Mephistopheles clad in shreds and patches of scarlet school blouses, with a most diabolically burnt-corked countenance. On this question of clothes, let me here in parenthesis record my memory of the first jumper that appeared in the school, together with the first bobbed heads. It was a long and flowing “bob” in those days, and the jumper had a tight waist, but their arrival was a fashionable event of the first importance. In the summer, picnics took the place of all the fun indoors, and were a great delight, especially those to Old Sarum, where we slid and rolled races down those smooth, grassy ramparts until our clothes cried “Hold.” Every one had to wriggle through the Wishing-hole, and even now the picture rises before me of certain well-liking members of the community (I hope they can laugh, too, at the recollection!) who got stuck in the middle, and could move neither backwards nor forwards; and of the tug-of-war which ensued, when, only too eager to assist, we rushed to head and feet of the victim and pulled in opposite directions.
Old Sarum and the Clump, with the feeling of the wide, free sweep of the downs, their springing turf and “fairy flora and fauna” seem to have been worked into my very bones, and belong to the second strand of my memories. One came to know the changing face of the country, in all seasons and in all weathers, from House and School picnics, from Saturday walks, and, above all, from certain less restricted rambles, when several of us, in quarantine for mumps, but otherwise hale and hearty, were packed off from the San. with oranges and parkin (a War delicacy!) in our pockets, to blow away our microbes on the downs. I have never forgotten the wild joy of those sunny spring days, when we walked out into a “brave new world,” with the songs of larks and the cries of new-born lambs carried towards us in the wind, and found the first violets sheltering in the hollows. The Clump, besides being the goal of many walks, had a peculiar place in our affections from its being a landmark for miles round. It stood there above the dwellings of men, as austere and lonely as the Cathedral spire itself, with which it shared the strange faculty of blending itself with the landscape and becoming the centre of every picture, no matter from what point of view one looked at it. The spire I see most often in my mind’s eye as one saw it on many a winter’s afternoon, coming from school, and entering Fawcett garden from the snicket-­transfigured by the sunset, a shining peace falling on the blue slate roofs of the city, and the smoke ascending “in a rosy-and-golden haze.” The pageant of the seasons became in a more intimate sense the daily bread of one’s spirit when transported to the studio. I never understood or even reflected upon the silent rapture roused in me by the first precious snowdrops of the year when they were brought in to be painted on grey paper, but it was something very deep and poignant. Daffodils and narcissus followed as spring approached, and then summer brought its “wealth of globed peonies,” roses, pansies, and, best of all, its days of sketching out of doors, from the time of apple-blossom and forget-me-nots in the San. garden to the flowering of the rose hedge by Miss Douglas’s window. But it was the riotous prodigality of the pageant of autumn with its glory of beech and bramble, and the richness of its berry harvest, that held the deepest thrill. Great trails of bryony with berries like red marbles among shining green leaves; scarlet rose-hips with marvellous high lights in them; pink-coated spindle berries with their incredible orange hcarts, glowing curves of virginia creeper-all these lay on the studio table to be painted, but they were symbols of a joy that included but was more than a delight in their form and colour. The day of their coming was like a festival, and their appearance had an almost ritual significance. Closely bound up with the memories of these splendours are those of music in the Cathedral that wound about those columns of black Purbeck marble till it fled beyond the pointed arches, and again of certain concerts at school (Miss Fanny Davies’s especially), which brought half-understood glimpses into another world.
When in 1915 I first came to Godolphin as a frightened little new girl, fresh from home and solitary lessons, there was no word in my vocabulary to describe the marvellous experience of becoming suddenly one of a great community, and it was not until years later that I connected with the “Leal” of the school motto the spirit of loyalty which held it together. Nevertheless, the impression then made is one of the deepest I have to record. In its first begin­nings it was a thing intensely personal and connected with particular people, but it spread into wider circles, like ripples when a stone is dropped into a pool. It is true that the House claimed most of one’s devotion during schooldays, but from this the wider loyalties sprang later.
House colours, House matches, House competitions-these were names to conjure with, though we were proud enough of our school uniform. Perhaps all this may have been intensified for a generation which played no outside matches, and thus knew fewer occasions which called out loyalty to the school as a whole. But I believe that the intensity was all to the good, since it never prevented our making friends with individuals in other Houses, and yet the House was the motive of every effort, and the crown of every achievement. It was a wholesome discipline which made us think it terribly slack not to turn up regularly to fielding ­practice on Old Pitch in break, when on a summer morning the temptation to ease and indulgence in the shade was stronger than we cared to admit, and when (to a butter­fingers like myself) a fast ball was an object of unacknow­ledged terror. This spirit found its supreme expression in the almost mystic ceremony of celebrating the winning of a Games’ Cup by drinking from it. On the evening of the great day a House-meeting was called, the cup filled with water and solemnly passed round, beginning with the captain and the team, and continuing in “House order.” The water tasted of plate powder (was not the cleaning of the cup both inside and out the solemn duty of the Games Rep. every Saturday morning during “long lie”?) but the significance of the ceremony was something which none of us could have put into words, and our pent-up feelings usually found relief in a burst of applause for the victorious team and captain. The service of the House gave zest to other activities besides games; gardens, singing, even school-work itself yielded opportunity for sinking personal ambition in the good of a community, so that all un­consciously one laid up a store of inspiration for later years, strengthened and sweetened by the loveliness and laughter of those “great days and jolly days in the best school of all.”

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