During the late 60s/early 70s I attended an all-boys grammar school in the south east of England. The particular school that I attended was quite strict and the pupils were expected to be smartly dressed in school uniform which consisted of blazer, shirt, tie and dark trousers, although short trousers and knee socks were compulsory for all 1st and 2nd year pupils. Pupils were also expected to be well behaved and, as was the case in most schools at the time, corporal punishment was used to maintain discipline. Both the cane and the slipper were employed on a regular basis. The Headmaster and Deputy Headmaster caned boys across the buttocks, but all teachers used the cane and usually, though not entirely, punished a boy by caning the palms of his hands. A boy could receive a minimum of one stroke of the cane on each hand, up to a maximum of three strokes on each hand. I shall describe the first time that I was caned across my hands as it will serve to illustrate the procedure involved when such a caning was administered, and also the type of offences for which a boy could receive a caning. By the standards of today these offences would be considered relatively trivial, but back then they were deemed serious enough to warrant some form of corporal punishment.
The incident in question occurred during my second term at the school. It was after a PE period when I and the other boys in my class were in the shower rooms. There was a game that we sometimes used to play which involved flicking wet towels at each other. It was strictly against the rules to do this so we had to be careful not to be caught by any of the PE instructors. On this particular occasion the PE master in charge of our class was Mr. Shaw who had a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian. As he wasn’t anywhere in the immediate vicinity at the time, some of the boys had already started to flick their wet towels at each other. Thinking that it was safe to do so, I joined in, Unfortunately, I was foolish enough to carry on playing the game even when everyone else had stopped. I soon found out why everyone had suddenly calmed down when I turned round and saw Mr Shaw standing behind me. Everyone but me, it seemed, had seen him coming, but I had been too absorbed in fooling around to notice. Mr Shaw calmly reminded the class that this activity was dangerous and strictly against the school rules. He said that, as I didn’t appear to have any regard for the regulations regarding unacceptable behaviour, he was going to give me something that I wouldn’t forget. He instructed me to get changed into my school uniform and then fetch the book and the cane and wait at the top of the stairs.
At my school the Headmaster and Deputy Headmaster had their own canes, but all the other teachers used a cane that was kept in the office of the school secretary. When a boy was to receive a caning from a member of staff he had to fetch it, along with the punishment book, from the secretary’s office and then wait outside the teachers’ common room that was situated at the top of some stairs that led off from one of the main school corridors.
There was a lot of teasing from the other boys whilst I was getting changed back into my school uniform, but the worst moment came with the embarrassment of having to knock on the secretary’s door and ask for the book and the cane. I was unceremoniously handed the two items, after which I made my way up the stairs to the teachers’ common room. This was the first time that I had ever set eyes on a cane, let alone handled one. It was crook handled, thin and springy with a yellowish tinge. I didn’t want to look at it or examine it too closely, so when I reached the top of the stairs, I placed it, along with the punishment book, on a cabinet that stood just beside the door of the common room. Although I hadn’t been told to, I then stood facing the wall with my hands by my sides. I found it very difficult to stand still as my bare knees started to feel very weak and my legs felt cold and shaky. Although I had never been caned before, I’d experienced corporal punishment at junior school where the ruler was applied to either the hands or the backs of the legs. These punishments were administered mostly by female teachers to both boys and girls, and I had experienced them on a number of occasions. I remembered how much it had hurt, especially when I‘d had my socks pulled down and had had my calves and thighs rapped several times with a ruler. I knew that the cane was going to hurt much more than the ruler, and I’d often seen boys walking back to their classrooms after a caning, shaking their hands vigorously or clasping them under their armpits. I had become quite interested in hearing accounts from boys who had been caned, which, for reasons that I didn’t really understand, made the thought of actually being caned seem strangely fascinating to me. However, now that I was finally going to find out for myself what it was really like, I suddenly felt very nervous and anxious. In a futile attempt to comfort myself, I kept telling myself that, as it was a first offence, I’d probably just get one light stroke on each hand which wouldn’t hurt too much. I had a nauseous feeling in my stomach and my hands also felt cold. I remembered being told by some boys that it could really hurt if you got the cane across cold hands. I wanted to put my hands in my pockets to warm them up, but didn’t dare. Instead, I rubbed them against the material of my school shorts as I’d been told, even though I didn’t really believe it, that doing this would help lessen the sting.
Although it couldn’t have been more than about five minutes, the waiting seemed to go on forever, and I think I was actually relieved when Mr Shaw finally appeared. I watched apprehensively while he entered the various details into the punishment book. I saw him write down the date, my name and form, and the reason for my punishment, but I noticed that he didn’t enter anything into the final column where the number of strokes administered were to be recorded. My legs grew weaker and weaker as he reminded me once more of the seriousness of my offence and told me that such idiotic behaviour would not be tolerated. He then instructed me to take off my blazer, undo the cuffs of my shirt sleeves and fold them back. I couldn’t understand why I had to do this, but I did as I was told. As Mr. Shaw took hold of the cane, he ordered me to hold out my hand. Having no idea of how many strokes I was going to receive, I timidly raised my arm and held out my right hand out in front of me. The cane was then used to move my arm round so that my hand was pointing away from my right side. It was then placed beneath my forearm to lever it up to the desired height. Once my arm was at the required angle and height, the tip of the cane was then placed diagonally across the palm of my outstretched hand. I couldn’t bare to look, so I closed my eyes tightly as Mr. Shaw took aim and lightly tapped the palm of my hand with the cane. I was sternly told to hold my hand still, and the next instant I felt a searing stinging sensation as the cane whipped across my palm. I remember drawing in air sharply through my clenched teeth. I shook my hand energetically in a vain attempt to soothe the burning pain. The first stroke of the cane had hurt far more intensely than the ruler had ever done and I found it very difficult to hold out my other hand for the same treatment when ordered to do so. The whole procedure of adjusting the height and angle of my arm was then repeated. There were three more preliminary taps before the cane lashed across the palm of my left hand. With both hands now stinging fiercely, I was praying that my punishment would be over, but I was told to hold out my right hand once more. I was then given another stinging crack of the cane across my right hand which rekindled the pain of the previous stroke, making me yelp. By now, tears were beginning to form in my eyes as I was told to hold out my left hand once more. I gingerly held out my left hand again, closed my eyes and grimaced as I tried to prepare myself for yet another stroke. This time the cane bounced firmly on the tips of my fingers which hurt considerably more than the previous strokes had done. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t be able to take much more, and I was relieved when Mr. Shaw told me to roll down my shirt sleeves and put my blazer back on. It was very difficult doing up the buttons of my cuffs with the numb finger tips of my left hand, and I wondered if this was intended to be part of the punishment and was the reason for having to roll up my sleeves. I nursed my palms under my arm pits, trying to squeeze out some of the sting while Mr. Shaw finished writing the details in the punishment book. I was then told me to return to my class.
My hands continued to throb as I made my way back to rejoin my class. Once there I had the added embarrassment of having to explain to the teacher that the reason for my lateness was because I had been caned for bad behaviour in the showers. I sat at my desk and looked at the deep red parallel lines that were visible on each palm. My hands continued to hurt for the remainder of the lesson which made it very difficult for me to concentrate on my work. Although I was to experience more canings, as well as slipperings, during my school career, Mr Shaw had certainly given me something that I never forgot.