This incident took place at my lower school in 1961, when I was 9 years old.

It was a cold February morning, and my class of 30 boys was waiting in a line outside the gym. We were supposed to wait in silence for all lessons, but when the PE master arrived he found me and three other boys talking. He opened the gym, told everyone to line up before they changed, and asked me to say what rule we had broken.

I don’t know why he picked on me, but I was so nervous and surprised I just said, “I don’t know, Sir.”

He asked another of the boys, who answered correctly. He then told the class to get changed, and the four talkers to wait at the side of the gym when they were ready.

A few minutes later, I and the three others were waiting in our white shirts, white plimsolls and thin black cotton shorts. No underpants were allowed. I had seen boys whacked for having dirty gym shoes or other uniform offences, but not so far as I remember for misbehaviour, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect.

Eventually, I was called forward with 29 boys watching and told to touch my toes. I did my best, but could hardly reach them, and then the master’s left hand landed on my bum, which was immediately hot and stinging all over. I was afraid I would topple over but I managed to remain in position for the next, equally hard, whack. And then I was walking back to my place, tears welling up, but thankfully I managed to avoid blubbing.

I remember nothing about the other three spankings nor about the subsequent PE lesson. When it was over and I was changing back to my uniform, I looked at my bum and was shocked to see how red and swollen it was. One of the spectators told me that I got it harder than the other three. Fortunately, I managed to conceal the evidence from my parents at home.

Of the various, usually minor, punishments that I remember from my childhood, both at school and at home, this is the only one that I regarded as entirely fair and reasonable. The others I resented to some degree, either because I considered myself not guilty or because I thought the punishment didn’t fit the crime. Of course, there were also occasions when crimes went undiscovered or unpunished.