I attended a fairly small village primary school in East Lancashire in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and when I was about six, an incident occurred not far from the school at going-home time, around 4.00 pm. There was a small area landscaped with bushes at the bottom of the road, after the last house in the road. The side window of the house overlooked that area and, on the day in question, a few of the older boys decided to set fire to the bushes. The house was quite close to the bushes, only a few feet separated them, so I realise now it was quite a dangerous thing to do.

Of course, I and a few other boys stopped to watch, and there was quite a blaze going when the woman whose house it was came out and shouted at us. I don’t recall what she said and we all scattered. However, she obviously complained to the school.

Next morning, a teacher interrupted our class by asking who had been at the scene of the fire. Being rather naive at the time, I put my hand up and was told to go and stand in the corridor. There were already two other boys waiting, and we were shepherded along the corridor towards the assembly hall which doubled as a gym.

As we got close to the double doors leading from the hall, they burst open and one of the older boys, one of those who had started the fire, came through under ‘full sail’ as it were. Tears were streaming down his cheeks and both hands were tightly clamped to his bottom. I don’t think he even realised we were there.

Before I could really process what I had just seen, the teacher urged us through the doors into the hall where another teacher was supervising, I think, another three boys who were lined up on one of the lines marking an area for games when the hall was used as a gym. We were told to join the back of that line. All this was done quite quickly and I hadn’t had a chance to look round at that point.

I very quickly became aware of a loud sound and, looking round, there was a small vaulting horse close to the area where gym equipment was stored, with the headmaster standing with his back to us. I soon realised the sound was a slipper whacking down hard on the seat of a pair of shorts. I couldn’t really see the boy’s bottom as the headmaster was in the way, and the boy’s head was over the far side of the vaulting horse, but I could hear him crying. There were also two boys standing just to the right of the headmaster, and, as I soon discovered, that was the feeder line for punishment. Thinking about it now, that arrangement was probably due to the cramped nature of that area and the fact that the headmaster wanted to get the punishments dealt with as quickly as possible.

I’m not sure just how many whacks the boy received, but he was soon allowed off the horse and he left the hall crying hard with both hands on the seat of his shorts. In a matter of moments, the next boy was bent across the vaulting horse and the process was repeated. The teacher supervising us sent the two boys at the front of our line to join that little feeder line by the headmaster.

I soon realised I was now second from the front and butterflies started in my stomach.

All too soon, the next boy was leaving in the same state as the others, and I was being sent over to join the queue in front of the vaulting horse. By then, my butterflies were wearing hob-nailed boots. It seemed only an instant before the boy in front of me was bending over the horse and I had a front row position to watch his spanking with that slipper.

He was dismissed, leaving like the others, and before I really knew it, I was staring down at the wooden floor of the hall. I remember the stinging pain of the first few whacks, but I don’t remember leaving the hall. My next real memory was knocking and re-entering the classroom and the teacher, who was, If I recall, a lady who was probably in her early twenties, told me sharply to sit down. I remember her smiling as I sat down and then shot straight back to my feet as my sore bottom touched that hard wooden chair. I think she made a comment to the rest of the class that was what to expect if you were sent to the headmaster.

Although I didn’t play any part in lighting the fire, I was there and I suppose the punishment was well deserved. I still have no idea how many whacks I received but the incident did teach me a lesson.