This memory is about the most severe caning I ever received.
I attended a co-educational boarding school in the early seventies. Corporal punishment was a regular event. Boys would receive the cane from the headmaster for serious offences and girls the bath-brush from the senior mistress. For lesser offences there was a system of black marks which in themselves would attract a detention. Two black marks in a week would move you on to the ‘c’ list which would attract the cane. Some offences such as smoking, drinking and ‘behaving in a manner likely to bring the school into disrepute’ which covered any mischief a pupil might get up to whilst ‘signed out’ in the local villages and town, would put you straight on to the ‘c’ list.
One Sunday in the summer term, myself and Niki (my girlfriend) decided we would sign out from school ostensibly to attend morning service at the village church although that wasn’t our prime reason. Pupils were allowed to sign out and go into the local town or village on Saturday afternoons provided they weren’t involved in any sports events and on Sunday mornings to attend church. A master could refuse to sign you out on Saturday if he felt you were likely to misbehave but Sunday sign outs were never refused. Pupils had to sign out in single sex pairs. So we teamed up with another couple and made our escape. The teacher on duty that morning expressed some surprise and suspicion at my sudden need to attend church, as I’d never shown any inclination in the last four years but, as I said, Sunday sign outs were never refused.
We attended the service, no choice, there were always two teachers at the village service every week to keep an eye on the pupils. To go back to school from the village you walked across the village playing field, you entered at one corner near some swings walked past the cricket pitch to the opposite corner, walked down farm tracks that ran around the edge of two fields until you reached the main road, across the road and about a hundred yards to your left was the school entrance.
The two teachers chaperoned and chivvied the pupils, about twenty of them, back along the route to school as far as the playing fields where they let us play around for a bit before telling us all to get on or we would be late for lunch. We hung back and dawdled until the rest of the group were out of site in the next field. Then we two couples turned round and went and sat back on the swings. We reckoned we had about forty-five minutes until we really needed to be back in school and school was about twenty minutes away. So there followed a twenty minute snogging session before, arm in arm, we walked back across the edge of the cricket pitch and followed the route back to school.
As we reached the road two voices called out for us to stop. Two top year lads caught us up. They told us that the first eleven were playing the village that afternoon and that Mr Meaking, the geography teacher, had spent the morning marking out the cricket pitch boundary. He’d watched us from afar and we were to report to the headmaster when we got back to school and explain our conduct to him. Then they went on.
We stopped and thought about this. It didn’t seem particularly likely, we’d been on the playing field for twenty minutes – plenty of time for Mr Meaking to come and have a word with us. We decided that we were probably being set up. There wasn’t enough time to go back and check and if Mr Meaking had seen us then he would come and find us when he got back to school, we could tell him we hadn’t believed the two lads and we wouldn’t be in any more trouble than we possibly already were. The rest of the day passed without incident so come ‘lights out’ I was certain it had been a setup and wasn’t a bit worried.
Monday morning dawned. Monday morning assembly happened. At the end of assembly the Headmaster asked for the following pupils to stand up, then he read out our four names. You could have heard a pin drop in the hall. He told the whole school that during church sign out we had behaved in a despicable manner. That we had been told by a master to report to the head on our return to school, this instruction we had ignored. (Joint sucking in of breath from whole school). This kind of behaviour could not and would not be tolerated. We were to report to Mr Meaking straight after assembly in the corridor outside the hall and thence to report directly to the Headmaster’s study.
Mr Meaking was angry; I tried to explain about not believing the two lads but Mr Meaking would have none of it and issued us all with a black mark and told us not to keep the Head waiting.
The Headmaster was positively boiling over. (It should be noted that the Headmaster was a very religious man – the only subject he taught was RE. To him, using a church signing out for anything other than going to church was a serious offence in itself). He didn’t stop telling us off for about ten minutes. The charges laid against us were:
Disobeying an instruction issued by a teacher – (1 black mark).
Disobeying an instruction issued by a prefect – one of the lads we had chosen to ignore turned out to be a prefect – (1 black mark).
Abusing Sunday service sign out privileges – (‘c’ list)
Behaving in a manner likely to bring the school into disrepute – (‘c’ list)
He then asked why we had not obeyed Mr Meaking’s instructions. As a group we were struck dumb at the enormity of the hole we seemed to have dug. Two black marks in a week was serious, a ‘c’ list offence on their own. We had managed in five minutes to have earned the equivalent of three ‘c’ lists, that was potentially eighteen strokes of the cane. No one in our time at the school had ever received more than twelve strokes and that was because a school pupil had been shown on TV at a football match having a fight.
Finally I managed to stutter out that we hadn’t believed the two lads, we thought they were joking. The Headmaster asked, in a cross voice, if top year lads were in the habit of playing such jokes. I simply answered: “Yes.” The head studied me for a minute, he seemed to be trying to decide if I was telling the truth or trying it on. He had at least regained some composure and calmed down.
We stood there waiting for the sentence but the blade wasn’t going to fall quite yet.
The Headmaster decided that he would have further discussion with Mr Meaking. We were to return to lessons and us boys should present ourselves at his study tomorrow morning at seven-fifteen. The girls should present themselves at Miss Johnson’s study at the same time.
We knew we were going to get it. Seven-fifteen before breakfast was the time that the headmaster liked to deal with serious ‘c’ list offenders. It was really a case of what we were going to get.
Tuesday morning eventually arrived and twenty hours of worry came to an end. We made sure we arrived early, wearing our pyjamas and dressing gown as per regulations, and before long we were on the carpet before the Heads desk. The Headmaster having also had twenty hours to think about the situation had decided to give us the benefit of the doubt. The two black marks would be commuted to four detentions. Also in light of the fact that neither of us had appeared on a ‘c’ list before, the two ‘c’ list offences would be combined. He would not be dishing out twelve strokes, this would be commuted to eight.
I was delighted and horrified all at once. Delighted that I wasn’t going to be caned eighteen times to within an inch of my life, and horrified that I was to receive eight strokes. I had received one stroke in the past and remembered how that had felt.
I was sent out to wait in the corridor.
A few minutes later I heard the first thomp-thwack. Followed at five second intervals by the remaining seven. There was a lot of yelps and by the end, audible sobs and cries of ‘stop’. Out hobbled my friend, in a cracked voice ‘your turn’. In I went.
The headmaster was standing at the opposite end of his study from his desk, next to one of two armchairs. He tapped the floor about eighteen inches to one side of the armchair with his cane, a three foot length of rattan one inch round at the handle tapering to half an inch at the business end. I was instructed to place my dressing gown over the back of the chair, stand there (tapping point), lean over the arm of the chair and place your hands flat on the seat.
The head took up position square on, took aim and thomp-thwack down came stroke one across the top of my bottom. Nothing, then a searing pain. Thomp-thwack stroke two just below the first. I gasped and sucked in a breath.
Thomp-Thwack, stroke three. Again just below the second. The first yelp.
Thomp-thwack, stroke four. A more agonising yelp, breathing in short jagged breaths. Thomp-thwack, stroke five. The third long yelp followed by little yelps. Breath in and hold it.
Thomp-thwack, number six lands diagonally across the left cheek. A yelp and an ‘oh god’ escape my lips. Thomp-thwack, stroke seven lands diagonally across the right cheek. Sobs.
The diagonal strokes are cutting into the welts left by the previous six and my bottom is in agony. Thomp-thwack, stroke eight diagonally across the middle of my bottom. There is no strength left in me and I am half collapsed over the arm of the chair. The headmaster helped me to my feet and handed me my dressing gown and I was told to go and get ready for school.
Being caned was an agonising experience and one I didn’t want to experience again. (A hope not to be fulfilled unfortunately). The pain from the caning dissipated quite quickly really but the bruising came out a couple of days later and lasted about a week. The welts could still be seen at the end of a fortnight.
The girls faired much the same, as far as I can remember from Niki’s account at the time. The girls each received eight strokes of the bath-brush. Miss Johnson’s study didn’t have a desk. It had a table and four chairs with low backs. Miss Johnson placed a chair in the middle of the room and had the girl lean over the back and reach down and hold the back legs so that they were on tiptoe. If the girls wore nightdresses they were expected to also wear a pair of knickers. The nightdress would be lifted up and unaccountably the knickers would be pulled up until they sat tight in the crack of the bottom. Niki was of the opinion that it was better to wear pyjamas. Miss Johnson would then alternately whack each cheek as hard as she could. Niki said that after six strokes which really hurt, your bottom was nearly numb but the pain was constant afterwards as your bottom came back to life and the bruising hurt for a week.