And so I entered my last term at grammar school. I had been luckier than most girls and only felt the cane on 2 occasions. But there was a sting in the tail so to speak.
After our exams the fifth form had to return to normal lessons until the end of term. There was no exam leave or finishing early for us. It was late June in 1978 and school seemed boring now. On one nice hot day I decided to skip school early and go to the beach. I figured that no one would notice too much and I would forge a note from mum saying that I had a hospital appointment. I duly went to school dressed in my uniform so as not to arouse mum’s suspicions. I had forged the note and handed it in to my form teacher. The note indicated that I needed to leave at 11am to get to hospital for a midday appointment. It also indicated that I would not be back that day.
After the first 2 lessons I left and made my way home. I got changed and then went to meet some friends from a neighbouring school. We all went off to the beach and happily enjoyed the sun.
Next morning I went to school as normal and thought nothing of it. Until the end of assembly, when Mrs Phelps, the head, called out my name. I stood up. I was told to report to her office immediately. I left the hall and walked along the corridor wondering if she had discovered my escapade. I feared the worst if she had.
I waited for some time and several pupils walked past and giggled. Then I heard the recognisable clipping of high heeled shoes as Mrs Phelps came along the corridor. After a few minutes I was summoned in. Mrs Phelps asked me if I was alright after my hospital appointment and I said yes. She seemed concerned about my condition and I relaxed. Suddenly she said that it had been brought to her attention that I had been seen on the beach the previous day at 2pm. Apparently I had been spotted by one of the staff. I denied that it was me but Mrs Phelps was not having it. She said that she had checked the letter from mum and noticed that the handwriting was similar to mine. She had then checked other paperwork with mum’s signature and that had not matched. She suggested that she contacted my mum and asked her to confirm that she had written the note. At this point I realised the game was up. I admitted the story.
Mrs Phelps considered the matter for some minutes and then told me that she needed to discuss the matter with other staff. I had disgraced the name of the school by playing truant and worse still by forging a note. I was told to go to classes and she would let me know her answer later.
I went to my class and acted normally. During the break my friends asked me what had happened. I spilt the beans and one of them pointed out that playing truant was a public punishment now. I gulped when I realised this.
I had not heard anything by the end of the day and went home. Mum did not raise the matter so I assumed that she had not been contacted.
Next morning I dressed and went to school as normal. I sat in a pensive mood throughout assembly. At the end of the assembly Mrs Phelps stood up. “Sandra Smith, stand up” she said. I stood up and realised that my friends had been right. Miss Phelps then told the assembly what had happened and warned them that they would now witness the consequences. I was summoned to the stage. Mrs Phelps had placed a chair with its back to the pupils. I was told to remove my blazer. The school secretary then brought in 2 crook handled canes and the punishment book. I noticed that the canes were different sizes. The first was approximately 30 inches long and looked thin and whippy. The second was the longer thicker variety that had previously been used on me.
I listened with butterflies in my stomach as Mrs Phelps said that I was to receive 6 strokes of the cane on my bottom for playing truant and a further 6 on my hands for forging the note. My knees turned to jelly. How would I survive 12 strokes of the cane?
I was ordered to bend over the back of the chair so my pert rear was facing the other pupils. Then it started…tapping with the thicker cane followed by a SWISH and a burning line of fire on my bum. The second followed and had the same result. The third made me grunt and I felt my eyes start to well up. Number 4 caused a yelp. The fifth was harder than the previous ones and when it hit I started to cry uncontrollably. Then the last one on the bum; it was as usual low down and extra hard. I stamped my feet and yelped out loud.
I was told to stand and let the other pupils see what happened to truants. Then the chair was removed and I was told to face the rest of the school. Mrs Phelps changed canes and told me to hold out my hand. Nervously I held out my left hand. It was difficult standing still due to the burning sensation coming from my rear. She tapped my hand and then SWISH, WHACK and I felt a sensational pain in my hand. I shook my hand but was too shocked to cry. Again the cane tapped and then SWISH. I quickly put my hand under the opposite armpit. I was ordered to put it back out again or else. I slowly put it out. The cane came down a third time and I recall a short scream as it hit me. Tears were rolling down my face now. Then the second hand got the same treatment. This had the desired affect and tears just rolled. After the last stroke I was told to compose myself and apologise to the whole school for my actions. I apologised as requested for fear of further punishment.
The pupils were then told to look at me and remember this punishment. Playing truant and lying will get punished Mrs Phelps warned. Then the pupils left. I was then escorted to the toilets to make myself more comfortable as Mrs Phelps put it. I washed my face and then checked my rear to see the damage. The six tram lines were really angry and bright red. I then held my hands under cold running water to relieve the pain. Even after 10 minutes they were swollen like a couple of pounds of sausages. I left the toilets just in time for the end of the lesson and entered my form room. I was told to sit down, but yelped and stood back up when I found how much it hurt.
During break time my friends were very supportive. They said this was the worst punishment they could remember and that I had been unlucky. I think I could find other words to describe it. Some of the boys laughed at me and joked about my caning but that was normal.
I do not bear any grudge against the school for this incident. I had been to blame and knew the risks. However being caned in front of the whole school was the most embarrassing experience ever and I never expected the hand caning. I had gone from being a well behaved girl to being recognised as the girl who got 12 of the best in public. I managed to survive the rest of the school year without mishap and left in the summer. This had been my last and worst caning thank god!