I would like to recount discipline at the rural school I attended in the early to mid 1960s.
Our school was a small two classroom school with 55 pupils in varying ages. We had two schoolmistresses, Miss Harrop and the older Mrs Banning. We also had a Headmaster, Mr Ascombe. The pupils came from outlying farms and a smaller number of us came from the town. My aunt owned a clothes shop catering for women’s and girls’ clothes.
Our much liked old headmaster had suddenly retired and we went a few months without one. Discipline had to be quick because it was not possible to keep the school back as the bus to school and back came once a day, especially for those who lived on the farms. We didn’t have a uniform and our new headmaster had introduced a dress code. Mr Ascombe was the new Headmaster and there had been a culture change as his predecessor had become distant. I had been sent to Mr Yardley earlier in the year and while I thought he would cane me (admittedly I was not a stranger to the cane), he scolded me and sent me back to class.
Mr Ascombe had been with us for a month or so when I was sent to him for getting caught out of my seat while Miss Harrop was out of the classroom and attempting to throw a small bit of chalk at a friend.
”Report to Headmaster immediately.” She snapped.
As I passed her, she gave me two smacks on my upper thighs and took me to see Mr Ascombe.
I waited outside his small office, hands on my head and nose to the wall. I could hear Miss Harrop and Mr Ascombe talking and a minute or so later she came out. I waited nearly ten minutes before I was ordered into the office.
I stood nervously in front of his desk and saw a crook handled cane on his desk. Mr Yardley had had a straight cane. Mr Ascombe was tall with thick greying hair, brown eyes and wore horn rimmed glasses. I got a stern scolding and was asked if I had an excuse for my behaviour.
I also got scolded for not saying: “Yes, Sir,” and: “No Sir.”
While I was being scolded, he fingered his cane.
“Very well, Peter, I am going to cane you,” he announced.
I had my hands behind my back and rubbed them together to warm them up. Then I held out my right hand while wondering how many I was going to get.
“Did I ask you to hold out your hand?”
“Ummm, no Sir.”
“The best place to cane a misbehaved schoolboy is on his bottom. Bend over and touch your toes.”
I was shocked and hesitated. A friend’s older brother was boarding at a grammar school and the cane was on the buttocks there, but it had been the hands under Mr Yardley. I wore mid-thigh length shorts, suspenders (braces), knee socks and brown ankle boots. I was told to bend over again before being told that I would be making a repeat visit the next afternoon during lunch for insolence and disobedience. That is, for not bending over straight away and saying: “Yes Sir.”
Mr Ascombe flexed his cane a couple of times and walked behind me to stand on my right and announced that my punishment was six strokes of the cane. I felt the cane press against my buttocks and three light taps and it press against my buttocks again. My heart was pounding and I heard the dreaded swish and crack. I didn’t feel any pain, then a hot stinging sensation formed where the cane had struck. The sound had been much louder than a caning on the hand.
The second stroke landed and I yelped. There was a five second pause and the third stroke landed. I yelped loudly, my classmates likely hearing my cry of pain.
Five seconds, then Swish Thwack! I jumped up and managed a few quick rubs before having to bend over again. My bottom was on fire by the time the sixth stroke landed and I yelped, jumping up.
I was told to bend over again.
“That’s six,” I thought to myself. Was I getting another stroke or two?
Mr Ascombe put his cane back on his desk and gave me permission to stand up. I wanted to soothe the stinging but didn’t. Mr Ascombe knew that he had broken the brazen schoolboy for his misbehaviour. He took out a grey ledger and he wrote all details of my punishment and reminded me that I had another visit after lunch the next day.
Everyone noticed my wince as I sat down back in class and there were surprised looks. My friends told me they could hear the faint swish but louder cracks of the cane in the classroom. It would have been louder in Mrs Banning’s classroom.
My Aunt found out that I had been caned; in small towns, word travels. My Aunt sent me to my bedroom after supper. Before bed she came into my bedroom and ordered me across her knee with a ‘You know the rules.’ Then she pulled my pyjama bottoms down and spanked me with an old rubber soled slipper.
Next day, Mr Ascombe had me bending over in the school hat room at lunch and there was an audience of three who saw me get three strokes.