It was May 1972 and my two friends and I were standing facing the wall outside the Headmistress’s office. We had been caught smoking whilst we should have been studying during a free period. I couldn’t believe we had been so stupid and knew that there was going to be serious consequences. The fact that we were in the Lower Sixth only meant the consequences would be more serious.

After half an hour the three of us were taken into her office and we stood in front of her desk with our hands by our sides. The Headmistress, Head of Lower Sixth and the School Matron were all seated. The Headmistress then proceeded to chastise us for our misbehaviour, making it clear that we would be punished not only for smoking but also for absenting ourselves from lessons without permission, leaving school premises without permission (we were in the woods just beyond the school boundary) and for lying about what we were doing when caught.

She continued that we were all very able, generally well behaved and intelligent girls and that made our offences even worse. There would therefore be no lenience in the punishments since we had clearly chosen to misbehave and it would serve as an example to others throughout the school that all failures to comply would be dealt with severely.

She said she had spoken to all of our parents to make them aware of our offences and to inform them how she intended to punish us. She was pleased to say that in all cases they were fully supportive of the proposed punishments and shocked by our behaviour. I could feel tears almost starting in my eyes because I knew this meant I was going to get corporal punishment.

She informed us that we would all be receiving the same punishment, which would be as follows:

“You will spend the next two weeks on the Punishment dormitory confined to the old fashioned school uniform. You will of course have no access to TV, radio or leisure reading materials.

“As I am sure you are already aware, girls sent to the punishment dormitory always start their days with at least four miles cross country followed by a cold shower to ensure they are awake and ready for the school day.

“There is of course a further punishment which I always apply for those caught smoking, even without the further transgressions each of you has made.”

At this point she leaned slightly forward and asked each of us in turn: “And what is that?”

I was second to answer. “The cane, Miss.”

“Well at least you have managed to get one thing right today. I have considered both the number of strokes you should receive and where your canings should be performed. You will therefore each receive eight strokes of the cane across your behinds tomorrow morning at 7.45 am in my office.

“You will of course each write a full letter of apology to your parents describing your misbehaviour, how you were punished, what you hope it will teach you and asking them to consider if they may wish to punish you themselves during your summer holiday.”

At this she then turned to the school matron. “During their punishment dormitory regime, if they have been malevolent in their behaviour please feel free to apply further corporal punishment, spankings or other sanctions as you see fit.”

She then returned to the three of us. “At the end of two weeks you will each be returned to me for a review of your behaviour during your punishment. In particular I will be looking for your acceptance of your discipline, complete compliance and a change in attitude.

“Matron, I will let you take them away to collect their books and then begin their punishment.”

She then turned once more to us. “I will see you three naughty girls in the morning suitably attired so I can apply the cane.”

I remember desperately trying to hold back my tears as I thought of what was to come, what a laughing stock I would be, and also what my parents would think.  We were marched away to pick up our books from our room in the accommodation wing which we shared with another girl and then outside to another block which accommodated the infirmary and the punishment dormitory. We were marched into the cold grey room which contained eight low metal framed beds. The floor was bare concrete and the room stank of disinfectant.

We then had to strip and dress in the old fashioned school uniform which I had seen many others confined to over the previous six years. It was awful. I can only assume it was from the 1930s or 40s. It looked terrible and felt even worse but there was no choice so we all dressed in the items which she had laid before us; brown large elasticated double gusted school knickers, a rough grey wool vest, brown woollen knee socks and elastic garters, clumpy brown school sandals with a buckled strap, yellow shirt, brown and yellow striped tie, a really heavy brown serge pinafore dress with short sleeves which came over the shoulders and down towards the elbows with buttons on the apron and heavy pleats on the skirt which reached to just below my knees, brown woollen school cardigan, brown school blazer and a brown felt school hat.

All of us would remain dressed like this for the next two weeks except when in bed or doing gym. To make it worse it all smelt of moth balls. I can still remember my feeling of despair as, looking at my friends, I could see what a laughing stock we would be in front of others.

Matron spoke in a loud voice. “Right, so get undressed, fold your uniform neatly, put on your nightgown and then stand at the end of these three beds and remain silent.”

We all complied, taking careful note as she told us how she expected each item in our uniform to be folded and positioned in a neat pile. Dressed in our long rough ankle length gowns we then stood each at the foot of one of the low metal beds.

She then took a rubber slipper from the rack in the centre of the room and gave each of us in turn two swift smacks across the behind. When one of my friends mistakenly complained, she found herself over the matron’s knee with a further six strokes applied to her bare behind.

By 7.30 pm we were in bed the room was dark and I spent the night sleeping fitfully as I thought about what was to come.

The next morning, even though we were to be caned, we were not spared our morning exercise. Dressed in only our knickers, vest and knee socks we could have not have been more embarrassed but these thoughts soon disappeared as we spent the next 50 minutes running around the fields surrounding the school. By the end I was not only aching from the run but the wool vest soaked in sweat had rubbed against me. We were then put into the showers which were set on full blast and freezing cold with carbolic soap to wash our hair. By the end of the time we were each shivering and despite the humiliation I was pleased at least to get the warmth of dressing again in my uniform.

We were then taken directly to the Headmistress’s office and made to stand with our hands on our heads facing the wall. We seemed to stand there for an eternity, then one by one we were taken into her office and caned.

I was last so I could tell what was coming as each of my co-offenders returned to the wall crying. Inside there was no mercy. The Headmistress, Matron and my House mistress were all waiting.

“You are to receive eight strokes of the cane for your misbehaviour. Take off your blazer, undo your cardigan and bend over the chair and hold the legs.”

I obeyed, my eyes already welling with tears. I could then feel my dress being lifted and folded over my back, my cardigan moving with it, followed by the final indignity as I felt my knickers being lowered to my knees. I remember weakly begging for mercy.

“Silence, you are a Sixth former so all corporal punishment is to the bare behind. Housemistress, please apply the eight strokes.”

It was the only time I was ever caned at school and by the end I was in pain, crying and begging for mercy. The Matron counted out each stroke as it was applied. From the first stroke the pain was intense and I gripped the chair legs ever more tightly. At the fourth stroke I started to cry uncontrollably. The final strokes were even worse as they cut across the lines of the previous strikes and I could feel my legs wobbling. The strokes complete, I was allowed to pull up my knickers, put back on my blazer and then with my two co-offenders we were taken directly to the school assembly.

That evening, our homework complete, Matron supervised us as we had to write a two sided letter of apology to our parents. I detailed my offences, the punishments I was deservedly going to serve including the caning I had received, how they would punish and deter me from re-offending and asking them of course to consider what further punishments they may think would be appropriate for me to receive during the summer holidays.

I knew from previous experience when I had misbehaved or underperformed academically that I would receive further punishment in July. To finish the humiliation of the day, when we had changed into our nightgowns Matron told us to lower our knickers to our ankles, bend over and touch our toes and lift our nightgowns to leave our bare behinds exposed. She then said we should remain in position until she told us to move. I can still smell the TCP as she moved round each of us in turn and the howls from my friends as she applied the antiseptic. When she applied it to my welted behind the pain was intense and I howled and then cried. We were kept in this humiliating posture for ten minutes.

From there we resumed a daily regime of discomfort and humiliation which lasted for the whole two weeks.  Every morning we had to get up at 5.45 am dress in our brown school knickers, vest and knee socks and plimsolls and then take the rest of our uniform to the gym.  After a quick warm-up of star jumps and press-ups we had to run cross country for at least an hour with a teacher ensuring there was no slacking around the school playing field.  At least in spring the ground was reasonably firm and it was not freezing cold.

From there we spent ten minutes under a freezing cold shower under supervision to ensure we washed ourselves with the stinking carbolic soap provided.  By the time I had done this I was initially almost thankful to be able to dress in my frumpy and uncomfortable punishment dormitory uniform. It took a while even dressed in vest, blouse, thick tunic, cardigan, blazer and school hat to feel warm again. Of course later in the day the effect was the opposite and I would find myself sweltering under the thick layers, but that was part of our punishment.

When lessons finished at 4 pm, instead of going back to the relaxation of our room the three of us had to go straight to detention where we spent the next hour doing either lines or an essay, writing out, for example, “I deserve to be caned, wear school uniform and do detention for being a naughty girl” 125 times.

Having completed detention we all returned to the punishment dormitory where we sat in silence for the next two and a half hours doing our homework. The matron or her assistant were always present.

When the two weeks were finished, we were taken back to the Headmistress’s office and the three of us had our behaviour reviewed by the Headmistress and Head of Lower Sixth.  We were again given a stiff lecture about our misbehaviour and that hopefully our punishment had been severe enough to make us think that our stupidity had not been worthwhile as well as deterring us from any future misconduct.  We were left in no doubt that further transgressions would result even more severe penalties.

Suffice to say when we got home I received some further severe discipline.

Liz S