Growing up in the late 1940s and 1950s, I was no stranger to corporal punishment. My parents were strict, but more of that if anyone is interested. In junior school I had to visit the Headmistress’s office twice for discipline. The first time, I went over her knee for a solid spanking, and the second time I was required to bend over a chair for four strokes of the slipper. My co-defendant received the same.
My secondary school was also strict, as were most in those days, to be fair. The cane was used by Housemasters, the Deputy Headmaster, and the Headmaster. I managed to avoid it throughout my first year, although three slipperings were required to correct my errant ways. For these, the usual requirement was to bend over at the front of the class, with fingertips approximately touching feet if not toes for anything up to four very hard whacks with an extra-large plimsoll which brought tears to your eyes and an inevitable yelp as you sat down on the hard wooden chair afterwards.
My first caning was in the second year on a school trip to the country. Our Housemaster, Mr J, was leading a three-day hike through the Peak District. Myself and my friend, Roddie, were bringing up the rear. As a gate was left open for us by the previous boy, we ran for it and found that it swung open really fast, given that it was on something of an incline. We quickly realised that we could get a fun ride by sitting on the gate, letting our friend push it closed and then jump on as it opened at great speed. We had several goes at this until the last time there were was a creaking at the post and the rather primitive hinge mechanism came loose, the gate collapsed and we fell off, ending up on the ground with the broken gate.
Quickly, we got up and tried to get the gate back on its hinge, but it wouldn’t go, so foolishly we thought we had better just leave it, propped up against the post and run to catch up with the rest of our class. Unfortunately, the farmer saw what happened and came chasing after us. He went straight to the Housemaster and remonstrated with him, pointing in our direction. We were marched back to the gate with the rest of the class following to see what was going on.
As the farmer showed our Mr J the damage, he insisted that, “If you ask me, those two need a good hiding. I have a good sturdy strap back at the farm which should do the trick, if you need to borrow it.”
Our Housemaster thanked him for his kind offer but declined, and exchanged details with the farmer and told him to send the bill for the repair to the school. He would make sure it was paid and, as for the two boys, he assured the farmer we would neither be sitting or swinging on any gates for the foreseeable future. Our fate was sealed, it would seem.
Mr J shook hands with the farmer, apologised profusely again, after insisting that we apologised too, then pushed us away, ordering us to come to his room half an hour after supper.
We were staying in a youth hostel of sorts, one that had not yet been fully commissioned but which the school used for our country rambles. The main dormitory had enough bunk beds for the whole group of 20, not the whole ‘House’ but just our class year. Mr J, and his wife, who just came for the evenings, were accommodated in a suite of rooms which would eventually house the warden when the hostel was properly up and running. The actual warden was acting as caretaker until the building was finished.
Supper dragged. We knew we were in real trouble, a hard slippering at least, but we doubted it would be any more as it was unlikely he would have brought a cane with him, but not impossible. As we finished eating with what little appetite we had, Mr J came over to us, told us to get our pyjamas on and come to his room in half an hour. That seemed ominous. Our summer pyjamas would offer far less protection for our bottoms than our hiking trousers. We were certainly for it. Stomach cramps and butterflies took over as we changed. We decided to keep our underpants on for a bit more protection, as Mr J had not specified.
Mrs J let us in when we knocked, and she ushered us to a room at the side with just a table and a few chairs. On the table there were two canes, one with a straight stem and the other with a crook handle, and it was finally clear what our punishment was to be. Whether he had brought them with him or had asked his wife to bring them over in the afternoon when she arrived, we didn’t know, but they were there and we were going to get our first canings for certain. Mr J came in and began his lecture about respect for the countryside, and for the farmers that tended it and kept it safe for all of us with gates and stiles. He then started on our dishonesty for leaving the broken gate and not owning up, for the embarrassment we had caused him and the school, and the likely cost of repairing the gate. He spoke authoritatively but quite calmly. His initial anger with us had subsided.
He said that in view of our behaviour he had no choice but to cane us in the hope that it would improve and to provide us with a memory that will prevent us doing anything like that again. He then asked us in turn if we agreed that we needed to be punished, and we both muttered acknowledgement, but in the end were forced to give him clear ‘Yes Sir’ replies.
He then announced that we were to get two strokes for breaking the gate and two for not owning up. We were to bend over the table and not get up or attempt to cover our bottoms until we were told to stand when it was finished, on pain, I use the word advisedly, of an extra stroke.
Roddy went first while I was told to stand with my hands on my head. I’m not sure whether it was worse watching what was going on with my turn soon to come or actually receiving. Well, I do actually, but observing a caning for the first time frightened me half to death. Roddie did well, given that what he was receiving was the most painful experience of his life, and probably mine when my turn came.
Roddy was made to bend over the table. Mr Jones pulled his pyjama top out, presumably to ensure it did not provide his bottom with additional protection. He then took aim, tapping the cane twice against my friend’s bottom, but then changed his mind and picked up the other cane, possibly when he realised that he had underpants underneath. He tapped twice again with the second cane before bringing it down hard across both buttocks.
There was a short gap between the first strike and the gasp. The four strokes were spaced about ten seconds apart and each one produced ever louder cries of pain. Roddy managed to stay down, but at the end I could see the tears rolling down his face as we changed places.
How I was able to take my punishment, the four sharp stings and the massive build of pain, I do not know. My hand moved towards my bottom after the third stroke, but I managed to pull it back in time to prevent the penalty stroke. After just a little over half a minute the beating was over, but the heat and pain would continue to build up for the next couple of hours. I admit I had tears as well, not very macho I know but we were only 12 and never had a thrashing like that before.
Mrs J let us out with a sympathetic smile. I have no idea why she had to open the door for us, maybe she thought it was polite, but after what her husband had just done to us, it was really weird. It was very painful just walking to the toilets as every leg movement seemed to hurt more and more. We dropped our pyjamas in an attempt to get some cold water on the searing heat and to compare stripes. I think we both came out equal on that score. Four neat, parallel train lines. I have no idea how he managed that, given the force he was applying, but as I learned later, it was all in the wrist action.
We did our best to pull ourselves together before we went back to the dormitory and, of course, as expected when the other boys came in, despite the pain we were still in and our general miserable condition, we were expected to reveal the evidence by lowering our pyjamas for inspection. In the morning, once again after a restless sleep trying to stay on our fronts, while getting dressed we had to display our bottoms, the lines having merged more and started to turn into purplish swollen welts which would only fade completely days later.
In the morning, one bright spark piped up with, “Does it still hurt?”
You bet it did. We both winced as we sat down on the hard youth hostel benches for breakfast. Strangely, though, we became heroes for a couple of days, for having survived such a merciless beating. The scars on our bottoms became badges of honour.
As we were leaving for the day, the farmer turned up to say that he had managed to fix the gate with a spare hinge so there would be no charge to the school. Mr J thanked him and apologised again, before calling us over to apologise again as well. Mr J then told the farmer that he had dealt with us appropriately, and repeated that we were unlikely to want to sit on any more gates in the near future. The farmer smiled knowingly.
That first caning was an awful shock. Given how we had behaved, I don’t have any doubts that we deserved it, and we certainly never did anything so stupid again, or rather, anything quite like that again.