I started to attend a local infants school, at the age of five, in 1951. I was generally well behaved but was occasionally shouted at for not paying attention. I never saw a boy smacked, although boys were sometimes threatened with it.
One day, I was playing with my friend at break time but we did not hear the whistle for lining up to go back in. We suddenly noticed that we were the only children outside. Just then, our teacher came out of he door and shouted for us to come in. She stood us in front of the class and shouted at us, then she smacked my friend on the leg. He looked as though it had really hurt him.
She then came to me and bent down to do the same. To my surprise, it did not hurt and I smiled with relief. She looked at me angrily. Looking back, I suppose she was expecting me to show contrition. Perhaps the smile was taken as a personal insult but at five years old, I did not understand such things.
“You can come with me to the headmistress for the tawse,” she said. I had never been in the head’s room before and as I had not been at the school for long, I had only seen the headmistress in the hall, playing the piano when we went for singing and prayers. I had no idea what she was talking about and followed her, expecting to be asked to carry something back to the class.
We got to the office and I followed her in. My teacher related her story and I started to realise I was in trouble. The headmistress went to a drawer and got out a brown strap with a single split in it. I had never seen anything like this before and still did not understand what was going on.
“Hold out your hand,” the headmistress said. I held out my hand as if to take something off her. My teacher, who was standing beside me, pulled my arm round so that it was at a right angle to my front, then straightened out my fingers. I suddenly realised what was happening when I saw the tawse being lifted by the headmistress until it was over her shoulder. It came down with a thwack and I felt my hand burning.
I ran for the door in panic but my teacher dragged me back and pushed me back in place. She grabbed my arm and I reluctantly held out my hand. “You’ve got another two yet,” said the headmistress. I suffered two more strokes and could not choke back the tears. My hand felt as though it had been in the oven and was bright red.
“Now the other hand,” said the headmistress. I held out my hand correctly without my teacher touching me and suffered three more strokes. I stood there afterwards pressing the palms of my hands together while the headmistress told me about the importance of going into school when the whistle went.
My teacher then took me back to the classroom, which had been looked after by the nursery nurse. None of the children asked what had happened. They were all busy and the smacking they had seen may have subdued them, but I saw my teacher telling the nursery nurse, who kept looking at me.
At home time I told a couple of my friends what had happened and they had already guessed. They had older brothers at the school who had both suffered in the same way for disobedience. From what they said, it was not unusual for boys as young as five to get a tawsing for relatively minor acts of disobedience.
I never got the tawse again in that school but once alerted to the procedure of going to the headmistress for punishment, I became aware of the regularity with which this happened. One boy I often played with was given four on each hand for shouting at a teacher when he lost his temper.