When I was seven years old, I was sent away to board at a private preparatory (prep) school for boys in the south of England – this was in the 1970s and corporal punishment was still available for errant schoolboys.
My parents had warned me before my departure that the school used the cane, and the warning was accompanied by a severe admonishment to be a good boy. And actually I was – I was certainly no rebel, and fully expected to stay out of trouble.
Unfortunately, as I found out before too long, there were basically two ways to earn a visit to the headmaster’s office for a whacking. Obviously, serious misbehaviour was dealt with summarily, and there was a handful of boys each month who were sent to the head in those circumstances.
However, the school also operated a ‘demerit’ system for minor acts of disobedience, such as running in the corridor, being late for class, talking during a lesson etc. You were allowed up to three demerits per term without punishment – after that, your bottom had an appointment with the headmaster.
I can vividly recall my first visit to his study. Both I and a friend of mine, Paul Jennings [all names have been changed – Ed] both got a demerit in the same lesson for constantly not paying attention. Both of us had been sitting on three demerits – and now the time for sitting had come to an end!
Any boys needing to see the headmaster were ordered to wait outside his office at four o’clock, the end of the school day. We received our fourth demerit fairly early on in the morning, so we had all day to think about what would happen. It was the first time for us both and we were both very frightened – the most I had ever had before was a dose of my dad’s slipper on the seat of my trousers.
When the final bell of the day had rung out, Paul and I made our way together, both very wobbly-legged, to the corridor outside the head’s office. The headmaster, Mr Dawson, was evidently already in there as we could hear him moving around the room, but we knew you had to wait outside until you were called.
After what seemed like a lifetime, the door finally opened Mr Dawson appeared. He turned to Paul. “Jennings, you’re first. Come with me.” Paul shot a final, scared look over his shoulder at me and followed the headmaster into his office. The door closed and although I could hear talking inside, I wasn’t able to hear what was being said.
Suddenly, I heard a firm ‘whack’ and Paul let out a huge ‘ooww!’ There was a little more talking by the head – again, I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Then there was another stroke of the cane, and this time Paul started to cry properly. A further, final whack followed.
Eventually, the crying coming from the office died down, and after a further wait Paul emerged with a tear-stained face and furiously rubbing his bottom. “He says you’re to go in now,” he said before sloping off.
By now I was absolutely terrified but there was no escaping my punishment. I went in through the door and there was Mr Dawson, already holding the cane. He wore an academic gown and had Brylcreemed hair with a ‘toothbrush’ moustache. We sometimes called him ‘Hitler’ behind his back because of the resemblance, but wouldn’t dared to have done so to his face, of course.
“Close the door behind you, Roberts.” I did so and turning back to him, I noticed a hall chair which had been placed in the middle of the room. Mr Dawson pointed to this with the cane. “Come and stand here.” I obeyed and was treated to the briefest of lectures – we both knew the rules – then I got a real shock…
“Take down your trousers and your underpants.” I had no idea it was to be on the bare bottom and I almost felt like crying there and then. I don’t know whether Mr Dawson was actually authorised to make young boys take their pants down for the cane – I suppose it was a private school and they could do what they liked in those days. In retrospect, he definitely got a kick out of seeing boys’ bare bottoms. However, at the time I could only do as I was told.
“Bend over the chair and put your hands flat on the seat.” Again, I did as I was told. “Like Jennings, this is your first time, so you will receive three strokes – but the next time, it will be six of the best. Do you understand?” “Yes, sir.” I felt the cane being tapped across my buttocks. “Keep that bottom up until I say that you may stand, otherwise I will add another stroke. Is that clear?” “Yes, sir.” “Very well.”
The next moment it was far from ‘very well’ with my bottom as the cane was brought down hard and decisively across both cheeks. It may as well have been a red hot poker. I began to cry immediately but managed to stay bent over. I felt Mr Dawson’s hand rub my bare bottom consolingly. “Good boy,” he said. “You must learn to take your punishment like a big boy. Two more to go.”
The two strokes which followed were, let’s say, something of a blur. My bum was completely on fire by the time the punishment was over and was told: “All done – make yourself decent.”
Mr Dawson handed me a tissue from a box handily placed on his desk (obviously there was a big demand for these), told me to blow my nose and then wrote down the details of my caning in his punishment book. Finally, with a warning to think more carefully about my behaviour in future, I was dismissed back to my dorm.
A bit later, Paul and I sneaked into a toilet cubicle together and examined each other’s backsides. Mr Dawson was obviously a bit of an expert in using the cane – each of our bottoms had three, perfectly spaced, angry red lines which were slightly raised from the rest of our flesh.
After that, I did my damnedest to avoid demerits, and I avoided the cane for the rest of that term, though I did subsequently earn more visits to the headmaster, this time for the full six, which in retrospect made that initial whacking seem like a walk in the park. Paul, however, was a far more frequent visitor, and often had tramlines on his bum which I saw while we were showering or getting changed.