My father James was raised in a Christian orphanage in the 1930s and 1940s. He was evacuated during the Second World War alongside all the other children, and so lived both in Southampton (before and after the war) and near to Llandudno (during the conflict).
The orphanage was, as one would expect from that era, quite austere and loveless. My father often told me stories of mischief and adventures he and his friends had had during their childhoods, and they always ended the same way – with severe punishment.
One story he told me from those war years stands out vividly in my mind even now. My father was about 11, and he and some chums had decided to take wooden trays from a cupboard at the institution and use them like sledges down a nearby slag heap. They did so, having great fun, but were spotted by a foreman at the site and bundled back to the orphanage. The orphanage children weren’t well liked in the area, being both English and parentless, and the foreman was apparently rather pleased to be able to ‘tell’ on them.
The director of the orphanage was a stern older man named Mr Popham. He ordered all the boys to lower their school shorts and underpants down to their ankles, and one by one they were bent over a chair and given eight strokes of the cane in front of the foreman. My father told me that it was one of the hardest thrashings he ever got, and that the weals on his buttocks were sore and puffy for a couple of weeks.
My father said the punishment had probably been so severe not because the boys’ crime was particularly heinous (though apparently the matron was furious at how filthy both the trays and their clothes were) but because the director had been made to look weak in front of one of the locals.
Despite this rather brutal childhood, he was a wonderful father to me – not only during my childhood and teen years in the 1960s and 1970s, but well up until his death in 2017. That didn’t mean my siblings and I escaped a sore bottom sometimes – corporal punishment was very much the norm in this era, so that is how we were raised too.
The punishment from my father I remember the most was when I was six or seven. My brother and I had been scrapping all day, as it was a very rainy day and we were cooped inside. Things came to a head and he punched me in the stomach. I punched him back, and soon the scrapping developed into outright fighting. Mother was furious, as we both managed to draw blood and we knocked over our baby sister in the process. She sent us boys to our bedroom to wait until Father got home.
That day was torture! We paced back and forth, slept on and off, had another miniature fight (though it was rather pantomimic as we tried desperately not to let Mother hear us!), we ate the bread and milk that Mother brought us for dinner in silence. Then Father arrived home from work, and was appraised of our sins. The sound of his feet on the stairs brought an end to our anxious day, but announced a whole new torture!
Father listened to us whine about one another, before sitting us both on his lap. We both snuggled in: we were and are an affectionate family, and when in trouble it felt good to be given some affection and attention. He told us gently that he wanted us to try harder to get along, and highlighted how difficult his own childhood had been without any siblings to look out for him.
Father was very kind and gentle, but it made us both cry – we felt terribly guilty for upsetting him, and guilty for not being appreciative enough. He hugged us. I think he shed a little tear himself, which was really quite extraordinary for a man of his generation – but that perfectly sums up my dad!
However, once we were all settled again, he pronounced sentence – a good slippering for the pair us us. I went first. Dad took my shorts off entirely, before lowering my underwear to my ankles. I was turned over his lap, bottom in the air, arms and legs dangling into space, and Father reached down to take his slipper off.
The worn rubber briefly rubbed my bottom before smacking down quite softly. Father didn’t go for hard, fast beatings like those from his own childhood – he tended to keep us over his lap for a more extended time, with many individual smacks.
I was crying after a smack or two, tears already close after our long conversation, but a couple of minutes of rhythmic smacking happened regardless. My bottom was pink and tender, but I didn’t have the harsh welts and bruising of my father’s era. The smacking my brother got was probably a little bit harder and longer, as he was both older and the initial aggressor, but it wasn’t brutal nor excessive either. Father picked up both his now sore-bottomed boys and carried us downstairs for tea.
Raising my own children in the 1980s and 1990s, I didn’t particularly plan to smack them. It wasn’t something I thought about, to be frank. I had yet to discover my own interest in spanking – in fact, that was only a discovery I made over lockdown in 2020 – and I had no strong feelings about it one way or the other. I didn’t resent my parents for the smackings I received, nor did I resent most of my teachers for most of the canings and slipperings I received at school – but I did feel there was probably a better way.
Then my second son was born! My oldest and youngest were both naturally very well behaved and thoughtful. Just a gentle telling off would reduce them to tears and have them promising to be better and do better. They didn’t need punishment. By contrast my middle child, Christopher, was a little devil when he was younger. Not a bad boy – he was always gentle and loving, especially with his little brother – but just incredibly naughty. Anything he was told not to do would become something he urgently needed to do!
My wife was the first to smack him. She was smacked now and then growing up, and was similarly neutral on the topic to me – in fact we only talked about it after that first smack! It certainly made Christopher very compliant and docile, at least for a day or two, and so we talked and agreed to give smacking a try.
We sat the children down and told them it would be a possibility in future. My oldest and youngest both had a little cry, but we reassured them it would only ever be for very naughty behaviour. At this point, my eldest had been given only two or three smacks in her whole childhood, and the youngest none at all. Christopher seemed relatively nonplussed by the announcement, and asked to go back to playing!
The first smacking tI gave to Christopher – the first proper spanking he got, after that initial single smack from my wife – was a couple of weeks later. We got a phone call from the school, telling us that Christopher had led a merry band of troublemakers into the kitchen to steal blocks of raw jelly.
They children had all been caught and given lines, but the headmistress wanted to let us know specifically in case there were any problems at home which were prompting Christopher to act up. We confirmed that everything was fine – he was just a naughty boy! I thanked her for the call, hung up, and went directly to my son’s room.
When I closed the door behind me, Christopher turned around from where he was sat at his desk, looking inquiringly at me. I explained the call to him, and asked if there was anything wrong. Chris confirmed that there was nothing wrong, and he had just fancied something sweet after a boring school dinner.
I asked if he remembered what I’d told him and his siblings about smacked bottoms, and he agreed that he did. I then sat myself on his bed and summoned him over. I was expecting him to protest, to try and run away, but he didn’t, instead coming straight over to me and standing obediently in front of me. Thinking back, I suspect the smack that my wife had given him hadn’t hurt that much, if at all, and so he was expecting something similar from Dad. Not quite!
Trousers and pants came down and across my knee he went. I remember I had a moment of awkwardness as I was unsure how hard to smack the little bottom over my knee, but the first smack left a pink handprint and made Christopher gasp, so I felt confident I’d found the right balance and continued.
He wriggled, cried and ended up with a pink bottom – but as soon as the job was done, he leapt up and into my arms for a long cuddle. By the time we finished hugging, his bottom was already back to normal and his tears were long gone – but he was a little angel for a week afterwards!
Only one of my grandchildren is currently an adult, now a 22-year-old young woman. I know for a fact that she got the occasional smack growing jup – generally knickers pulled down and a firm parental hand planted across both cheeks once or twice to give her momentary sting and to affirm that her behaviour was wrong.
Once, when she was about seven, she slid up to me at a family dinner and climbed onto my lap. She then whispered into my ear: “Dad smacked my bum earlier, and it fell off because he smacked it so hard!” I laughed, and told her a couple of stories from my own childhood – her eyes popped out like stalks at stories of the slipper and cane. She then gently touched my leg and asked earnestly: “Do you have a bum, grandad? Did it grow back after all those smacks?”
So there you have it – memories of one punishment each from four generations. A family tradition, you might say!