I am now going to outline one of the very few canings I received in my Fourth Form year. This caning is one of the few that I am able to date precisely - it was the 18th of July 1969, and I was thirteen years old and, as I said, in the Fourth Form.
Now, Fourth Form was an unusual year at my school, because we actually spent relatively little time at the main school. The school had a - well, today people would call it a campus - up in the mountains. It was a camp rather than a school, really, although our normal school work wasn't ignored while we were there. We were sent there to mature, and grow up, in an environment that was different and more fundamental than that we normally experienced. In addition to keeping up with our normal lessons, we learned about nature, and teamwork, and a little bit about survival. Everybody in the Fourth Form went - even day boys became boarders for that year.
Discipline up in the mountains was different from the way it was at the main school. We still had strict routines, but we had a little more say in what went on in our daily lives, and we were able to spend a lot more time without being directly observed by masters. Minor disciplinary matters - like having perfectly shined shoes, always having your shirt tucked in, and the like that were very important at the main school, were given far less importance in this year - but on the other hand, serious disciplinary matters became much more important in an environment which did have some degree of danger (when I was in second form, two fourth form boys became lost for some days). I suppose self discipline became much more important there than imposed discipline - if you weren't self disciplined in the important things, they came down on hard on you - but most of us were fairly self disciplined by that stage.
The biggest difference in discipline was that the cane was used a lot less up in the mountains. It didn't go away completely - but I would say that for most boys who didn't become prefects (and so never gained exemption from the cane in Sixth Form) that they got it less in the Fourth Form than in any other year - and it would have been the only year that a majority of boys would have escaped it altogether.
On the other hand, we weren't up in the mountains the whole time. We did come back to the main school on occasion - either as a group, or as individuals (I used to have to head back at least once a month as I'd rather foolishly taken on the role of deputy editor of the school magazine). And when that happened, it sometimes took boys a little bit of time to readapt to the strict and rigid minor rules of the main school. Now, the staff seemed to accept this to an extent - and for a couple of days on return, they would go easy on most minor misdemeanours against the order of the school. Most of the time.
Now, on this occasion, a decision to take us back to school from the high country was taken very suddenly. And the reason for that - and also the reason I can date this event so accurately - was Apollo XI. Somebody decided that this major event was one we needed to see, and that meant taken us back to school where there were televisions available so we could watch the proceedings. We were given no warning that this decision had been made - around 4am, we were awoken in our units, told to dress, pack, and line up outside where there were a couple of buses waiting for us. We loaded up and we headed back to school. We were in pretty high spirits - gripped by moon fever. When we got to school, we were still bubbling. Because all the dormitories were full, we had to set up camp beds in various isolated, rarely used corners of the school. This was a normal routine - everybody knew how it worked, because it had to be done every time the Fourth Form returned. I found myself with 5 other boys crammed into a rather sparse room at the top floor of one of the boarding houses with very rudimentary facilities. It wasn't my house - like I say they were cramming us in wherever they could. We were up a narrow staircase, past the infirmary, into an area that I think had once been store rooms. We quickly set up the camp beds, and sorted out our school clothing.
The school had more or less abandoned the idea of keeping us in classes during this period - everybody, staff and pupils alike, was fascinated with what was happening up above us. A holiday was declared for the duration and boys spent their time clustered around the TVs (this was rare enough - we normally have access to television at this stage) watching for any sign of news. Younger boys - including myself - basically played at space exploration - you know, I'm almost embarrassed to admit that - we saw ourselves as so grown up. But I was 13 - and it was fun pretending to be an astronaut.
The staff were remarkably indulgent - 600 or so hyper active adolescents caught up in the excitement of one of the defining moments of human history must have been rather trying on their nerves. But tolerance ended, at least in the case of myself and my friends around 8pm that evening. We were, as I've said, guests in another boarding house and the boarding house matron decided that as we'd been up since four in the morning, and we'd had a full day - and to be honest, we were probably annoying her like crazy that it was time for us to go to bed. I was thirteen, my friends were two years older. Being sent to bed at eight o'clock was not exactly an idea guaranteed to meet with our approval. We protested as vigorously as we could, which wasn't very vigorously at all when it came to a 50 year old woman, who'd been dealing with boys for around 30 of those years, and she was adamant, and so reluctantly we headed up to our makeshift dormitory.
However, we didn't go to bed. We knew how things worked - there were understandings that operated in a boarding school - and one of those understandings was that if you didn't attract attention by not being in bed, the matron probably wouldn't make an issue of the fact that you weren't in bed. At least, that was how it worked in the upper forms - and technically speaking we'd now reached that stage. And with the general relaxation of discipline that was going on, we felt fairly secure. So we sat around and we talked and we started to get quite bored - this wasn't a proper dorm which had bookshelves, and cupboards with boardgames. It was a room lit by a single 40 watt globe, containing six camp beds, half a dozen very old wooden lockers (one of them, I swear, had initials carved in with the date 1897 next to them), and a table with two wash basins, and two jugs of water. I think it was probably around 9.30 or so, when we finally started to decide that maybe going to bed wasn't as bad an idea as it initially seemed. We were tired, and it was actually pretty cold up there as well. So we started getting ready for bed. Changed into our pyjamas, and headed over to the basins for necessary ablutions.
One of my friends, William Connolly was at one basin near the door, I was at the other, while behind us, others were changing. William poured some water into his basin, and swore as he dipped his hands in it.
I was contemptuous - William always complained about such things - "Don't be such a wet."
"I'll make you wet!" and he splashed water at me. I returned the favour. He then hurled a wet face cloth at me which I caught and I charged towards him intending to try and stuff it down his pyjama trousers. He took a step backwards and suddenly he was falling away from me, backwards down the narrow staircase. I overbalanced as I tried to grab him and went face down the same incline. We tumbled down the stairs, making a huge amount of noise. But there was worse to come.
At the bottom of the stairs - just near the door to the matrons office, we hit an obstacle quite hard. It began to roll away from us. I looked up and in absolute horror realised that we had fallen into a pram - and it was now rolling rapidly away from us towards another staircase.
Unbeknownst to us, the matrons daughters - who was actually married to one of the younger masters, had recently become a mother, and had brought her baby up to the house to visit grandma. I didn't know where this pram had come from. All I knew was that it was heading for a fall. We were on bare boards, I was wearing socks - my feet slipped as I half crawled after it. William was behind me now - I don't think he could see all that I could see. But I couldn't catch the pram - I was still a foot perhaps behind it when it reached the next stairs and started to fall. I was watching in horror - everything seemed to be in slow motion.
And at the bottom of the stairs just starting to come up them was a sixth form boy. A prefect - and he looked up and saw the pram rolling towards him, and I realised that he had plenty of time to stand firm and catch it.
Instead he watched it descend and just before it reached him, step aside and it sped past him, reaching the bottom of the stairs, flipping and spilling out its contents. Blankets - blankets only - no baby.
The prefect stood on the stairs - looked at the pram. Looked at me, and at William standing beside me - and in a loud whisper said 'Sprint'.
'Sprint' was a code word to us, part of our schools shared lexicon. And what it broadly meant was, "Get the hell out of here now, and I'll cover for you." Or when it came from a prefect, it really meant: "Go now before I see you."
We went. We turned, we ran. As I went past Matron's door - perhaps twenty seconds had passed since we first fell, perhaps less, I could footsteps and female voices and a baby crying coming from within. We hit the stairs, we charged up them, pushing one of our friends who was descending the stairs back and arrived in our room. Our friends all took a look out of our faces, and without any speech, we all hurled ourselves into bed, pulled up the blankets and tried to pretend we were asleep. Someone turned the light off. I've no idea who.
We could hear talking below. Matron's voice - and that of the prefect - but we couldn't make out the words. My heart was pounding, but I felt we probably had a fair chance of getting away with what had just happened. The prefect had told us to sprint - that meant he shouldn't report us. At worst, he might say that he'd seen someone - but he couldn't say who it was.
The conversation went on for a couple of minutes. And then it stopped. We heard matron's door close. And then we heard her steps on the stairs. The light came on and she was standing in the doorway. In her white starched dress, with a cane in her right hand.
Matrons were empowered to administer corporal punishment. In fact, their powers were equal to those of a Housemaster - they could even cane prefects. With younger boys, they often used less formal methods of corporal punishment - often simply an old fashioned spanking (often without benefit of clothing) - and they tended to use the cane fairly rarely. Being caned by a master, or a Captain, or even a mistress, was a routine matter, something you really tried to take in your stride. Being caned by the matron was oddly humiliating - I think partly because there was a real connotation between that happening and offences of hygiene or morality, but also because the matron was someone you knew was always on your side, and was always supposed to do what was best for you. They were... efficient ladies, but generally very kind when it was needed. Being caned by them... well, when that happened, you really had a sense that you'd done something very wrong indeed for the matron to be driven to such extreme measures. If she decided to thrash you, it was because she didn't think anything else would work with you - that wasn't really true, but it really did feel that way.
She stood there. Now when I'd jumped into bed it had been my intention to pretend I was asleep, but seeing her standing there with the cane put all thoughts of that out of my head. And I think the same was probably true for the others. When she spoke, her voice was icy calm.
"Who was it?"
Silence from the beds.
"Come on, own up."
"Do I need to cane all of you?"
I still lay there in silence. We had a code - it was clearly understood in cases like this that you didn't confess. In some ways that might seem odd, or even dishonourable - to put your friends at risk like that, but that is the way things worked. We knew that in these situations, there was some chance that nobody would be caned - and if it did happen, it was likely to be a fairly mild punishment. I think the general understanding came from the fact that we knew that two strokes of the cane wasn't too bad - but four was awful and six was hideous in the extreme. Taking two strokes ten times in a year for something you hadn't done, was fair payment for only getting two instead of six the time you were the guilty party. There was more to the understanding than just that - it was also clearly understood for example, that anyone in the room could say 'Fair go', and if anyone did that was a clear instruction to the guilty party to own up - and if he didn't, he was violating all our codes and traditions. And if someone said 'Fair go' nobody was allowed to hold it against them. The code of accepting shared punishment was a strictly voluntary one. But we nearly always followed it.
The code, by the way, changed at Fifth Form. In Fifth Form and Sixth Form, unless there was prior agreement (and there might be if somebody was likely to face very severe punishment) you bloody well owned up. But at fourth form, the old codes still applied. One for all, all for one.
She waited, and after about thirty seconds of silence, she spoke. "No real harm was done. The baby wasn't in the pram. Now is anyone going to own up, or not?"
"Rysher, get out of bed."
I pushed back the blankets and stood up. I was wearing striped flannel pyjamas and I felt very cold indeed. I walked into the space between the basins and the beds, and stood there with my hands at my side. She used the cane to point at my feet.
"Take off your socks. You know you don't wear socks in bed."
I did as I was told.
"Now bend over and put your hands on the bed."
I slowly bent over, shivering, and trying to convince myself that it was only the cold that was making me shiver. Matron stepped up behind me and I felt her lift the shirt tails of my pyjama shirt up and fold them over the small of my back. I then felt her hand in the waistband of my pyjama trousers and thought with horror that she was going to pull them down - I had been spanked on the bare backside by one of the Matrons a couple of times, but as far as I knew they were not permitted to flog boys - the power of bare backside canings being reserved to the Headmaster and his Deputy. But, frankly, if she decided to pull my pants down, I was not going to object. I would just have to accept it, even though the idea was inspiring genuine horror in me. I'm not sure why that was so. Matrons had seen me naked, dozens - maybe hundred of times - by this stage of my schooling and they'd see me that way dozens more, so it wasn't the nudity involved. And I'd been flogged twice before and while the fear of that happening again was something that inspired feelings of terror I really couldn't begin to describe, that was terror - not horror. There was a distinction.
But instead of pulling my pyjama trousers down, she pulled them out for a second, so she could see inside - presumably to check for underpants (we weren't allowed to wear socks or underpants in bed) and then she pulled them up. Up as tight as she could, between my legs. Then when she'd done this, she stepped back and I felt the cane laid across my bottom. She tapped my tiny, vulnerable bottom with the cane seven or eight times before there was a slightly longer gap than normal and I felt myself pushed forward as my buttocks exploded in blazing pain. I burst into tears instantly, much to my shame - one stroke shouldn't have made me cry like that, but it did. Then there was a tap, tap, tapping again, as she seemed to be tapping, just gently, the exact same spot as the previous stroke had landed. Nine or ten taps it seemed this time, then the pause and another explosion of pain twice as bad as the previous one. I saw stars, and my legs buckled.
I did as I was ordered, and the tap tap tap came again. I'd hoped I was only getting two. That was quite common for whole dormitory punishments. But again, ten or so taps, and another agonizing stroke. My hand left the bed for a moment, seeking to try and cover my bottom, but I gained control and smashed it back down. I'd seen a friends hand when it had got in the way of a stroke, and I did not want that to happen to me.
Tap. Tap. Tap. With new degrees of horror, I suddenly realised that my bladder was full. I hadn't noticed before, but I was noticing now - and I was absolutely mortified at the fear that I might wet myself. I stood there bent wondering what I should do. Should I tell the Matron? But I couldn't. It would be humiliating to have to tell her that. But even more humiliating if I lost control. I only had seconds to debate it before the fourth stroke fell. Four! Four strokes in a whole dormitory punishment! I was feeling this was truly excessive, and if I'd known that was coming I'd have owned up - the code was based on our assumption that a whole dorm punishment would be fairly mild - this wasn't. Four strokes was...
Oh god, tap, tap, tap. She was still going. I couldn't believe it. Five?!? There was the pause and I braced myself for the blow.
I stood up and one hand flew around to cover my stinging bottom. The other I realised was clutching at my front. I was sobbing, and hyperventilating, and I realised I needed to urinate like I never had before. I had to tell her. My brain sought the phrases to inform her of my need in the most mature, least embarrassing fashion possible, and I spoke.
"I need to wee."
"Oh, for goodness sake." She dropped the cane next to the basins, grabbed the hand that was now clutching my bottom and lead me downstairs by the hand. When we got to her door, she opened it and lead me in - past her daughter who was sitting on a couch and who stared at me as I passed, and into a bathroom, with a toilet in one corner.
I stepped up to the bowl and did what I needed to do. I think she turned away, but I was beyond caring. When I'd finished, I turned back and headed towards the door.
"Wash your hands!"
I did as I was told. When I was finished, she took me by the hand and lead me back upstairs.
"Get into bed. Connolly get out of bed. And do you need to use the toilet?" Everybody was really silent now as Connolly shook his head. The code committed us to a whole dormitory caning and what I'd just received was more severe that I think any of us had expected. The only noise as I got into bed were my own sobs.
I looked up and saw William was already bent over, she'd already tugged his shirt clear and again she took a quick look inside his pants and then pulled them up as high as they could go. I didn't see him caned, and I barely heard it. I pulled the blankets over my head and wrapped my pillow around my head to block out the noise. I still heard something - some muffled crying, and four good strokes. And then I heard her tell him to get into bed, and she walked down the stairs.
Only William and I had been caned. Only the two guilty boys.
That bastard of a prefect had sold us out. He'd broken our code. Now, there were some prefects who if this had happened, you would assume had been left with absolutely no choice. If the Matron had insisted he answer, he would have had a very hard time not naming us, and that could have happened.
But with this fellow... no benefit of the doubt. He was the type you could easily believe had sold you out.
The following morning, around seven, the Matron returned to our room. She made William and I show her our bottoms - she was rather decorous about it - made us expose just enough so she could see the damage she'd inflicted. Generally Matrons took a rather strenuous approach to these things - made you drop your trousers to your ankles just to remind you of the power they had to give you orders. I guess she'd already convinced us she had all the power she needed.
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