School CaningsAt my school the most serious punishment, short of being expelled, was a “school caning” which was done in public in the hall in front of the entire school in a specially held assembly.
These punishments were very exceptional and I only remember it happening three times in the seven years I was at the school.
I never got it myself but a boy in my class who was a friend of mine got it when we were in the third year and it was even more scary and yet fascinating to watch when it was someone I knew well getting it.
He was caned together with another boy in the fourth year for bullying, which was always in theory treated very seriously though most cases actually went without any punishment. The thing was that originally John, my friend, had himself been bullied by Derek, the boy in the year above us. He had managed to get on Derek’s good side by sometimes helping him when he picked on younger boys and unfortunately for him this one first year boy told his mum and she complained to the school and the first year was able to identify Derek and John as two of the boys who’d been bullying him.
I first knew John was in some sort of trouble when the secretary came into the class one morning and spoke to the teacher and John had to go with her to the headmaster. This was quite unexpected as he was one of the better behaved boys in the class and didn’t normally get into serious trouble. Nevertheless, a summons to the head’s office like that could only mean one thing and I expected that John would soon be coming back and carefully sitting down on a very sore backside.
In fact, he didn’t come back until half way through the next lesson and. Although he looked really unhappy and near tears, I wasn’t quite sure if he’d been caned as he was walking normally and sat down without any obvious discomfort.
During dinner hour I asked him what it was all about and he told me about the first year boy and his bullying. He admitted he had been involved but said there’d also been two other boys from Derek’s class who the first year hadn’t named. He knew John because they both went to the same church group.
He told me that the headmaster had said that he and Derek would both get a school caning. He was very scared. He’d had the cane once before – along with me, actually – but that had only been 3 strokes and in private. School canings were always at least 6 strokes and everyone in the school would see you get it.
We’d both only seen one school caning before when we were in the first year and a fifth year boy had got it. I’m not sure what he’d done but I don’t think it was bullying. It had been terrifying to watch and it was obvious that the head was trying to make sure that each stroke hurt as much as possible. That fifth form boy had seemed a big lad, especially to us new boys in the first year, but it was quite obvious that the caning really hurt. Now John was going to be in that fifth year’s position.
After the register was called at the start of afternoon school our form master announced that there was going to be a special assembly straight after afternoon break and also that John was going to be taking a starring role and how disgraceful this was for him and the whole class. Poor John wriggled in his seat next to me. His face was bright red and he still looked close to tears, as he had done since he’d returned to the class that morning.
At the end of break John didn’t line up with the rest of us as he and Derek had been told to go straight to the hall. I wished him good luck and told him he would be all right. I was really upset for him but I couldn’t help part of me somehow looking forward to watching the canings. It had really been terrifying at 11 but now I was a couple of years older and had felt the cane myself I thought it would be less frightening to watch – though I’d have hated to have been in John’s situation.
While the rest of us were lining up John (who told me about the procedure later) and Derek had to report to the head prefect in the hall. He took them up to the wings of the stage and made them both lower their trousers to check that they weren’t wearing an extra pair of pants or any “padding”. The head had told John that this was going to happen and he had told me how much he hated the idea of this humiliation. Then, when they pulled their trousers up, they had to keep their shirt loose for the head to turn out of the way later on. They also had to leave their jackets there to pick up later.
Once this was done the head prefect kept them waiting there with their hands on their heads.
Meanwhile we were lining up and filing class by class into the hall. The younger boys sat nearest the front so I was about half way back. Most of the teachers came back in with their class and stood by the side walls. Just like the normal morning assemblies there was a small table on the stage for the headmaster to sit behind, together with the two deputies. Behind that there were two rows of chairs for the other teachers. There a wooden school chair to the left of the table towards the left hand side of the stage as we looked, which was the only difference to usual.
When all the classes had filed in and sat down the rest of the teachers came in and walked on stage to their seats behind the table. Finally, the headmaster, Mr Wainwright, and the deputies came on from the opposite wing to that where John and Derek were and we all had to stand up until the headmaster told us to sit down. He had a nasty looking cane in his hand and he put it down on the table.
Most of the school – everyone except the boys in my class and Derek’s class and the teachers probably – still didn’t know what going on and why there was a special assembly. So the head went to the front of the stage and gave a speech about not allowing bullies in his school and coming down hard whenever there was any bullying. He hoped that seeing what happened to bullies would ensure that none of the rest of us were ever tempted to bully anyone.
Then he signalled to the head prefect who marched the two boys onto the stage. They had to stand with their hands on their heads at the back of the stage behind the chair, shirttails hanging out, while the headmaster continued a diatribe addressed half to Derek and John and half to the school as a whole. John was trembling and had already started to cry quietly but Derek managed to stand to attention just staring ahead and apparently taking no notice of the head’s words.
When he had finally ended his speech he called John to the front of the stage next to him and he had to say his name and form and what he’d done and apologise to the first year boy (who must have been sitting in the front row) and to the whole school. Poor John! Everyone could see he was crying now and he was obviously completely ashamed and humiliated as well as very scared about his imminent caning. He stopped a couple of times shamefaced as he said what he’d done but the headmaster made him carry on.
Then John had to go and stand behind the chair (so a few feet in front of Derek) and bend over it with his hands on the seat. We could see his face, though it was partly hidden by the wooden back of the chair. Mr Wainwright picked up his cane from the table and walked over to where John was. He was not satisfied with his position at first and made him move a bit until he was satisfied.
Then there was a pause as we all waited for what was coming next and the head lifted up the cane to his shoulder and really whacked it down hard across John’s stretched trouser seat. There was absolute silence in the hall and the noise of the swish and the impact was frighteningly loud. John stayed in position bent over the chair but his body and head jerked up and I saw his eyes wide open.
He gasped loudly as the pain bit in and again at the next stroke and the chair jiggled on the stage as he tried to keep in position despite the force of the strokes. But from the third stroke onwards he yelled loudly at each stroke and now he was sobbing openly.
Each stroke seemed harder than the last one and John couldn’t help standing up after the fifth stroke and dancing in agony on the stage with his hands pressed to his bum. Mr Wainwright gave him no time, however, but roughly pushed him down again over the chair, pulled his shirt up again, and warned him that if he didn’t stay in place there would be extra.
The next stroke was the last and John remained in position bending over the chair and sobbing until the head let him know it was time to stand up by roughly tweaking his ear (a nasty habit of Mr Wainwright’s that I’d experienced myself).
Then John had to resume his former position with his hands on head beside Derek and Derek had to walk forward and tell the school what he’d done and then go and bend over the chair.
He took his caning better than John at first, though I could see he was crying by the sixth stroke, but the head had a surprise in store for him. As the “ringleader” and being from a higher form he got eight strokes and the head really laid the last two strokes on hard. Derek too was sobbing by the time the whacking was over.
Derek then went and stood hands on head next to John and the head made John walk forward again - and I could see and imagine how it must hurt for him to walk – to the centre of the stage to apologise. His voice came out all high pitched and squeaky, obviously a mix of the humiliation and the pain. Then John, in turn, apologised to the school and the ceremony was at an end.
The two boys, still crying, stood wriggling in the centre of the stage as the head dismissed the school and the classes filed off one by one.
It wasn’t until ten minutes into the next lesson (already cut short by the impromptu assembly) that John knocked at the door, accompanied by the head prefect who had escorted him back.
The one other “school caning” I witnessed took place when I was in the Lower Sixth and was of a second year boy for hitting a teacher with a chair!