Having seen Fowles and Claridge caned by the brigadier, my friends and I knew that the stories we had heard about him were almost certainly true, though none of us had fallen foul of him personally in our first two years at the school. But this could not last for ever. In the showers after games we had seen the marks left by his beatings on the bottoms of boys just a little older than us and our initiation could not be delayed long.
There were two kinds of beating handed out by the brigadier. One, the less serious, was done up in the dormitory with all the other boys watching. For this the victim had to strip off and lie down across the gap between two beds, like Fowles and Claridge had done, and the brigadier beat his bare bottom with one of his collection of whacking instruments. The more serious kind of beating was done with a cane in his study.
My first taste of the brigadier's discipline came when I, together with Studland and Davidson, were caught going in to the village without permission, when our form had been ordered to spend the valuable time between lessons and tea weeding matron's garden. The brigadier looked sorrowfully at us over his glasses and announced that he would be visiting our dorm that evening to exact retribution. We spent an uncomfortable evening during which all our friends pretended to be really sorry that we were going to be whipped, but really they were getting more and more excited about it.
Ten minutes before lights out we were all in bed when the brigadier appeared in the doorway. My heart leapt towards my throat and I saw with dismay that he was carrying a short leather strap.
"Davidson, England and Studland – out of bed." The three of us climbed out of bed. My throat had gone dry and my knees felt unsafe. "Pyjamas off, boys, please." With panic mounting in my chest, I undressed and stood there, stark naked, hoping and praying that I wasn't going to cry. Calmly, the brigadier chose the two beds we would lie across and summoned the rest of the dorm to get a better view of the punishment. "Davidson first," he said. "Always in alphabetical order." And the bastard grinned at all of us.
Davidson stepped forward to the beds and lay down across the gap the way we had seen Fowles and Claridge do it. "Who wants to hold him?" There was no shortage of volunteers and within a minute Davidson was spread-eagled with his tiny white buttocks helplessly presented for the lashing of the strap. The brigadier lay the business end across the target area. I could see that the actual strap was little more than a foot long but it was mounted on an old cricket bat handle. It was about two inches wide and looked thick and heavy. Slowly the brigadier raised it into the air till it was poised behind his head. Suddenly he brought it thrashing down, putting the weight of his shoulder behind it. It slapped down across Davidson's bottom with an almighty THWACK! and he yelled. Across the white of his skin was a wide red stripe. The second landed on the same area and he yelled again. He yelled louder and louder as each of the six blows of the strap was administered. The last two were the hardest and he writhed in the hands of the boys holding him to try to escape the terrible strap, but they held him too tightly and it lashed down again and again on the same tenderised area. When he was released he fell to his knees between the two beds, clutching feebly at his rear end and falling over before he could get to his feet. He was very close to tears.
"You next, England."
I stepped forward, scarcely conscious of what I was doing. My mouth had gone completely dry and I thought my tongue was going to stick to the roof of my mouth. I climbed awkwardly on the beds and four different boys took my wrists and ankles and pulled me tight. Stretched like this I felt terribly helpless and exposed. My legs were pulled apart and I felt as though everyone in the room could see my prick, which I was very aware of hanging down into empty air. I felt the strap resting on my bottom but then it was taken away and I held my breath and closed my eyes. Each stroke was like an explosion going off in the muscles of my backside. It hurt unbelievably and I had no idea whether I was yelling or not, though there seemed to be cries of agony coming from somewhere. It seemed to last a very long time and I lost all count of how many times the strap hit me. I didn't hear the brigadier telling me to get up, but my arms and legs were released and I could collapse to the floor and then scramble somehow to my feet. It seemed as though the whole of the lower half of my body was composed of the pain made by the strap.
I staggered back to where Davidson was still writhing in agony, his hands clamped to his behind. The pair of us tried to grin about it but the agony was too great. We heard the slaps of the strap across Studland's bottom and his screams, but took no notice.
Then the beating was over. Before he left the brigadier made the three of us stand in a line and touch our toes so that the whole dorm could see and learn from the terrible bruises and weals across our bottoms. I was past feeling any embarrassment at this display and was just thankful to climb into bed, still naked, when he had gone, lying on my belly and rubbing hard at the appalling pain. I felt as though there were great burning globes of fire stuck to my buttocks. I knew that I had deserved a beating but I'd had no idea that it could hurt so much. An hour later it had begun to diminish a little into the pleasant heat that was always the aftermath of a beating. The rest of the dorm was asleep but I couldn't possibly. I turned on to my side. By the light of the lamp in the corridor I could see that Davidson too was still awake.
"Davidson," I whispered. "You awake?"
"Come and get in with me."
Silently Davidson climbed out of bed and crossed to my bed. I let him snuggle down beside me. For half and hour we lay with our arms round each other rubbing at each other's bums, and the human contact somehow made the fearful pain a little better. We fell asleep in each other's arms.
But two days later I was beaten by the brigadier again. And this time it was a caning that was to change the whole course of my life.
Up to now the brigadier had overlooked our form. We obviously didn't seem to be a major problem so he let our lives take their natural courses. But now we had captured his attention.
"Please, sir, the brigadier wants to see England in his study. Right away."
My heart pounded. The memory of the strap was too fresh in my mind to take such a summons lightly. Regrettably, the bruises, which had been spectacular the morning after, were already badly faded. But the thought of further punishment from the brigadier was very terrible. I knocked on the study door and heard the brigadier shout, "Come in." I stood in front of the great desk where he was sitting writing something.
"You sent for me, sir."
"Yes, England. How do you think you're getting on here?"
"Pardon, sir." My fear was making me react slowly and my ears didn't seem to be working properly.
"How well are you working at your studies and things like that?"
"Oh." I knew I wasn't working well at all, but I didn't know what to say.
"Not very well, sir." I'd decided to see whether honesty might work best.
"In fact, would you say, very poorly?"
"Oh no, sir." The brigadier raised his eyebrows and glared at me. That was obviously the wrong answer. "Yes, sir."
"Four of the masters complain of your lack of effort, though not lack of intelligence, and the record shows that you have been caned more often than any other boy in your form. What have you to say about that?"
I didn't know what to say. I would have thought that Studland, at least, would have had the cane more often than me. But part of me still thought that I was going to get out of there with just a warning of punishment to come if I didn't pull my socks up.
"I'm very sorry, sir."
"You will be, England, because I intend to apply a little medicine to your backside with my cane."
"Oh sir," I couldn't help calling out. It was like a kick to my heart. "I'll try harder, sir. I won't be a nuisance any more. I'll work hard. You don't need to cane me, sir."
"It seems to me, England, that I would be failing in my duty if I didn't give you the most thorough thrashing. Would your uncle thank me if I allowed you to continue in your wastrel ways?"
Suddenly, I hated him for bringing my uncle into it. But I still had half a hope that I could talk my way out of what was coming. "Oh, please, sir. Don't cane me, please. I'll be good from now on."
"Empty words, England. The time has come for action." He stood up and in his hand was a cane, the same cane, I had time to see, that he had used on Fowles and Claridge. "You have a great many offences to pay for, England, and no doubt many misdeeds that until now you have got away with. This is the payment time. When I have finished with you, you can face the future with a clean sheet. Then will be the time for promises of good behaviour. Remove your jacket."
"Oh please don't beat me, sir." I tried one last appeal as I removed my jacket. But I knew that it was useless. No matter what I said he was determined to whip me and my helplessness in the face of that made me so angry that there was a kind of red mist in front of my eyes. But, strangely, I was in control of myself at the same time. In that second I made a vow that I would not cry out under his cane, no matter how hard he hit me, and that I would never squeal for a beating, ever again.
He led me to a low armchair, angled so that he could get the best swing of the cane. I was made to kneel in the chair.
"Lower your trousers and drawers." My jaw was clamped shut so tightly that it hurt as I unhooked my belt, pushed down my trousers and then followed them with my underpants. I had been a bad boy, there was no doubt of it, but this was terribly unjust. I was on fire with rage and indignation that this man was going to treat me so cruelly, but also because there was nothing I could do about it. "Now bend right over the back of the chair and hold the rail tightly." I lowered myself over the chairback where, I noticed, a towel had been draped, and I had time to realise that that was there in case I pissed myself, which made my anger even fiercer. The rail was down near the floor and I had to stretch to reach it. My backside was up in the air and stretched open so that the cane would hurt as much as possible. Breathing was now quite hard.
Briskly he hoisted my shirt so that my rear end was fully exposed. I'm sure that he thought that what he was about to do was the right, the best, the only course with an idle, mischievous boy like me. I heard him whip the cane through the air to loosen his arm and then I felt its cool smoothness touching my skin, taking aim, letting me know where it was going to land.
"This is going to hurt a good deal, England. I expect you to hold still for your punishment and to take it as bravely as you can. Don't get up till I tell you."
It was a terrible whipping, but every stroke blasted the lesson into my buttocks. If I were determined enough, and hard enough inside, it wouldn't matter how cruelly I was whipped; in the end it would me that won. In the months that followed I saw many boys whipped, and most of them yelled and howled, but I had made my decision. It was only pain and I would withstand it. Every stroke was worse than the one before. I could hear his boots thudding on the carpet as he tried to make me squeal. And it was desperately hard. My flesh was screaming and in my head the explosions of pain were echoed by blasts of rage, but by the sixth and worst stroke there was something in the centre of my being as hard as a diamond that nothing he could do would ever make a difference to.
"Get up." I hauled myself upright and climbed off the chair. I didn't clap my hands to my bum as boys usually did after a caning, and as I had done myself often enough. I just stood there looking at him, waiting for the order to get dressed. He looked nonplussed. What was he going to do now? He had done his worst and I had come out on top. "Dress, please." I stooped and pulled up my pants and then my trousers, fastened them and stood waiting to be dismissed. He had gone round his desk and was sitting there. He obviously thought that he had regained the power.
"I hope this has been a lesson to you, England."
"Very well. Return to your lesson. And send Gregg down to me."
I limped across the yard and along the corridor to my classroom. My bottom felt like several explosions had gone off in my trousers. It was as though two huge globes of burning pain had got stuck inside my pants and couldn't be shaken off. More importantly my mind was churning. I hadn't deserved a whipping like that, but that hadn't saved me. There was no point in working hard and keeping to all the hundreds of stupid rules and conventions if I ended up stretched over the brigadier's chair with my arse in the air anyway. I was resolved that from now on things were going to be different.
When I went back into the room all the boys looked at me. Mr Evans stopped what he was doing at the blackboard.
"Welcome back, England. And how are we feeling, eh?"
"Can I stand up for the rest of the lesson, sir?" There was a roar of laughter and I grinned at the class. "Oh, and, please, sir, the brigadier wants to see Gregg." The laughter died and Gregg left the room, white-faced.
When Gregg returned it looked as though he had been crying. And then, in succession, Davidson, Jobson, Laing, Springer and Studland were sent for and severely caned on their naked bottoms. The brigadier had taken action and nearly half the form had been purged. At lunchtime, we all had to display our wounds to the rest of the form who appraised the dark, swollen weals, so exactly placed across our tight little bums with horrified fascination. My stripes were to last three weeks, but by then they had been over-written several times with other, less severe bruises.
And now I felt as though my life was transformed. Masters continued to rule our lives with their canes. Every day at least one boy was beaten. Two or three times a week I was caned, but it was no punishment because I took no notice of it. I would touch my toes or bend over a desk or a chair and the cane would slash down across the seat of my trousers, or my pants if I'd been ordered to let down my trousers. I never cried out or gave any other sign that it had hurt, though when I inspected my rear end in the mirror after games my bottom was frequently covered in multi-coloured lines of bruise. I took no part in the endless discussions the others had about the various characteristics of the canes we were beaten with and the different shades of pain each master inflicted. I would show the wounds across my bottom if there was anything special to show, but I wouldn't join in the detailed pawing of each other that some of the others went in for.
I am always amazed now when people say what a good deterrent corporal punishment is. I was beaten more than most boys of my age, but it never stopped me from even the most minor or pointless piece of misbehaviour, and I certainly didn't improve my work for fear of a caning.
And now the brigadier was a much greater factor in our lives. By Easter, every boy in the form had experienced one of his beatings. One or two had been beaten half a dozen times. No one came close to my record of nine beatings by the brigadier and two from Mr Stirling, who also caned on the naked buttocks when the brigadier was away.
My report at the end of the year was very poor but my uncle did no more than express his usual absent-minded disappointment and chuckle at me.
The next year began as the old one ended. Davidson and I were reported to the brigadier for messing about on the train. The penalty was nine strokes of the cane that left us unable to sit down for the whole of the following day.
Along with Cox, Jobson, Springer and Thompson, I went swimming in the old quarry about a mile from the school. Of course, we knew that it was forbidden even to go near the place. One by one, we were stretched over the usual two beds while eight strokes with a small riding crop were applied to our bare bottoms.
I was caught coming out of matron's garden with my pockets full of conkers. The garden was out of bounds and conkers were forbidden. The brigadier gave me six of the strap for being in matron's garden and followed it immediately with six of the riding crop for the conkers.
I got at Mason by putting a large dog turd in one of his shoes. The penalty for that was a dozen with the brigadier's special beater. This was like a strap made out of plaited rattan cane about a foot long and three inches wide. It left the whole of my backside covered in intricate criss-cross weals.
I brought a stray dog into the school and kept it hidden in the boot room for nearly a week. I thought it was hugely unfair to beat me for that. He did it with a cricket bat – on my bare bum, of course.
Davidson and Studland dared me to climb on to the school roof and carve my initials on the turret over the dining hall. We had been reading Tom Brown's Schooldays and thought it would be a terrific wheeze. All three of us got a dozen with the cane.
With Laing and Springer I tried to light a small campfire behind the cricket pavilion and Mr Stirling gave all three of us ten strokes of the cane. The brigadier returned the next day and decided that we should all be whipped a second time.
On April 1st I accidentally started a wave of April Fool's jokes that got completely out of hand. The brigadier came to the dorm that night and whipped all eighteen of us with his riding crop. The four 'ring-leaders' – the usual four, Davidson, me, Laing and Studland – were marched down to his study, still stark naked, and given another six strokes with the cane.
One Sunday, I, together with Gregg and Cox, didn't return to school after our Sunday afternoon walk. It was a nice day and we had found a good place to play and we simply failed to notice the time. The brigadier and four other masters were scouring the countryside for us before we turned up wondering what all the fuss was about. One by one, we were put over the back of the brigadier's armchair with our pants round our knees and a dozen strokes of the cane were stingingly applied to our bare bottoms.
And all this while I was being regularly caned by the masters. At least twice a week and often more, my work – or lack of it – earned me a swishing. I loved games and PT but very often I found myself hanging from the meat rack with Mr Poole's paddle slapping my naked rump. My backside was constantly striped and bruised to the point where it no longer bothered me.
But it bothered me a lot when I was expelled.
The triggering event was another fire, this time in a patch of rough woodland at the far end of the school grounds. But really it was a combination of the naughtiness that could not be beaten out of me and my lack of progress in my studies. My uncle was summoned and the interview in the brigadier's study was painful. I could not look at the pained and uncomprehending expression in Uncle Philip's eyes. I found myself struggling not to cry.
"And now," said the brigadier, "your uncle and I are agreed that you should be whipped before he removes you from my school. Get ready, please."
Shaking, I removed my jacket, knelt on the chair, lowered my trousers and pants and bent over. My eyes overflowed and I was sobbing long before the first stroke of the cane ripped into my bottom. The shame that I felt because Uncle Philip was seeing me whipped in this humiliating way knew no bounds. And you can imagine how much worse this was after the vow I had made with myself never to cry for a beating again.
It was a monumental thrashing. After fifteen strokes, I heard my uncle say something and it stopped. I couldn't move and had to be helped upright and then my uncle had to help me to fasten my trousers. And then I was on my painful way home. The school was no more.
The worst part of the whole affair was to see my uncle on the verge of tears at the witnessing of my disgrace. It was as bad as it could be, but then Uncle Philip made it worse still.
"I am extremely disappointed, Steven, that you have brought this disgrace upon yourself. But now we must decide what is to be done with you. You must go to school, but where? I must think what your poor father would have wanted. Your grandfather didn't go to a good school as you have done, and as I and your father did. He attended the local elementary school and worked his way up from there. And that is what you are going to have to do. You will start at the elementary school on Monday."
If he had whipped me or punished me in any other way, I would have borne it. I was not even sorry about having to go to school with Daniel and the other estate workers' sons. But his sorrow, his embarrassment, his shame was too much. I went to bed, not even bothering to examine my stripes in the mirror. I lay there in the darkness and howled silently into my pillow. I was twelve years old.