It took a little while for my father to persuade a headmaster to take me, but eventually, on the strength of his status as a minor national hero, I was admitted and despatched to Drew's College with my trunk full of unfamiliar uniform and books. The first person I came across was Davidson, my old prep school companion, whom I met on the train. When I heard that Studland and Laing were also at Drew's and that the whole gang was now reconstituted, along with Springer and Gregg and some others, I was in two minds. On the one hand it was wonderful to be reunited with old friends, but on the other it was ominous, in that I had hoped to start afresh and now my reputation would inevitably spread and be known by everyone. Even worse was the news that Fowles was also at the school and, worse still, a prefect.
The headmaster sent for me almost as soon as I arrived. I expected a lecture along the lines of 'step-out-of-line-and-I'll-lash-your-arse-for-you-laddy.' Instead, I was invited to sit in a large armchair while the head sat opposite me and allowed me to examine him. He was a tall, cheerful-looking man, who had clearly been a rugby player until quite recently and still looked fit and strong. He wore a clerical collar. Glancing round the room, I noticed a single cane standing in an umbrella stand beside the fireplace. 'Well, I've never been beaten by a vicar before,' I thought.
"I hear you've had rather a rough time."
"Now tell me. Your father has told me where you've been and so on, but he wasn't able to tell me to what extent you deserved the punishment you received. Do you believe that you were treated justly?"
"No, sir." I had been able to contemplate this question long and hard, and being the boy I was I was not going to shirk the reflections involved, but I knew the answer. "I deserved to be punished, but not so severely. Maybe I should have been birched and locked up for a month or two, like my friends, but the training ship was too much."
"And the life there was pretty tough, I imagine."
"Well – all that's over now. And I sense that you bear no bitterness for what has happened."
"I don't think so, sir."
"Do you think that in any way at all you have benefited from it?"
This one surprised me. It had never occurred to me that I might now be a better person than the one who went into the training ship. "Yes, sir. I'm much stronger and tougher, obviously. But also – I don't know how to describe it – more determined."
"Good. You will be anxious, I dare say, about the regime here. I try not to punish boys at all, but of course, as you know, from time to time, nothing else will do. If boys are sent up to me they receive a caning over the bare breech. Masters have canes, I believe, but very rarely, if ever, use them. Prefects are entitled to beat you, but not remove any clothing to be beaten. I understand that many canings are done in pyjamas. It's my belief, however, that corporal punishment is rare, compared with other schools. I believe I can understand how you must be feeling at this moment. Can you be contented here, do you think?"
He smiled at me so frankly that I could do nothing but say, Yes, and the relief flooding through me made me really believe that I could. And, in fact, over the next month I came as close to real happiness as I had been for many years. I renewed my friendship with Davidson, Studland and Laing, and made friends with another boy called Scott, who had been a member of our group and often messed with us at tea-time. Coming to the school a year and a half later than the rest, I avoided having to fag for a prefect, and seeing the wretched life that some of them lived I was very grateful for it.
I had only one fight, with a boy called Berman, who tried to take a very high-handed line with me. Despite him being a year older and quite a bit heavier it wasn't really an even contest. He didn't land a blow on me and, since I saw no need to conceal the fight from those in authority, I left him with a badly blacked eye, a split lip and nose that would never again be quite straight. My friends admired my victory and treated me to a feast at the tuck shop, but I could see that they were secretly appalled by the single-minded efficiency with which I had beaten Berman's face to a pulp. No one in authority even asked Berman how he came by his injuries and he certainly never complained. Nevertheless, I determined to myself that I would never again get involved in any such business.
Lessons were hard to begin with. I had missed a great deal of the kind of education that the other boys had had and now I found myself struggling along behind them. I asked the masters for help in catching up and they gladly gave it. I worked hard and by the end of the month was working more or less at the same level as the rest of the form. I approached rugby in the same spirit as my fight with Berman. The others were a bit overawed by my ruthless tackling and single-minded running. The master in charge took me aside and told me to take it easy till I was facing a real opponent. I was in the Colts team straight away, even though I was a bit hazy about the rules.
I thought about Martha every day, but tried hard to put all thoughts of _s_e_x_ out of my head. That was impossible, but there was nothing for it but to content myself with wanking. In the dormitory, after the lights were put out, there was a fair amount of to-ing and fro-ing between beds as boys lay together and explored each other's bodies. I wanted nothing to do with this. I was entertained, however, when about eight boys had a wanking race, and the second time it was done I joined in and carried off the prize by shooting my sperm into a handkerchief a full twenty seconds before Scotty, who had won the first time.
I was busy and very nearly happy. It wanted only the warmth and wet of Martha's cunt to make me believe I was in paradise. In the whole month not a single boy in my form had been caned. It was now nearly three months since the last time Ronson had laid the strap across my backside – the longest I had gone without a beating of any sort since I was seven years old – and nearer six since my last caning over the gun. My friends told me of canings they had received in the past. Only Scotty had been caned by the headmaster – six strokes on his bare bottom – and he readily admitted that he had deserved it.
There was only one dark note, and that was Fowles, the prefect who had obviously not forgotten how my friends and I had been party to the flogging he received for bullying. When he was appointed head prefect he lost no time in visiting the sporting shop in town and buying a brand new cane. He couldn't wait for an opportunity to get his revenge. He remembered the times when he had beaten us on our bare bottoms with a gymshoe and he had clearly convinced himself that we needed more beating and that he was the man to provide it.
His fag was a young lad called Thompson whose trim little backside provided the ideal test bed for the new cane. After half a dozen experimental beatings Fowles was confident that he could administer six strokes of the cane with a run up, landing them all across more or less the same line and producing very satisfactory yells of pain from Thompson.
But he had to be patient. I did my very best to be a model pupil and kept out trouble for several weeks. Other boys transgressed, were caught and caned, and all of them reported that Fowles's beatings were just about the worst going, apart from the headmaster's, and the evidence across their bums proved it. Meanwhile Davidson and I either kept away from trouble, or we were very lucky.
Fowles found some excuse to beat Laing and when he came back up to the dorm and dropped his trousers, we were all amazed at the viciousness of the dark weals that the cane had left across his slim backside. Studland and Scott too were beaten, together with some lads called Barstow, Andrews and Gregg. The lower half of their bottoms were a mass of dark stripes, overlapping and swollen, so that sitting down was a nightmare for the rest of the week.
I had guessed that it was me that he was out to get, but I said nothing to the rest, and I knew that sooner or later he would get what he wanted because, even at this school, if a prefect or master was determined to victimise a particular boy it could be done with little difficulty. Twice I had a narrow escape, but the third time there was no avoiding it. Davidson and I went into town without permission and, as bad luck would have it, Fowles was on duty. Some prefects would have let us off with a few lines, but Fowles was out for blood.
We were caned immediately, which meant at least that we were fully clothed. Davidson went first while I stood by the door. Fowles had placed two chairs back to back and we had to kneel on one and bend over the backs. The others had all reported that this was his method of working – and no one liked it. Davidson pulled his shirt out of his trousers as Fowles commanded and then placed himself over the chairs. His bottom was small and tightly muscled and the cloth of his trousers was pulled smooth. Fowles took aim and landed four good strokes across the lower half of both buttocks. It was obvious that all his practice had made him a very proficient wielder of the cane and that even four strokes was not going to be a picnic. Davidson tried to grin at me as he climbed down but it was clear from his face that it had hurt a good deal.
I took his place over the chairs. At first I just rested on the farther chair with my arms straight, but he took that to be 'insolence' and added two strokes to my tariff. I had to fold my arms and rest right over on my elbows. I reflected that this was an ingenious way of obtaining the best bending position. My trousers felt tight and I could feel the end of the cane touching me as he took aim. He did his best to made the six strokes the worst he could. He put every ounce of strength behind the cane – and his strength was considerable – and lashed it down as fast as he could. The pain was vicious and penetrating, but not in the same league as one of the bo'sun's floggings over the gun, and my long practice enabled me to take the beating in silence, though inwardly I was screaming.
Afterwards, we went to the study we shared with Laing to examine our rear ends. The weals were swollen and extremely tender, but bearable. All day as I sat in lessons I could feel them pressing against the seat and the sensation brought back memories of all the times I had sat in a classroom with my backside throbbing.
As luck would have it the day was to finish with another beating. It was a boy called Selwyn's birthday and the dormitory celebrated in the usual way – by holding him down and smearing his genitals with boot polish. Sometimes prefects ignored this kind of thing, but on other occasions they caned everyone involved. This time, Fowles, with two other prefects called Standbrook and Berry came in and announced that the whole dorm – fifteen boys, including Selwyn – would be caned.
"And given the nature of the offence," said Fowles, leering at me in his horrible way, "you can have the choice of taking ten strokes with pyjamas on or five on the bare arse. If you're going to take five, strip off your pyjamas."
I knew what he wanted and if I'd been on my own I'd have chosen ten just to foil his plans. But the others knew about such 'bargains' even if they'd never had to make the choice and now they all started pulling off their pyjamas and I had to follow suit. Stark naked and shivering we were made to line up on the landing outside the washroom in alphabetical order. One by one boys started going in and got the cane over a pair of chairs, most of them wailing terribly as it sliced into their unprotected bottoms. The prefects actually took it in turns to wield the cane, but there was little difference in the severity of caning that resulted.
When Dixon came out rubbing his bottom and I went into the washroom to face the three prefects, it was no surprise at all that I found myself confronting Fowles, who tapped the seat of the chair with the cane to indicate where I was to bend over. I climbed on to the chairs and bent over. After such a comparatively long time without a beating it felt obscene and terrifying to be so exposed with the three of them coolly appraising the weals already decorating my backside and commenting on each stroke as Fowles lashed it into me. The pain was extraordinary. I kept telling myself that the bo'sun's flogging had been worse, and that was true, but it was still almost beyond my powers to stay silent right to the last stroke. Of course, he landed every one right across the weals he had made earlier and when we all compared our stripes, there was no doubt that I had been harder treated than anyone else.
I think my silence infuriated him because next morning he had another go at me. He called me into his study and informed me that he believed I was being an unmitigated nuisance and that it was his duty to thrash me again. The chairs were ready and he was holding the cane, ready to carry out his threat.
"No," I said. "I won't accept another beating from you."
Fowles was taken aback. He didn't know how to deal with this direct refusal to do as he said. "You realise I shall have to take you up to the old man?"
"I dare say he'll listen to my side of the story," I said, as coolly as I could. He sent me away, saying that he would speak to the old man later, but I never heard anything more about it, and he never caned me again.
The next two years were the happiest of my life. I made many good friends and very few enemies. I played rugby and cricket pretty well and was in the school teams. Lessons were interesting and I joined all the various clubs and societies that were open to me.
In all those two years I was caned only five times by prefects, each time for a serious breach of the rules. I could not argue about the punishment and accepted it with good grace, though the biting of the cane was pretty severe. I was never caned by a master, though I occasionally witnessed other boys in my form receiving corporal punishment for poor work or failure to complete work.
Once I was caned by the headmaster. Along with Barstow, Davidson, Laing and King, I went to a bonfire in the nearby village after the whole school had been forbidden to attend because of some thoughtless behaviour in the town. The old man didn't lecture us for long but he made his feeling abundantly clear.
King was caned first. He removed his jacket and gave it to Laing to hold. Then he unbuttoned his trousers and pushed them down with his pants. He bent over where the old man pointed with his cane until he was touching his toes. The old man hoisted his shirt tail and then briskly applied a dozen singing strokes of the cane to his tight little buttocks. The last few made him murmur in his throat. I went next, preparing myself and bending over in the same way. It felt strange to bend without a chair or something to hold me in place, and the tension in my thighs added to the feeling of vulnerability. The cane hurt terribly. The old man was a good shot and all the strokes landed on the same narrow band of stretched flesh. I made no sound until the last two strokes which crossed the rest, causing pain nearly as bad a flogging over the gun. I stood up and dressed again, stepping back to make way for Davidson. As the other boys were punished I rubbed at the fire in my bottom and vowed never to get into a situation where I could be beaten again. That same night I told the kitchen girl that I was seeing that I couldn't do it any more.
And indeed I was never caned again. The following term I was made a prefect and given my own study and a cane and instructed in the correct way to punish a boy. Some of the others rushed off and found boys that they could experiment on, reporting back that it was a terrific lark to lash a kid's backside for him. I took my time. I felt ambiguous about it, having suffered so much corporal punishment. I was unsure whether I wanted to use my cane at all.
But then I caught two little lads called Kagel and Cooper fighting, and the matter was taken out of my hands. The penalty for fighting was laid down in the rules: at least four strokes of the cane. I did it in my study. I made Kagel wait outside and faced Cooper with the cane in my hand. I was shocked when I noticed that the kid was on the verge of crying.
"Have you been caned before?"
"No, England." I had noticed Cooper before from the happy grin that always seemed to light up his face, and his tousled ginger hair. Now he looked as though his world had fallen apart.
"You agree that I have to cane you?"
"What was the fight about?" His eyes flashed alarm.
"It's silly to get a caning just for nothing, isn't it?"
I was unhappy. There was something not right about this, but I had to go on with it. I bent Cooper over the chairs. It caused some difficulty because he had never been beaten before, but then, at last, he was ready. His trousers were smooth over his tiny buttocks. I could see that he was trembling. I took aim with the end of the cane, lifted it level with my shoulder and whipped it down fast. It landed with a crack and the little boy yelped. He reared up off the chair where his elbows were leaning and his hands shot back to rub at his bottom.
"No, no," I said. "You must stay still. I have to give you extra whacks if you get up."
"It hurts," said Cooper and there really were tears in his eyes.
"Yes, that's the point," I said, "but it's not as bad as all that. If you keep still it'll be over quickly." He lowered himself over the chairs again, but I had to force him not to look round to see the cane coming. "If you get up again, I shall have to give you extra strokes."
He took the rest of the beating bravely, not even making a sound when I made the last of the four strokes a little harder than the rest. He rubbed at his bottom when he got down off the chairs.
"There. That wasn't too bad, was it?"
"Was Kagel bullying you?"
Again his eyes shot up to my face. I was right!
"Because you don't have to put up with it, if he is."
"He isn't. Honestly."
"All right then."
Cooper went out and Kagel came in, shooting a look at Cooper which I couldn't fathom. He was much taller and bigger than Cooper, and the look on his face was more worldly-wise, more ready for anything.
"Have you been caned before?"
"Yes, of course." He was standing with his hands behind his back, looking steadily at me, unafraid.
"Who started the fight?"
"What was it about?"
"He was being cheeky. I thought he needed taking down a peg or two, but I was just speaking to him and he came at me."
"You never touched him?"
"Not till he attacked me."
"But you're twice the size he is. And it's not your job to take him down a peg if he needs it." He didn't reply. "Do you make a habit of sorting out lads who you think are cheeky?"
"If they need it, yeah."
"I don't believe you didn't touch him." He shrugged. "Which of you deserves the harder caning?"
"Him. He started it by attacking me."
"All right. Over the chairs. Do you know how to do it?"
"Of course." He knelt on the chair and reached over the back. I hoisted his jacket, revealing his trouser seat pulled taut over a pair of strong, meaty buttocks. I took aim with the cane, but then, instead of merely raising it I stepped back, swung the cane back as far as I could, winding myself up, then launched myself into the stroke. The last foot connected with Kagel's bottom with a loud crack and I could see its imprint on the dark cloth of his trousers. The third stroke made him cry out and the last made him squirm over the chairbacks.
But I wasn't happy that the business had been sorted out. I passed the word amongst the other prefects that Kagel needed watching and the next day Laing gave him another caning for loutish behaviour in the village. That night I was putting the youngest forms to bed when I thought I saw Kagel punch Cooper on the arm. But I couldn't be sure.
Two days after that I saw Kagel come out of the boot room rubbing his knuckles. I stepped into the dark room where all the coats and boots were kept and found Cooper sitting sobbing on one of the benches. There could be no doubt now and the sooner action was taken the better. I summoned Kagel from his dormitory just before the lights were put out, and got Barstow and King to sit in on the interview.
He arrived at the study in his pyjamas and dressing gown. I confronted him with the evidence of his bullying behaviour and the other two prefects added their own thoughts. He had no chance of escape. He still tried to look defiant but his face had lost its air of confidence. He no longer knew whether he could deal with what I was going to do to him.
"Take your slippers and dressing gown off," I said.
"Because I tell you to, and because you won't need them while you're being beaten." He did as he was told and faced the three of us, even less confident of his position. "I can't bear bullies," I told him, "and that is what I believe you are."
"Don't interrupt. There is nothing more that you can say, so be silent. I believe that the only thing that will deal adequately with a bully is a thorough thrashing on his bare arse. So – I'm going to take you up to the old man and recommend that he flog you. I understand that the last boy he caned for bullying got twenty strokes and was in sick bay for three days. I can tell you from experience that you won't feel so cheerful after a flogging like that. Anything to say?"
"No, England." And I noted that he had started to use my name in the approved fashion for speaking respectfully to prefects.
"So you agree that a flogging is what you deserve?" Kagel said nothing.
"Have you ever had your bare arse caned?" King demanded.
"And how many strokes is the most you've ever had?" Barstow chipped in.
"Well, we're in new territory here then, aren't we?"
"The alternative to the old man is that I give you a thrashing," I said. "Would you prefer that?"
"I thought you would. Take your pyjamas off."
Kagel looked at me, but did as he was told. He unbuttoned his jacket and removed it. His chest was broad and deep and his belly flat. His hands went to the cord of his pyjamas but he didn't pull it.
"Do I have to?" he pleaded.
"Yes, you do," I said.
He pulled the cord and tried to push down his trousers without us seeing that he was wearing pants underneath. Now he really was in hot water.
"What would have happened if you'd been caned in pyjamas and then it was discovered that you had pants on underneath, eh?" demanded King.
"Don't know." Now we could see that there were tears beginning to well up behind his eyes. I was completely unmoved.
"You'd have had the beating again but on your bare arse," said King.
"So now that you're going to have your bare arse caned anyway," I said, "what do you think you should get?"
"I'll leave it to Barstow and King to decide, while I'm giving you a good flogging. Get over the chairs."
The naked boy climbed on to the chairs and bent over. His lean but muscular bottom was marked by the caning I'd given him three days ago, and also by the strokes of Laing's cane. I took careful aim, stepped back and lashed the cane in as hard as I could. Kagel screamed and instantly a red stripe with a white centre to it appeared across both buttocks, just on the point of his bottom. I saw Barstow and King flinch as well. This wasn't the kind of beating they were used to. The second I landed low down, less than an inch above the tops of his thighs, and the tip drew a little blood. The target area was now outlined in vicious weals and I proceeded to fill in the space between with dark stripes. Some he managed to take bravely, but then I always made the following one as bad as possible, and between strokes I could hear him snivelling.
I went on beating him till King and Barstow intervened. The whole of the lower half of his bottom was a mass of dark weals. I was shaking. The power in my hands terrified me suddenly and I dropped the cane on to the sofa. I've no idea how he got down from the chairs or got dressed, but then he was gone and the tension in the room was dreadful.
Then, at last, I told my friends about my past – the prep school, the village school, the training ship. I even told them about Martha and the whore in Devonport. I finished my account with a vow that I would never again cane a boy – for anything. And I kept my word. That was the last time that I used a cane on anyone.
France October 1916
Dear Colonel England,
It is with the greatest regret that I have to tell you of the death of your son, Simon. He had been an officer in my regiment for less than a year and in that time he had impressed me as one of the ablest young men it has been my privilege to know.
He had led a company for only six weeks, but he had gained the respect and admiration of all his men, including the rawest recruits and experienced soldiers of many years' service. If I tell you that I saw a dozen of these battle-hardened men weeping openly when the news of Simon's death became known you will understand what a loss we all feel here, and it may comfort you to know that there are many men in this regiment who can sympathise whole-heartedly with the grief you will inevitably feel at such a devastating loss.
We had been in the front line for many weeks, in conditions that you, as a soldier, will have some inkling of. When a volunteer was sought to go forward into no-man's-land to reconnoitre the enemy's position, you will not be surprised that your son put himself forward immediately. It speaks volumes for his courage and ability as a soldier that more men than were needed wanted to go with him.
I am unable to tell you precisely how he died, but it appears as though a sniper caught him with a lucky shot. I am able to tell you this because two sergeants recovered his body from between the lines at no small risk to themselves. I tell you this as further evidence of the respect and love which Simon inspired in all who knew him.
Please accept, sir, what little I can offer to a father in this most terrible of times by way of comfort. You may find further solace that I have recommended that he be awarded, alas, posthumously, the highest award for gallantry.
Yours respectfully, and in deep sorrow,
Colonel Urquart Officer Commanding Devonshire Regiment