Coprporal punishment at WNTS

Fred Drew


I was seeking information on how the sea schools meted out corporal punishment. I was sent the information set-out below. Before posting I asked a fellow committee member of the National council of Barnardo's old Boys and Girls, Reg Trew, who was at that time also the Chair of the Sea Schools Association. His email to me is below:

"Like you I cannot now find that passage re punishment at Watts in the 40s and Parkstone in the 50s.Whoever wrote that had got the names of the Capt. Supts. wrong. The man at the helm in August 1945-49 was Cmdr. Felton who went on to be the first Capt of Parkstone in 1949 when they amalgamated the two schools. His predecessor, who was there when I went to Watts in Jan 1945, was a Capt Lewin / Lewelyn, not sure of the correct name. He went to the TS Arethusa from Watts and was dismissed in 1947 after the Arthusa boys mutinied. Quite a yarn there Frank, had it first hand from colleagues and the boy who lead the mutiny when I was serving as a schooly in Arethusa 66-70.But the very tall yarn about the mass floggings at Watts during my time was an even taller yarn to put it mildly.If you can trace that passage I would like to read it again and probably make some more caustic comments.All the best, Reg Trew."

I later found the information came from the Watts web site that was hosted with others on the Training Ships web site.

There is no doubt that the Barnardo's sea schools were very good and very successful. On the discipline front the procedure at Russell Cotes and then Parkstone as it became, was the usual defaulters' report and then between three and six 'cuts' in the gymnasium over the horse, in private but with the inflicting Petty Officer plus three officers.

No ritual or special dress and executed very formally and properly. At Watts up to 1926 it was done with trousers off and the boy strapped over a four-legged horse and biting on a lump of cloth, and always with either the entire school or the defaulter's division mustered to witness it. Later it was wearing either naval shorts or P.E. shorts in the gym.

Cdr 'Flogger' Campbell was in charge between 1934 and 1940, and then back again in 1943 following a war wound. The wound did not appear to impede the movement of his right arm! He usually meted out the canings himself in his own study, and there were reported instances of it being on the bare. Campbell was dismissed in 1946 . The reason was the result of 37 boys enjoying a mass absconding, which was more for devilry and a bit of apple-scrumping than anything else.

The less resolute came back within an hour or so and were locked in a basement cellar. It took two days for the remainder to be brought back. It seems that Campbell held the equivalent of a court martial and every boy was sentenced to 12 cuts of the cane. The canings took over two hours to complete, done in the basement cellar with the vaulting horse taken there complete with canvas strappings.

The boys were caned on their bare backsides and it was said that their yelps could be heard in the classrooms. Two boys, on being released, ran off again and when caught by the police one of them revealed the state of his buttocks. A police doctor was brought in and then a complaint went to Barnardo's. Campbell retired on grounds of 'ill health' shortly afterwards.

That is the only known instance of abuse at Watts, otherwise the discipline was very strict but fairly imposed. ANON.

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I was also sent a memory from Fred Drew:

It was fascinating to read James Tithers account of his time at Watts. I was sent to Watts in 1947 just as he was leaving so it is unlikely that we met. I was very interested in his description of the punishment regime because it had changed somewhat in my time.

I was constantly on 'Defaulters Parade', spending many mornings waiting in the passage outside the First Lieutenants office waiting to be called in. The normal punishment for minor offences was one stroke of the cane on each hand. First Lieutenant Price was a dab hand at this (experience, I suppose) and would hit each hand on the finger-tips where it caused most pain. On bad mornings it would be two on each hand!

For serious offences I was sent for punishment to Captain Felton for 'six of the best' on the bare buttocks. The procedure was to enter his office and stand behind a large wooden curved-back chair. I would then drop my trousers and bend over the chair grasping the front lip of the seat. I got to know the woodworm holes in that chair intimately. The worst part was waiting for the swish of the cane. I don't believe that Captain Felton's heart was in the business, certainly his arm wasn't. The punishment was carried out in private with no one else present in the room. Imagine the 'shock - horror' if that happened today!

Most of my offences were concerned with being out of bounds. I would be setting rabbit snares on the water meadows or fishing for Pike in the Wensum. It was a good Pike river in those days. I suppose I experienced this punishment about 5 times in all. The final occasion was when I organised an escape from the school one Sunday morning. We planned the escape for weeks and the method decided on was to steal the school whaler and row to freedom! Never mind that the Wensum was closed off in one direction by Bintree Mill and in the other by North Elmham mill - the direction we took. We knew where the oars were stored and early on one Summer Sunday morning we rowed off in the direction of Elmham (Did I say that we were not very bright?) Rowing along we could hear the bugle calls for Church parade and then, not long after that, the calls for those of us on the boat to report to the OD. I think there were 6 of us in the boat and as the Wensum is a very winding river we had not got very far when we spotted white shirts appearing out of Bintree Forest.

Of course we redoubled out efforts (Green S would have been proud of us that day). We were soon able to recognise the white shirts as senior boys led by Bert Busby. When they got too close we rowed to the other side of the river but some of the boys dived in and caught us. I think two of our number escaped - momentarily. Bert Busby then made us row the boat back to the school and, with a master touch which I shall never forget he cut a large nettle from the river bank, and sitting in the stern, he could just tickle our knuckles as he called out time. And he did. Our ordeal was not over yet. Arrived at the boathouse he ordered us out and made us double up the hill from the swimming pool with the oars held above our heads.

So it was Captain's Defaulters - and on a Sunday afternoon too! I think Captain Felton was so overwhelmed by our audacity and stupidity that he just did not know what to do. In the end only my brother Jim and I were selected for the ultimate punishment. Jim went into the Captains office first and I waited in the ante-room. Inside I could hear the swish of the cane and the yelps of pain from Jim. Eventually the door opened and out came Jim rubbing his buttocks and giving me a broad wink on his way past. Then it was my turn. Inside I found the Captain sitting behind his desk chuckling to himself.

He then gave me a lecture and admitted that he had not caned Jim but had asked him to pretend that he was being caned. He was so amused by the episode that he didn't cane me either but sentenced me to lay out my kit under the mast for the next two weekends. Not only that but he gave me a pair of binoculars and a bird book - he knew I was a fanatical bird watcher.

A good kind man. Talking about escapes I too remember a mass breakout from Watts when, it seemed, the entire school took off down Bintree Lane. I can't remember the cause or the outcome. I also remember 'Tillerbonk' Bates mainly because of his suits! I remember him spending a good part of a lesson when we should have been declaiming Shakespeare explaining to us how to tell the suit of a gentleman from the rest. Apparently it was all to do with hand-sewn button holes. Some things you never forget.

So many memories . . . .

Fred Drew. Tyrwhitt Division, No. 244  1947 - 1950