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A change of culture?

There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed
or hidden that will not be known
(Matt. 10:26)

The minutes of meetings of the Board of Commissioners from its first meeting in April 1801 until the end of the 19th Century are a reliable source of information. Although board minutes lack a record of argument and counter argument that figure in most board meetings, they deal objectively with every subject that comes within the range of governance of the institution including discipline, regulations, finance, education, medicine, food, training, interior economy, staff selection and who was to be admitted or denied admission to the Royal Military Asylum.
    The minutes include a revealing record of peculation, fraud, pilfering, misbehaviour and a wide range of transgressions brought to the Board's attention. Nothing is too trivial or of too prohibited a subject for discussion. Nor is anything 'swept under the rug' for concern that discussion might sully the good name or image of the institution. Members of the Board throughout the ages - senior officers, high-ranking civil servants and members of the established church - have not been reticent either in expressing opinion on any subject that came before the board; no subject was considered taboo.
    For example, girls of the Asylum in the 1820s were accused (unjustly as it turned out) of prostituting themselves on the streets of Chelsea, which resulted in the Board opening the Southampton Branch; boys of exposing themselves to the public from the windowsills of the Asylum; boys found indulging homosexual behaviour; members of staff guilty of sexual or moral misconduct, unbecoming behaviour, the use of foul language, drunkenness and like forms of unacceptable conduct. All is recorded in the minutes in candid and specific detail. In a word, no subject was considered too delicate for discussion at the board level. There is good reason for these observations.
    That is, not a single case of sexual molestation or of child abuse is to be found in the Board minutes from 1803 when the institution opened its doors to the late 1920s for which the records are available for public scrutiny. On the subject of abuse and brutality, a correspondent expressed the opinion that '...given the rougher ethos of the times I'd find it hard to believe that this [sexual molestation] was any less prevalent pre-1950, or that the change from CSMs to housemasters was a major factor. I suspect that the apparent difference is more likely to be related to the victims' accusations being acknowledged and recorded after 1950, rather than being suppressed or even punished so that they would never come to the Board's notice.' The same correspondent adds 'The statement "there is no record whatsoever of either sexual abuse or brutality until the 1950s" strongly suggests 'suppression' rather than 'absence' to me! Not even one case ...?'
    To the contrary, the record before and after 1950 points to a clear change in school culture particularly as it applies to a) brutality of children by members of staff and b) sexual molestation and pedophilia. There is a common perception that Victorian sensibilities prohibited discussion of such sensitive subjects. This may well have been the case in the news media of the day or in polite society, but neither in the courts of the realm nor at the board level such as the Board of Commissioners governing the affairs of the Royal Military Asylum and, after 1892 the Duke of York's Royal Military School. For example, the condition of the cotton apprentices of the 1820s at the hands of the journeymen cotton weavers of Heyside and the 1830 trial of Jonathan Buckley at the Lancaster Quarter Assizes is a case in point. The presiding Board of Commissioners of the day pursued this with all the power at its command, which was considerable. There is no question that the subsequent Boards were equally concerned for the welfare of the soldiers' children under their care.
    Retired military personnel employed on staff at the RMA and the Duke of York's School were thoroughly vetted, scrutinized and evaluated by the school authorities. That was not all. While permitting minor punishments for misdemeanours, school regulations prohibited any form of corporal punishment that was not authorized by the commandant and duly recorded in the punishment register. Punishments by contemporary standards may have been harsh; time spent in the black hole, strokes of the cane and confinement in a cage yes, yet registered and recorded all the same. Company sergeant majors might cuff a boy for some disturbances or infraction, but they were not permitted to administer corporal punishment, nor is there any record of their doing so. The exception was in the classroom where the schoolmaster sergeants were allowed to give a boy up to six strokes across the palm of a hand with a ruler; six strokes, however, was the limit. Furthermore, the ex-military staff remained in the employ of the school for up to as many as 30 years.
    The basic premise of the argument presented here is that the school underwent a disturbing change of culture following the reforms instituted at the end of the Second World War under the aegis of General Nye. Admitting that he used his position to effect changes in management of the school, Nye reduced the strong military ethos by instituting a different culture without military uniforms and a military hierarchy. The changeover was gradual, but inexorable: housemasters and assistant housemasters replaced the company sergeant majors, who were put out to grass; the curriculum was changed to come into line with the national educational curriculum. These were positive changes that enabled students to gain entry to institutions of higher education not readily available to their predecessors. There was a darker side.
    Nye changed the military regime of traditions and customs that had governed school life since it opened in 1803 to a public school culture with houses under the management of commissioned officers of the Royal Army Educational Corps. Later, civilian teachers first supplemented then replaced the RAEC. For some years at least, however, RAEC housemasters and teachers in pursuit of their army careers remained at the school for two and three years at a time before being posted to other stations, schools and positions. Rare if any were those among the teaching and housemaster staff to whom devoted students could wish a fond and nostalgic goodbye as did the grateful pupils of Goodbye Mr Chips [a novel by James Hilton pub. 1933] renown.
    From 1846 until 1946, army education was in the hands of the Corps of Army Schoolmasters trained at the Normal School, Chelsea, and later, at Aldershot, Hants. Schoolmasters were of non-commissioned rank, mostly of sergeant rank. The CAS was later renamed the Army Educational Corps. In 1946 the AEC became the Royal Army Educational Corps, staffed by commissioned officers with university degrees.
    By removing the company sergeant majors and eventually replacing the commandant with a headmaster, the military code of discipline was, in effect, deregulated. Housemasters had it in their power to inflict corporal punishment that was no longer recorded. What had once been the sole prerogative of the commandant devolved on the housemasters and teachers.
    It therefore comes as no surprise that correspondence from ex-Dukies is stuffed with ample instances of outright bullying from some housemasters. To cite one case, a Major T.C. Sherry, OBE, housemaster of Kitchener House in the early 1970s, renowned for his foul temper on the evidence of a number of correspondents, once had two dormitories of boys line up for a thrashing for behaviour that annoyed him. Part way through the beating, according to one report, one boy bigger than the rest retaliated by thumping the housemaster, who then dismissed what was left of the line-up. The same officer, a self-proclaimed authority on army education, attained the rank of brigadier, an achievement that reflects an exemplary record of service, but evidently not in the teaching trade. Another, even less palatable practice came with the change of culture: paedophilia.
    The recent apology by Pope Benedict to the people of Ireland for the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy, similar physical and sexual abuse of children in Canada, the United States of America, Germany and South America has hit the public news. The Roman Catholic Church is not alone, however, in harbouring and protecting paedophiles within its ranks. As with the Church, so with other organisations and institutions.
    Creating a section on staff biographies, the biographical sketches being drawn from the abundant correspondence of former students brought to light dismal and unarguable evidence of paedophilia by some members of staff. However, let it here be clearly stated and hopefully understood that the vast majority of housemasters, assistant housemaster, teachers, matrons, caterers and other members of staff are honourable, moral and principled people whose dedication to the school and its students is without blemish. To its credit, the Board through the school authorities has, from time to time, exercised considerable effort to rid itself undesirable persons.
    As reported in the Sunday Mirror, 2 July 1991, house matron Mrs Camilla Newell was dismissed for having 'improper relations' with an 18 year old pupil, who was also sent packing. Hence, sexual peccadilloes were not restricted to the male sex.
    Whether these matters are discussed at the Board level today or not will remain unknown until the Board minutes are made available for public scrutiny. Many believe that the good name of the school, its image that is, should not be brought into question by a public airing of misdeeds and wrong doing. Nevertheless, such a record, when the evidence is overwhelming, is as much a part of the school history as the gallantry, courage, bravery and achievements of its former students in the arts, sciences and military service.
    A minor, yet still significant frisson of evidence indicating a post-WWII change to a public school culture was the introduction of 'fagging', which must have been introduced by the new regime of housemasters and assistant housemasters who were themselves products of the English public school system. One who was a student from 1947 to 1952 wrote, 'I can't remember fags. In my day, regarding meals, the DROs (dining room orderlies) collected the trays of food from the central kitchen hot plates and delivered them to the tables where they dished up. Obviously the choice portions went to the prefects.' The daily routine of school life was still at that time governed by the duty bugler, 'I neglected to mention, but I am sure it is correct that there were two bugle calls for breakfast. On the first call the DROs made a mad dash to the dining hall to prepare and lay the table ready for the mob arriving 10 to 15 minutes or so later On the days we had sausages for breakfast, a cry would sound "First tin" followed by second etc. The lucky recipient had the tin to scrape and scour every trace of the cooking juices with his dork; the same with bacon.'
    Fagging became a feature of school life by the late 1950s and was well-established by the mid-1960s. Writing of his time as a house prefect in 1965-65, another correspondent testified, 'By the way, as a house prefect in charge of the house junior dorm in my last year at school (1964-65) I had two 'fags' (boy servants): one who cleaned my shoes, pressed my trousers and made up my bed, and the other who went to the front of the meal queue to get my meals while I sat at the head of the table in the dining hall. My postgraduate students [the writer is a University professor] cannot believe that this archaic system pertained in the mid 1960s.
    Among the voluminous correspondence on the subject of school culture, two are worth quoting at length; both dwell on the writers' experiences at the school in the 1960s:

I was thinking over the history of my time at the school and I have to say I was most surprised on reading Lt Col Kiggell's obit that his mission had been to lay the foundations for the school to be a contemporary educational institution. At the same time, there was a serious culture of brutality and bullying. It started with our house prefects, who ruled the roost with bullying, petty humiliations and niggling, stupid punishments for trivial infractions. The senior dormitory in my own house (Marlborough for my first four years) made a point of visiting the junior dorm on the night before the Christmas holidays (end of first term) and singling out people who had caught their attention for a thumping. I went home with a black eye and bruised nose from a lead weight being dropped on my face as I lay sleeping. Some of those lads were sexual predators too and the pretty young things among us received some unwholesome attention from their seniors. Certain houses were regarded with a horrified awe because of the dark stories of brutality that circulated. Roberts in the mid- to late 50s is a case in point: when we met in 2004 for the first time in 40-odd years, one of my contemporaries spoke of how he had been forced to intervene and hide a veterinary syringe that one bully was using to force fluids up other boys' anuses. Another of my age group, who had had the 'treatment', recalls being profoundly grateful for the bravery of our mate. That same bully repeatedly tried to drown me when I refused his advances. I know of one boy, older than me by a year or three, who spent his school career living at the sanatorium because he lived in fear in the rough and tumble of the boarding houses. The swimming pool was Handford's little domain: as teacher in charge of lifesaving, water polo and competition swimming he had ample opportunity to wander through the changing rooms after practice, eyeing boys off and breathing heavily. Other teachers were known for being particularly brutal in their treatment of us. With many it was a withering sarcasm, but some actually came to blows. Let's face it, the officer class at the time - both before and after WW2 - was known for having its own Nazis, wasn't it? I think it was moderating by the early 1960s, but then I was older (closing in on 18) and my perceptions may well have been different had I been a junior. We survived, however. And here we are now, in a position where we can take it right back to them.

The second covers the same era:

About 10 years ago in Shropshire I met a man in a pub who turned out to be an old RAEC colonel who had taught everywhere but the Duke of York's. He was full of the 'scandals of the mid sixties' there and the iniquities of the White Rose. Apparently Col. Lloyd Howell was sent there to clean it up and it's true a number of masters disappeared, as well as other reforms.
    Colonel Howell - the reformer, a great enthusiast and conscientious man. He did much to treat us more as adults though I don't think he appreciated dissent - his wife did, and was encouraging when Lloyd risked a sense of humour failure. On the one hand he picked me out for preferment, on the other, we had a run in. It was about his notion for a rugby 7 aside cup to be run in our free time. As head of a house, I was appalled in principle and because I was the only 1st XV rugby player we had. I was lectured about how much he personally gave of his free time. I couldn't help myself, the words wouldn't stay in; 'but sir, you're paid to do the job!' Ballistic is an underestimate.
    And yet, and yet. I met him by chance in Oxford at the theatre (he had taken the Shrivenham job and lived nearby) and was invited down to his home. His wife was terminally ill with cancer. They were wonderful hosts. He even apologized about the education we got at Duke of York's, but I said, no need, it was at the least good meat and two veg and had done me no harm.
    Jack Clark and Uffers did a good job on me with history, That said, he had a terrible complex about Oxbridge, believing we could not, any of us, be good enough (because he'd had to settle for Durham, or was it Liverpool, he would say, because his family couldn't afford the Oxford fees). When by chance, at St Catherine's I discovered that the new history don was a Dukie from the 50s (with plenty of hairy stories about life then), or rather, he identified me, we talked about JC and got him invited onto top table to discuss sending pupils in.


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