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A Flippant Solution

This anecdote from the last years of the old RMA premises at Chelsea was first published in a newsletter written and circulated to members of the downunder chapter of the OBA. It is reprinted here with the permission of the Hon. Sec. of the Australian OBA.
A Flippant Solution

My grandfather, Henry Siddons, attended the Dukies before the first World War when the school was still located at Chelsea. He has told many stories to my brother and me, some true and no doubt some imaginative: but the one which sticks in my mind is that which follows.

Pocket money amongst the boys was rare in the first decade of the twentieth century. In fact, very few boys had any at all, particularly the orphans. As a result, some sort of barter system existed whereby goods such as sweets, etc. could be paid for not only with real money but also with something of an equivalent value such as postage stamps which apparently were often sent by parents and guardians to ensure pupils wrote letters home. One such boy had a block of six ? d stamps (about 1p worth today) - and they were stolen!

The perpetrator of this heinous crime was one Flippant. He was an only child, an orphan who was later killed on the Somme and left no surviving relatives. By today's standards he would probably be described as under-privileged and perhaps even socially inept. Perhaps social workers nowadays would make excuses for him, but not then. School rules were school rules and had to be obeyed. Justice was swift, punishment often harsh. Flippant was caught trying to trade the stamps. He was sentenced to six strokes of the birch.

Corporal punishment was designed to serve a twofold purpose. Firstly, it was just retribution for the crime committed and for justice to be seen to be done. Secondly, it was meant as a demonstrable deterrent to the would-be criminal. It was (then) argued that the more ritualistic the punishment, the greater the deterrent effect. Such was the setting for the birching of Flippant.

Flippant's punishment had been set for noon. That day in December was overcast and freezing. It had snowed two days before and the ground was still icy. During the morning Flippant had, apparently, kept himself to himself and nobody seemed to know where he was. He was not monitored in any way and was, of course, expected to appear at noon and take his punishment.>

In the centre of the dining hall stood a solitary refectory table around which, at a short distance, were assembled the rest of the school to witness the punishment. At one end of the table two boys stood to attention. The birch rested on a small table nearby. Also present were the Sergeant-Major who would administer the punishment and the Commandant who would witness it. At one minute to twelve Flippant entered the hall, strode purposefully to the punishment table and stood to attention at the free end facing the two boys. He knew the drill. He'd seen it all before.

The Sergeant-Major tied Flippant's ankles to the end leg of the table and pulled his shirt from his thin trousers. Flippant bent forward and prostrated his torso along the table, stretching his arms towards the two boys who took an arm each and held him firmly. The Commandant nodded and the birch rose and swished down six times - once for each stolen stamp. At each stroke, the assembled throng expected to hear Flippant cry out in pain. But he never did. Even after the punishment was over no sound escaped his lips. The Sergeant-Major untied him and shook his hand. The Commandant declared how courageous he had been and gave him a half-crown (12? p - a small fortune then). Speculation ran rife as to how Flippant had taken his punishment so well. Had he managed to cheat somehow?

He hadn't cheated, of course. The six red-purplish weals were there plain to see and the next day he was racked with the pain of it all. But on the morning of his punishment, Flippant had managed himself very well. The outside privies had urinals which were lead covered and this lead extended as a splash apron to the front. The punishment had been in December when the temperature was below zero which meant that the lead of the urinal was also below freezing. From the time Flippant got up until the time of his punishment he had taken his trousers down and sat bare-bottomed on the freezing lead. After an hour or so he began to lose all sensation in his buttocks. He persisted and continued to sit there until the very last moment just before noon. When the punishment was administered, Flippant felt nothing because of his self-administered local anaesthetic.

Monty Siddons
R 52 - 59

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