A recent correspondent expressed concern that parents [of would-be students], well-wishers and people who might wish to 'contribute something special to the School' (a donation, gift or bequest, perhaps) might be deterred by comments of abuse that appear in the staff bio sections following. Parents, the correspondent feared, might be put off by records of abuse in various forms. 'Every boarding school without exception,' the correspondent opined, 'has suffered horrors. [yet] there are worse problems such as drugs.'
In this response, the correspondent's concern is refuted on clearly-defined grounds of morality and a misconception of fact that deserves wide circulation. It should, however, be understood that abuse here is meant that which occurred between members of staff and the children under their care, not among the children themselves. This rebuttal follows:
Your view point regarding what is germane, appropriate or relevant to the website is as valid as anyone's and certainly not one to which I, as judge of what does or does not get posted for public viewing, object. Indeed, there may be others who share your view as to the suitability or otherwise of what is made public. You put me in the position, however, of having to respond philosophically as that word applies to the nature of life, reality and from an ethical standpoint. I will, but as publisher of the site my prime concern is always the legal implications of posting material on the internet. Nor do I exult in ruining people's lives and reputations. Yet if I believe they are guilty I will specify the facts for readers to judge. Sometimes I make mistakes in errors of fact. If corrected, I readily admit the error and make good the entry as soon as it is made known to me.
This said, I question your basic premise for not discussing abuse, which is that it might deter '…would-be parents, well-wishers [and] people wishing to contribute something special to the school'. I respond to that reasoning by citing the concern of the Roman Catholic and various Protestant churches deeply alarmed at the damage suffered to their public image, reputation and the financial support of their congregations when faced with the exposure of '…abuse in various forms that appear' [in the public domain]. Would you advocate that the international press withhold exposure of abuse - sexual, physical or mental - for the same reasons?
As an introduction to stating my philosophical answer to your statement I should like to observe that - apropos the general subject of abuse - from August 1803 when the first intake of orphaned sons and daughters of fallen soldiers arrived until the year I left the Duke of York's School (1943), there is not a single recorded instance of mistreatment in the records. This is not to prove that abuse of boys by the staff did not occur, and I write specifically of staff abuse; simply that there is no record in the extensive minutes of meetings of the Board of Commissioners during that period. The minutes were explicit on all subjects and did not exclude anything that might be considered socially taboo. Again, this is not to say that punishments such as the black hole, suspension in a cage hung from the ceiling, strokes of the cane and like instances of corporal punishment were not inflicted. They were, but gratuitous brutality and instances of sexual abuse are completely absent from the record. I must also state that two reports in the 1840s (inspector Dr Henry Moseley's report followed a short time later by the Rev. George Gleig's) write of logs chained to the ankles of children. For reasons that are simply too involved to get into here, I do not accept what is stated in either the Moseley or Gleig reports.
In support of the general absence of recorded abuse over the period from 1803 to 1943 I am persuaded that the care of children in the RMA and Duke of York's had everything to do with the staffing of the school by the authorities and strict requirements of selection. Retired sergeants and sergeant majors supervised the children during out-of-education hours. Sergeant schoolmasters and, from about 1850 on, formerly-trained schoolmaster sergeants, taught the children. In all cases, in and out of school, care was at the hands of ex-military serving personnel who, in most cases, like the master of James Hilton's Goodbye, Mr. Chips, remained in their appointed positions for many years. The same men may well have been what General Nye accused them of being, which was grossly ignorant, but this was an unjust charge in my view and, I would say, to those of my era. To the contrary, our sergeant-majors and sergeant and warrant officer schoolmasters, were kind, caring, considerate and compassionate men. Bob Freeman in The Soldier Boy wrote of bullying and abuse, but not at the hands of the school staff.
Only following the introduction of the Nye reforms did the abuse of which we are discussing become part of the school experience. This was both physical and sexual abuse and there is, I believe, a rational explanation. Housemasters who replaced sergeant-majors, and educational staff, were career officers of the RAEC. This meant that their primary commitment was to their military careers and not to the School. Their stay at the Duke of York's was short in their overall tour of duty. As a result, the character of the institution changed to include the frequent occurrence of abuse that stemmed, I believe, from the familiarity of teachers who were equally responsible for their care and welfare outside the classroom as in the public school system (private schools in North America). The evidence I have for this conclusion is overwhelming. Correspondence from ex-Dukies testifies to ill-treatment and sexual exploitation post-WWII that never occurred before. In this regard, one must draw a sharp distinction between the proclivities of members of adult staff and the boys themselves for whom, in my day and later, punishment was swift and inevitable when brought to light.
When it comes to posting material on the website, I satisfy myself that the offender is reported by two or more correspondents; alternatively that there is sufficient evidence to justify making the information public. The charges are serious, so I make sure I have sufficient evidence in writing to stand up to any challenge in a court of law. I'd be foolish not to have that evidence. There is, I assure you, abundant correspondence on such bullies as Major T.C. Sherry, OBE, and pedophiles such as Dr Handford that would satisfy the most liberal court of law were they compelled to answer charges and account for their behaviour. Sherry, incidentally, rose to the rank of Brigadier and was the very same retired officer who, as president of the RAEC Association, belittled me for having the temerity to criticise the Rev. George Gleig, the alleged father of Army education [our exchange is posted on this website]. It is ironic that his bullying took place in Kitchener House (G Coy in my day) in which I spent five magical boyhood years.
I make no apology for publicizing the school's warts along with its accomplishments and of those who passed through its gates. That what appears may deter parents and those who would contribute in kind to the school is not, in my view, a compelling enough reason for leaving out unpalatable reports. I feel the same compassion for boys who were in any way mistreated as for Asylum children of the 19th Century, the boy and girl cotton apprentices, abused and exploited by the cotton mill owners and weavers of North East England.
The compulsion to afford these children some sort of redress for the abuse received at the hands of bullies and predators is overpowering. They have as much right to be heard as the victims of Mount Cashel Orphanage or the Indian schools of North America abused by the church, the children of South East Asia and Mexico at the hands of predators. If I thought that I'd risk the abuse of my children if placed in the care of any institution I would not thank anyone for suppressing vital information of the kind here discussed.
Do you think I would publish anything that was not verified and confirmed? More remains unpublished than ever is posted. Here, for example, is a single extract from one testimony of bullying that never made it onto the site. The author will remain nameless. Nevertheless, he has special reason for concern, for he is himself today a school principal deeply concerned for the welfare of children under his care. He wrote:
I did not though manage to avoid a mildly sadistic bully, who seemed determined to make my life very difficult for the entirety of my time in Dover. He thrashed me with rugby boots, a cricket bat and hockey stick in the middle of the boarding house. "Oh how we laughed!" I didn't, but others might, which is fine and I am not overly scarred in any sense by this experience. But I do resent this man who is still a teacher and was once, before the law began to truly protect children in schools, a head teacher of a preparatory school in Dover. I dread to think of the violence he may have inflicted on his very young charges. I hope he didn't.
In a nutshell, I have given my reason for publishing the record of abuse. My attitude should be plain. It is first to give a voice to those who were scarred and have no other redress; secondly, to give would-be parents of students the facts that they might make sure their children will be safe; and, thirdly, to let those responsible for the welfare of children under their care know that the truth, good or bad, will out sooner or later. [To the credit of the majority of people who have staffed the school post-WWII they are kind, considerate and caring people who, unwittingly or otherwise, harbour child abusers among them.]
I shall as well respond to your suggestion re gifting money to the school. My experience in this regard was neither a satisfying nor happy. Some years ago I wrote to enquire concerning the idea of establishing an endowment fund and received as sardonic and cynical a response as would make any benefactor have an apoplectic fit. I abandoned the idea and will never again entertain contributing to any like fund. In short, count me out of this one.
In conclusion, the school as we knew it has undergone a metamorphous about which I hold no opinion, pro or con. My interest is and will remain one of speculative curiosity. I wrote the book Sons of the Brave, the story of boy soldiers under contract. This brought me into contact with the school many years after I left. Later, I wrote The Charity of Mars - a history of the Royal Military Asylum (1801-1892) as a contribution to the School's 2003 bicentenary year. Having accumulated considerable data and correspondence led me to produce the achart website. This said, I have no poignant attachment to the School. I am grateful for the start it gave me and the experience I had, but it is not the school I knew and I feel little attachment to it.
In conclusion, I've given you a thoughtful and reasoned response to your message. In doing so, I have no reason to whitewash the image of the institution to keep it as clean as a sun-washed bone in the burning desert. What is passed is an indelible part of the institution's history.