All the recent publicity about historical child abuse set me thinking about my schooldays and the abuse I was subjected too. Not to denigrate sexual abuse of children in any way but other types of abuse can also leave its mark.
A couple of years after the war finished (WWII), I left my delightful village primary school when I passed my 11 plus and had to travel to our nearest Grammar School, which was some 20 miles away. The journey called at all of the nearby villages and took the best part of 2 hours each way. That was abuse enough!
I happened to be built like the proverbial brick outhouse even in those days which set me apart, being at least 6 inches taller than the other lads in my class, (it was a boys only school) which set me apart from my peers and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t hide in plain sight.
Most of our Masters had served in the armed forces and I always think of them favourably compared to the milksops teaching today. Modern teachers seem to go from School to University or Teachers Training College back into School as Teachers. Rather like a lot of our Politicians. No experience of the real world. Anyway I digress.
My Schoolmasters were a competitive lot and although we had a PT Instructor (note a Physical Training Instructor not a Physical Education teacher) any specialist sports attracted a specialist teacher. Hence my Maths Master who had a Rugby Blue from Oxford and had added Rugby to his job description. Because of my size I was first of his “You, you and you when he picked the Rugby squad. No volunteering in that man’s Army. I found myself a Prop Forward, no trials, little training and as luck would have it, found that I loved it – a square peg in a square hole. Especially proud to have my mother sew the School Colours around the edge of my blazer.
However there was worse to come in my schoolboy abuse. Our Geography Master had represented the Royal Air Force in boxing and had won the coveted Inter-Forces Boxing Championships. His success led him to run the school amateur boxing team and was looking for new blood, literally.
Oh dear! Was that me he was pointing at? I was at the back trying my best to look small and insignificant. OMG he told me to be in the gym at 4.0pm – “But Sir! I have to catch the school bus home, I live in Woburn Sands! The rotten nasty piece of work said “That’s fine; I live in Fenny Stratford so I’ll give you a lift home. Apparently the ‘Pig’s Orphan’ (Naval Term meaning unloved by anyone) had done his homework and had conspired with the Maths Master his colleague and Rugby Tutor who told him that I had potential as a Heavyweight.
Heavyweight? Me? I was a twelve year old schoolchild and hated the very idea of someone punching seven bells out of me. When I arrived home and explained why I was late, my father was like a dog with two dicks, (That’s worse than a dog with two tails). My Dad was in the RAF since joining the Royal Flying Corps in WWI and was a regular until the end of WWII. He had a boxing career of some distinction in the service and had won the Inter-Services Championships for no less than eight years running with all the silverware to prove it. All of which explains why I hated the very thought of boxing and why I joined the Navy – Perverse moi?
To shorten the tale my Pa became my Geography Teacher’s hero and agreed to extend my abuse from School to home. I found myself jogging through Woburn Park at weekends while my Pa followed my progress on his bicycle making rude comments about my lack of fitness and enthusiasm.
Five contests against schools in Buckinghamshire and I was unbeaten, having won four on points and one by a walkover. That was my best fight when my opponent failed to turn up. I found myself representing the County at the Schools Amateur Boxing Championships at the Albert Hall no less. My Mother had bought me a gumshield and Pa presented me with a beautiful pair of leather boxing boots. He drove me to London for the contest accompanied by two of his cronies, the local hairdresser and the Landlord of the Station Hotel both keen boxing viewing experts.
I had to suffer a pep-talk for the whole of the 50 mile journey to London interspersed with further abuse when he bragged about his son’s performance through the qualifying round, O.M.G… I was subjected to further abuse while I was in the dressing room as both Mr Wilson my Geography Master and my Pa took turns giving me the benefit of their advice, like bob and weave, keep moving, keep your guard up etc. No-one mentioned how to duck. The heavyweight bouts were the last of the evening so I had to sit through all of the early rounds with butterflies playing havoc with my stomach.
It got worse when I left the changing room and started the long walk to the ring in my dressing gown under spotlights and loud music. I tried to settle my nerves with a little footwork and shadow boxing like I had seen Bruce Woodcock do on the TV. I don’t remember a lot after climbing through the ropes, looking at my opponent, who I believe was from Middlesbrough. The Ref muttered something about no biting or spitting and to touch gloves and come out fighting. We got to the centre of the ring, touched gloves and he must have hit before I was ready because I woke up on a stretcher being carried along the walkway I had just danced down. I later learned that I had taken a left uppercut right on the point of my jaw. I know that I had a tremendous pain on either side of my jawbone which lasted more than a week.
We had a fairly subdued drive home, neither Pa nor his two chums had seen the punch that floored me, it had happened so fast. As Mr Wilson said later when I got back to school, just to keep the abuse going “You were too busy posing, you certainly didn’t see that one coming!”
My historical abuse continued even though my boxing career was over. It must have been a month later when I went to the Saturday Cinema Matinee with half a dozen of my chums from my village. We had just watched ‘Flash Gordon’ beat the ‘Emperor Ming’, the film ended and before the second film came on we settled to watch the Pathe Gazette News. They showed the recent Amateur Boxing Association Schoolboy Championships from the Albert Hall; Oh Shoot!
Did they make a meal out of my 1 minute of fame; the camera followed my unconscious moment off the floor, out of the ring and along the aisle on a stretcher. As you can imagine my chums ensured that my historical abuse continued, jeering “You didn’t even punch him once” And that your worships is why you see this damaged personality before you today.