CHAPTER 7 Watts Naval Training School
I don’t remember how I got to WNTS, but I was very pleased to be back with my brother after a year of separation. Christopher seemed changed. He was in Class 2B when I arrived on 16 December 1936. I was exactly ten years and five months of age. Christopher was in Seven Company and I was in Six Company, each company having about forty-five boys between the ages of eleven and fifteen-and-a-half. I had two days of schooling before the Christmas break, when I was told I would be in 1A not the 1B class. (The Headmaster had obviously read the letter from Mr Thompson.)
Watts Naval Training School was a charity school with a nautical theme run on militaristic principles. The estate was located in the Norfolk rural countryside far from the outside world. It was situated on the edge of a plateau that sloped west to a valley near the river Wensum where the school farmed the land.
WNTS had a population of a large staff and about three hundred students between eleven and sixteen years of age. The students were allowed to take two three-week vacations each year during the summer and at Christmas. All other holiday periods were spent at the school. Students without guardians never left the school. Students had no access to the outside world, arbitral access, or personal rights. Discipline was strict. Hunger and fear of punishment were constant. Love and affection were non-existent. All communication to and from the school was censored. Those boys who never left the school on vacation became conditioned to their surroundings and were probably happier at the school than those of us who had occasional release from our incarceration.
On the 20 December 1936, having been told by my brother that he was going home again to *Auntie Pullen,[*with whom we were previously in foster care] I raised the roof and said, “I should go, too!” I was told, “No money, no ticket, no permission. Sorry, you’ll have to stay”. Like bloody hell, I thought. Then the bugler sounded the action stations call and the lucky ones – about half the population of the school – marched to the North Elmham Station.
Two or three hours later, I was on a train that had stopped at a large station. My friend, Ernie Brooks and I had no idea where we were going and must have looked conspicuous. The ticket bloke and staff at the station locked us up. Soon after, we were back at WNTS.
Living in a dark cloud of rejection, I was totally at odds with that place. I wondered how much more I would have to suffer.
22 December 1936
My brother had arrived in Chalgrove. Meanwhile, I was confused and in a state of apathy. Ernie and I were in serious trouble. Having only been at this place for six days, I was to get six cuts of the cane. Having no one to turn to for help, I was wretchedly homesick. It was suggested by a few teachers that because it was so close to Christmas we should be forgiven, but our Capt. Superintendent replied, “Peace on earth and goodwill to all men applies only on Christmas day.”
The remaining population of the school gathered to witness our punishment. A box horse for us to bend over was produced, plus the biggest rattan cane – even bigger than the one at Chalgrove School. Ernie went first. It seemed like a bloody execution – minus the knitting hags, the French National Anthem, and a basket for our heads. Ernie was brave but white as a sheet after his six, and had to go to the sickbay. I later learned he had received a testicular injury.
Ernie going first made little difference, as another instructor, ‘Gunner Marten’ was to be my tormentor. I felt bloody awful. My thin trousers barely hid the bleeding welts across my buttocks. After the six strokes, I shouted in agonising pain, “I hope you die, you rotten cruel sod!” and got number seven. Gunner Marten died during the war about four years later. I was unmoved.
Christmas in WNTS was over. Our total excitement had consisted of two church parades, an apple, an orange, and cake. Where was Charlie Dickens? What a pity he missed out on this place.
Christopher returned from his Christmas holiday and was visibly unhappy, as were most of the ‘lucky’ holiday kids.
During the next six months or so before I turned eleven, I learned a great deal – from forced reading programs to basic parade drills and every conceivable rifle drill movement that was in some sort of military manual. This training was done with an ancient side-loading Winchester repeater lever action rifle that was circa 1850. Fortunately, bayonets were not included, maybe in case of a student revolt. I later learned that when the school was demolished in 1949 after a serious fire, all of these valuable historic, well-kept firearms were broken up and buried without cash-strapped Dr Barnardo’s ever benefiting from their antique value. How stupid!
About this time in 1937, Ronald Goucher, my friend, who was a year older than me but smaller in stature and who slept in the next bed to me; died overnight of a brain problem. Ronald’s suffering from constant headaches had been totally ignored by the school authorities. Little Ron was only eleven when he passed away. I was terribly upset. He was so young, and there were so many elderly persons at the school that I thought God, in his wisdom, should have taken first.
The remainder of the story is restricted in this original version,there are many reasons for this, although most persons involved would have passed on by now. Quite a few people reading this will have read the pseudo copy where a lot of name changes were involved, this is available in published book form, the original script is not.
There were probably more establishments of this kind in our so called civilised world during the past century, hopefully this practice has ceased now.
A child should be allowed to lead the life of a child until he is no longer a child.
Vest Daily Gaggle, Have a lovely day.
Google; (Watts Naval Training School).For more info on beatings of children.