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A Labrador Doctor by Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell

A birching carried out with a hardwood fives bat


The boys there fared a good deal better than we who lived in college, and I presume paid more highly for it. Our meals were served in "Big Hall," where the whole four hundred of us were fed. The meals were exceptionally poor; so much so that we boys at the beginning of term formed what we called brewing companies--which provided as far as possible breakfasts and suppers for ourselves all term. As a protection against early bankruptcy, it was our custom to deposit our money with a rotund but popular school official, known always by a corruption of his name as "the Slug." Every Saturday night he would dole out to you your deposit made on return from the holidays, divided into equal portions by the number of weeks in the term. Once one was in the fifth form, brewing became easy, for one had a right to a place on the class-room fire for one's kettle or saucepan. Till then the space over gas stoves in Big School being strictly limited, the right was only acquired "vi et armis." Moreover, most of the fourth form boys and the "Shells," a class between them and the fifth, if they had to work after evening chapel, had to sit behind desks around the house class-room facing the centre, in which as a rule the fifth form boys were lazily cooking and devouring their suppers. Certain parts of those repasts, like sausages, we would import ready cooked from the "Tuck Shop," and hence they only needed warming up. Breakfast in Big School was no comfort to one, and personally I seldom attended it. But at dinner and tea one had to appear, and remain till the doors were opened again. It was a kind of roll-call; and the penalty for being late was fifty lines to be written out. As my own habits were never as regular as they should have been, whenever I was able to keep ahead, I possessed pages of such lines, neatly written out during school hours and ready for emergencies. On other occasions I somewhat shamefacedly recall that I employed other boys, who devoted less time to athletics than was my wont, to help me out--their only remuneration being the "joy of service."

The great desire of every boy who could hope to do so was to excel in athletics. This fact has much to commend it in such an educational system, for it undoubtedly kept its devotees from innumerable worse troubles and dangers. All athletics were compulsory, unless one had obtained permanent exemption from the medical officer. If one was not chosen to play on any team during the afternoon, each boy had to go to gymnasium for drill and exercises, or to "flannel" and run round the Aylesbury Arms, an old public house three quarters of a mile distant. Any breach of this law was severely punished by the boys themselves. It involved a "fives batting," that is, a "birching" carried out with a hardwood fives bat, after chapel in the presence of the house. As a breach of patriotism, it carried great disgrace with it, and was very, very seldom necessary.

Experience would make me a firm believer in self-government--determination is the popular term now, I believe. No punishments ever touched the boys one tenth part as much as those administered by themselves. On one occasion two of the Big School monitors, who were themselves notorious far more for their constant breaches of school law than for their observance of it, decided to make capital at the expense of the sixth form. One day, just as the dinner-bell rang, they locked the sixth form door, while a conclave was being held inside. Though everyone was intended to know to whom the credit belonged, it was understood that no one would dream of giving evidence against them. But it so happened that their voices had been recognized from within by one of the sixth form boys--and "bullies" and unpopular though the culprits were, they wouldn't deny their guilt. Their condign punishment was to be "fives-batted" publicly in Big School--in which, however, they regained very considerable popularity by the way they took a "spanking" without turning a hair, though it cost no less than a dozen bats before it was over.


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