Bare bottom caning

Your correspondent who as a Wren was caned over her knickers had it easy (Letters, January 29). In the 1940s, it was a daily routine for cadets at the Royal Naval School in Portsmouth to be beaten on their bare buttocks.

Once, for carelessly discharging a clip of live ammunition, the commanding officer gave me 30 of the very best and I could not sit down for five days.

Mavis Parker, Quorn, Leicestershire


Corpun file 17356

The Sunday Telegraph, London, 12 February 2006


Baring it stoically

Poor Mavis Parker who, when a Wren cadet, was given 30 strokes on her bare buttocks (Letters, February 5). We really were horrifically naive in those days and as mere females wouldn’t have dared to complain for fear of reprisal from every male around.

Tess Nash, Mawgan, Cornwall

Admiral the Lord Fisher, the father of the modern Royal Navy, banned corporal punishment before the First World War. The officer who beat Mavis Parker should have been court martialled. I think that even the most enthusiastic schoolmaster of the period would have considered 30 strokes excessive. The bare bottom says it all about the officer.

(Dr) B A G Kimmins, Staveley, Derbyshire

If you start a Letter of the Year Award, Mavis Parker must win, even with 10 months still to go.

Graham Weeks, Barcelona, Spain

Is there any advance on 30?

Derrick Gilliam, Gresford, Clwyd


Corpun file 18044

The Sunday Telegraph, London, 19 February 2006


The sisters applied the tawse religiously

Your correspondent asks whether there is any advance on the 30 strokes the Wren Mavis Parker received on her bare bottom when a cadet (Letters, February 12). I attended a convent school in Ireland in the 1950s run by an order of nuns which was big on “the mortification of the flesh”. Beatings were always on the bare bottom with a 12in tawse.

Most of the sisters were enthusiastic thrashers, and it was difficult to get through a week without being beaten. We received six to 24 strokes for minor infractions (the older the girls, the greater the number of strokes) such as talking in class or being late. The maximum number of strokes which could be given was a barely credible 144, and was known as “getting the gross”. I received it twice in front of the school, strapped to a whipping horse.

Afterwards we were left for an hour, still tied up.

Beryl Smith, London NW8

Flogging and birching were only suspended in the Royal Navy before the First World War, not banned as your correspondent suggests (Letters, February 12). They were not finally removed from the Naval Discipline Act until well into the 1950s and caning for boys, cadets, and midshipmen continued well into the 1960s as I can attest from frequent appearances on the receiving end. [NOTE BY C.F.: This is actually true. The caning of boy seamen in the Navy was not officially ended until 1967 — see this April 1967 news item.]

(Cdr) Geoffrey J Sherman, Kilgetty, Pembrokeshire

Like Mavis Parker, I did my Wren training at the Royal Naval School in Portsmouth and made numerous visits to the staff sergeant’s office to have my bare backside welted with the “knotty” – a big bamboo cane.

I was a wilful cheeky girl and usually deserved my regulation 12 strokes, often with six extras for “lip”. I did manage to avoid the dreaded CO’s 30 strokes given to Mavis Parker, but in one week received 12 strokes on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for smoking in the lavatories.

Doris Benson, Bristol


Corpun file 17400

The Sunday Telegraph, London, 26 February 2006


I served in the WRNS in 1949-1952 and am amazed at your letters talking of beatings. I never heard of such horrors and neither did my fellow Wrens, some of whom I am still in touch with.

I always felt that I was treated with the utmost respect.

Joan Gardiner, Hook Common, Hampshire

I also attended a convent school in Ireland in the 1950s run by nuns, but never once witnessed corporal punishment as described by your correspondent.

Helen Corcoran, Edgware, London


Corpun file 17425


New Statesman, London, 27 February 2006

The media column

Peter Wilby gets down and dirty with Sarah Sands


It is several months since I last highlighted the exciting innovations of Sarah Sands, newish editor of the Sunday Telegraph, which she relaunched last year as “something lovely”. But her drive to change this “absolute core Conservative paper” (her words) has not diminished. Her latest decision is to run readers’ letters normally confined to publications purchased (or so I am told) in the Soho area. Readers of a sensitive disposition should now turn to another page.

The correspondence began last month after a news story revealed that army instructors were struggling to enforce discipline at training centres because they feared accusations of bullying. “Douglas Dickins, London NW11” wrote that, at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth in the 1920s, miscreants “received six of the best on a bare bottom”. What happens now, he asked, given Dartmouth has women? Next week, “Gwen Lawes, Cobham, Kent” wrote that she and others were caned at a Wrens’ school in the 1950s, “though it wasn’t bare but over our knickers”. “Mavis Parker, Quorn, Leicestershire” could, so to speak, beat that. At “the Royal Naval School in Portsmouth” in the 1940s, she got “30 of the very best and I could not sit down for five days”.

Some editors might then have closed the correspondence. Not the daring Sands. “Any advance on 30?” asked an optimistic reader the following week. There was. Last Sunday, “Doris Benson, Bristol” claimed 36 in four days, also in Portsmouth, on “my bare backside . . . with . . . a big bamboo cane”. But “Beryl Smith, London NW8” could cap that. At an Irish convent school in the 1950s she twice got “a barely credible 144” (pun intended?) with a 12in tawse, tied to a whipping horse in front of the whole school.

No, it’s not me who’s making all this up.