Since this series of posts in 2013, the school website has been through various changes, resulting in most of the OW material being removed. This means that several of the links above no longer work. Very annoying! However, I have kept copies of many OW magazines and can reproduce parts of them here, for example Andrew MacTavish's account of the mass flogging in the 2005 Old Wycombiensians' Magazine...
Andrew MacTavish wrote:THE ROYAL GRAMMAR SCHOOL IN 1955
The following article was kindly provided by Andrew MacTavish (1948-56) and appeared on the Old Wycombiensians’ website in July 2004.
It was 1955, and it was winter. The snow fell, four inches of it, virgin, pure, transforming every roof and wall and bush. We arrived in excitement. The whole atmosphere at school was electric. At 9 o’clock assembly, the Headmaster, ‘Boss’ Tucker, laid the law down as he always did on such occasions. There would be no snowballing within fifty yards of the buildings, and he made ominous hints as to what would happen to anyone found breaking this edict.
In those days, there was a tradition that the prefects would take on the rest of the school in a snowball fight at lunchtime. At about 1.15 pm, we emerged at the double from the Prefects’ Room at the end of the Gym Block. We knew our appearance would immediately encourage a flight of snowballs, and we wanted to get fifty yards away from the buildings as quickly as possible. We formed up in the middle of the field. The prefects were organised and relatively disciplined; there were about 40 of us. The rest of the school who turned out numbered about 300 and were totally disorganised. The other 300 - 400 boys kept well out of the way elsewhere.
The pattern of the battle was standard. It was a clear lesson how a small team can survive against great odds. The prefects kept in a tight group, protecting the Head Boy, the Deputies and one or two other senior people who were obvious targets. Prefects had the power of slippering for minor offences - at least, the Head Boy and Deputies did - and a number of the middle school were on the field to get their own back. Small groups of them would try to isolate leading prefects and give them some fairly rough treatment. The prefects would sweep down in pincer movements in return and roll over known rogues in the fifth forms. Small boys would run about like gnats, occasionally scoring a hit on a prefect and immediately being swatted in return. It was all good-natured and the senior prefects intervened if anyone went too far.
Afternoon school started at 2 pm. Ten minutes before that time, the Head Boy, Barri Jones, called his 40 men together and conducted a fighting withdrawal to the Prefects’ Room. As we approached the building, he called to our opponents that we had finished. Most stopped throwing snow and broke off. One or two persisted. We ran in, knocking the snow off our clothes, and slammed the door. Two snowballs thudded on the panels. That was outrageous.
Barri threw the door open to see who had done this and a number of us prepared to follow him. At that instant a snowball arrived with a very fast, flat trajectory. It punched straight through the top centre of the six small panes in the door. The same door is still there today. Glass shards showered over us and the piece of coal, which had formed the centre of the snowball, skidded across the room. An instant later there was no one in sight outside the Prefects’ Room.
After the initial shock, we set to clearing up the glass. Barri went off to report the matter to Sam Morgan, the Deputy Headmaster. He returned to say that Sam had gone with him to Boss, and that Boss was absolutely furious. In fact, he was sending two of our number with a note round all forms telling the boy who had broken the window to report to his study immediately. We did not feel that this would achieve much. We felt that Boss’s anger had clouded his judgement. He would lose this one. But we underestimated Boss. He knew what he was doing. The stakes were high, but he was not one to blink.
Twenty minutes later, I met a fellow prefect near the Library (now the Drama Room). He had been one who had taken the note round. “Guess what? Boss has sent for every form to report to the Hall (now the Library) in turn at five-minute intervals. Every single form except the Upper Sixth. He and Sam are coshing everyone!”
Now that caning in schools is illegal, the RGS slang term “coshing” for caning has died out. Even then I could hardly believe it. I had to witness this unique sight. If Boss was in this mood and doing things wholesale, it was probably unwise to go past the Hall doors. One might get dragged in and given the treatment. I went up to the top corridor. In those days the top corridor was open to the old Hall. With books under my arm, drawing myself up to my full height, I walked slowly along until the Hall came into view. Without hesitating and as if in deep academic thought, I passed the opening, taking in an incredible sight. Boss and Sam were standing one on each side, near the stage. Two rows of boys were lined up from the doors below me. Each boy at the head of the column bent over and one or the other administered two sharp strokes, and the boy walked back down the Hall watched closely by those in the queue. Apart from the swish of the pairs of strokes, there was total silence, except for the odd quiet instruction from the teacher who had brought the form from the classroom. I realised afterwards that boys were trying to get in the queue for Boss. He might be furious, but he was not a golfer like Sam who had a very strong swing.
Everyone was caned - boys who had been in the Library all lunchtime; boys who had been at music practice; who had been kept in by staff; who had avoided snowballing because they felt it was childish; who had gone home to lunch and were not on the premises. No one was spared. The estimate was that about 680 boys received two strokes. And the interesting thing is that there were no complaints. It was a different world then. Nevertheless such a mass caning was unusual enough to be reported in a brief news item in the Sunday Express the next week. And at the end of the year, on Speech Day, Boss referred to the business in his report to the governors and parents. He was speaking from the stage of the old Hall, where the canings had taken place. Speech Day then took place on an afternoon in the last week of the summer term. All boys were on the premises and there were many displays and demonstrations. The prize-winners were in the Hall with the parents and the speeches were relayed by a PA system round the buildings. Usually no one outside the Hall paid a great deal of attention. However on this occasion, Boss made a reference to an incident in the winter that had left Mr Morgan and himself with aching right arms - and a cheer went up from one end of the building to the other. It was a very different world...