Marlborough, Wiltshire Map

Marlborough College was a fearsome shock after the Old Ride; it seemed like entering a prison. ‘A’ House, which was stuffed with small boys newly arrived, was grim; the iron discipline was prison-like; and the food, no doubt made worse by the war, was terrible. The diet was 150 years out of date. We used to say that the roast meat was horseflesh; no doubt all boys say that sort of thing, but the reek of it turned one’s stomach. However, we felt half-starved, and would have eaten anything. This feeling of starvation was certainly due to vitamin deficiency. From one term to the next we never had any fresh fruit or uncooked salad, or vegetables. There was no excuse for this – we could easily have grown these things ourselves in the college meadows – it was just sheer ignorance (or lack of enterprise) on the part of the management. It was no wonder that we had a general outbreak of boils at one time.

Marlborough, Wiltshire Map Photo Gallery

Marlborough Downs are exceptionally cold (I have read somewhere that this is the coldest place in England). There was some heating in the form rooms, but none in the dormitories. The huge upper schoolroom, where 200 senior boys lived during the day when they weren’t in actual classes, had only two open fires. Only the biggest boys were allowed to warm themselves at these fires. I decided that the occasional periods of warm-up available during the day only made one suffer more, so I wore nothing but a cotton shirt under my coat, discarded my waistcoat, and slept under only a single sheet at night. I aimed to get used to the conditions like the Tierra del Fuegan natives of a century ago, except that I didn’t sleep inside a dead whale I was eating.

The usual punishment was a beating; for instance, if late for early morning school or if one failed to turn up at the fixed target for an afternoon’s run. Most of the discipline was in the hands of the senior boys. Their sole form of punishment was beating, and this was so copiously applied for any infringement of an extensive and complicated social code that it amounted to licensed bullying. At certain stages of their career, boys could fasten one button of their coats, put one hand in a trouser pocket, and things of that sort. Upper School was ruled by four prefects, who sat in state at a table in front of the fire. One of them would carry notes round to the boys he was going to beat; this was during prep when we were all at our desks, and as soon as prep finished, all the 200 boys made a wild rush to encircle the prefect’s desk. The chairs were pushed away, the victim bent over the desk, and he was beaten as hard as the prefect could possibly manage by taking a running jump and using a very long cane.

We were allowed to buy milk and cereals, etc., to eat in Upper School during the afternoon, if we had the spare pocket money. The sour milk and other refuse were dumped in an evil-smelling, huge iron bin on wheels. I remember one boy who was unpopular being dumped headfirst in this bin by a number of bigger boys.

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