Classmates and Comrades

Discipline and Punishment at CCB

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Intro to Classmates and Comrades

Before our Men Behind the Glass became soldiers they were schoolmates and comrades. It is important to consider the social and cultural context of life as a pupil at Campbell College Belfast, which educated them and shaped them as boys and men before and during the war.

Soldiers featured in this story

The nature and administration of discipline in an Edwardian public school was very different from that in today’s schools. Law and order was largely administered by prefects who were ‘senior’ boys in their final years at the College that would be equivalent to sixth formers or in today’s language, Years 13 and 14 (years 12 and 13 in England, Scotland and Wales).

As in many English public schools of the time, the Headmaster delegated authority to prefects to award and carry out punishments to the boys in lower years. This innovation was introduced to Campbell by MacFarland in 1907. The prefects recorded who they punished, with what penalty, and for what offence in their Prefects’ Log Book and the one for Campbell has survived. It gives an insight into how order was maintained by the prefects in the school.

In 1909, the Head Prefect Robert Boyd (OC 867) explained to the new prefects their duties which included to ‘ensure promptness of boys at meals’, ‘to enforce by example and precept good behaviour at meals’ and make sure ‘boys must get permission before leaving studies during prep time’.1

Prefects and teachers had several punishments available to them to enforce the rules. For less serious offences, perpetrators were given lines of Latin text books to copy out, often by the Roman authors Virgil or Ovid. Boys were normally given a couple of hundred lines of text to duplicate but on one occasion in September 1912, James Atkinson (OC 1015) was given 11 pages. His offence was ‘being observed…trying to attract by his movements the attention of girls who were passing on the footpath’ [sic]. The prefects recorded that ‘since he could give no satisfactory excuse it was decided to give him [Atkinson] a stiff imposition…and was warned that the next time it would mean a caning’.2

Ovid boys were given to copy out as a punishment.

The standard penalty for more serious crimes was corporal punishment. The use of the cane was banned outright in schools in Northern Ireland in 2006 but was actively used for a range of misdemeanours at CCB a hundred years ago.3

In May 1915, Ronald Hunter (OC 1188) and his brother John Hunter (OC 1224) were identified as being guilty of ‘disorderly’ conduct during a special school assembly arranged by Mr Yates to practice the School Song. The Hunter brothers were charged with ‘mocking the School Song’ which ‘insulted Mr Yates’ and both were given ‘200 lines of Virgil’ by the prefects. Additionally, John was given ‘3 strokes’ for ‘impertinence to the Prefects’.4

Frank Hitchcock (OC 1185) caned for interacting with girls during a hockey match

Boys were caned for some offences which would appear trivial by today’s standards. In October 1912, John Redding (OC 1198) and Frank Hitchcock (OC 1185) were charged with being ‘out of bounds on the Knock football fields during a ladies’ hockey match. Redding went over to fetch a ball which had been kicked over, and Hitchcock purposely kicked it back again and went over and got it’. Both were caned.5 

Boys’ under sentence from the prefects did have the right of appeal to the headmaster. However, in the Log Book over seven years, no appeal to the headmaster was ever successful and the original punishment awarded by the prefects was always carried out.

However, the system of discipline depended on working relations between the Headmaster and the prefects. These relationships broke down in early 1912. One OC said that trying to impose the strict English ‘disciplinary code on Ulster boys’ caused ‘widespread disaffection’.6 J. Ernest Davey (OC 729) believed that some prefects were able to exercise discipline in a fair way but ‘in some cases boys who were old enough to be prefects but were never chosen to be such – these boys [were]…often the most difficult or dangerous in the school in the matter of keeping order’.7

William Semple, resigned as a prefect on the caning of Stewart Clarke

On 22 March 1912, MacFarland caned a sixth former, Stewart Clarke (1126). The offence for which he was spanked is not known but there was a dispute about whether he had committed the act for which he was punished. Eric Dodds (OC 1023) said that the sixth formers regarded the incident as ‘an outrage. Quite apart from the injustice of the act [the caning], it was against Campbell tradition to cane a sixth-former’.8 As a result, three prefects, Cecil Bailey (OC 1077), John Deacon (OC 898) and William Semple (OC 913), resigned. That night Nelson Russell (OC 1200) reported there was disorder in the College with ‘great scrums in [the] passages at night. The resigned Prefects were in the middle. Poor Bill Yates [master] was on duty and did very well. Of course he couldn’t stop it’.9 MacFarland gave the three recently resigned prefects a choice, to give a public apology or face expulsion; they took the former.

The only prefect left on duty was Arthur Leslie Gregg (OC 957).10 It appears that the prefectural system broke down in the summer term of 1912 as there were only two prefects appointed and the Log Book has no record of any punishments being given to miscreants.

 However, this was not the end of the affair. Eric Dodds (OC 1023) was expelled three weeks later for writing a ‘long and patronising’ letter to MacFarland ‘explaining to him exactly what was wrong both with his behaviour on [the] occasion and…his general conduct in the school’. It was reported that this letter was regarded as by MacFarland as ‘gross, studied and sustained insolence’ which justified the ultimate sanction of expulsion.11

The resignation of the prefects caused disquiet among the governors. In the spring of 1912, they established a special committee to ‘confer with the Headmaster as to the recent breaches of discipline on the part of the prefects that ha[d]…occurred in the last two years’. The chair of the committee questioned whether the English ‘prefect system [was] suited to this particular type of school in Ireland’. Recommendations were made about suspending the prefectural system for a year but no action appears to have been taken on the issue.12