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1930s naval trainees

Video clips: UK naval training ships

With comments by C. Farrell

Caning on a naval training ship is recalled. (2 minutes 12 seconds)

Extract from an interview in a 1994 BBC TV series called Forbidden Britain: Our Secret Past 1900-1960. The speaker, George Kirby from Liverpool, born in 1922, had been an inmate on the boys' training ship Cornwall in the 1930s.

TS Cornwall, moored in the Thames east of London, was, like some other (but not all) training ships, explicitly a reformatory school ship, run on naval lines but not operated by the Navy. These ships took out-of-control lads aged typically 12 to 16 and sought to turn them into disciplined, useful seafarers. At most if not all of them, corporal punishment was routine. In earlier times this would often have been with the birch, but by the 1930s the cane was the more usual instrument.

The speaker recalls that for his caning on TS Cornwall he had to bend over with his head held between the bosun's legs. The punishment was carried out in front of the whole ship's company mustered on the deck. It was applied to the seat of the trousers.

The producers of the TV programme have included some shots from a 1931 Movietone newsreel item about the training ship Arethusa. I have heard that Arethusa was unusual in that, unlike Cornwall and most other training ships, its canings were inflicted on the boys' bare buttocks.


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