The WRNS and caning in wartime
Much has been written about the caning of women in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. These episodes seem to fall into two types of incident, the semi-official and the unofficial.
Although, except for perhaps at Dartmouth, no serving man seems to have been subject to the same discipline. This was probably for a combination of reasons. However, officially the discipline of women was not always subject to the articles of war since serving females were often mobilised before the regulations could be redrafted and in 1938 a temporary provision was made to treat women as boy cadets.
Issues surrounding the unofficial punishments are less clear.
One report was of a wren of 23 who addressed an important communication to the wrong admiral resulting in an incident at the war office. The CPO in charge of the mail section was summoned to the CO and told ‘to sort the ninny out.’
Apparently the procedure for ‘sorting out’ was to have the miscreant wren undress down to her stockings, suspenders and bra, having removed her knickers and then bent over the CPO’s knee to have her bare bottom spanked.
Another report from a now octogenarian was that corporal punishment was common for minor offences at some establishments. On the base she was posted to, there was one old officer who was notorious for handing out beatings to the younger wrens for trivial offences. When sent to go before him, she said, the deserving girl would be confronted with her offence and made sure that she had understood the charges. She was then told “take down your drawers.”
The woman was then expected to pull down her service underwear to her ankles and bend over. Her skirt would then be lifted over her back and clear of any other clothing to completely bare her bottom. She was then spanked with a two-feet wooden ruler.
The 80-something former-wren said that she was spanked in this way twice and although does not rule out a sexual motive, believes that it was more likely just about the strict discipline of those times.
Where informal spankings seem to have been carried out by serving men, other reports suggest that on all women establishments caning was a more routine and formal affair.
At a base near Valetta on Malta during WW2 anything from 12 to 30 strokes seems to have been metered out by the senior female warrant officer with a cane. These bare-bottomed punishments were administered both routinely in private and on occasions before the assembled ‘ships company.’
One young wren said that during the worst privations of the attacks on the island, healthy young women often did not know if they would live or die and they like their boyfriends were serving irregular hours. Consequently young women were frequently late on duty, discovered in compromising situations and on many occasions caught pilfering or hoarding rations.
“Under the circumstances taking a quick shellacking was the least of our worries,” says one former service woman, “after one particular party I remember seeing quite a parade of red and mauve-lined bottoms in the shower block at the change of the duty.”
At Dartmouth, the Royal Navy officers training college, they used a system of cadet captains who administered what they called a ‘tick’ for any breach of discipline. This was a way of delegating the arduous and routine of marshalling former civilian trainees who were often late on parade or ‘incorrectly dressed.’ The system was, that if you acquire three ticks in one term then you received six of the best on a bare behind regardless if you were male or female.
One former cadet, Mrs P, remembers that during her time at Dartmouth during the 1940s, it was a daily routine for women cadets be beaten on their bare bottoms. She says that once while attending an arms drill she carelessly discharged a clip of live ammunition, an action that could have had some very serious consequences.
For that incident she was hauled up before the commanding officer who gave her 30 strokes of the cane on her bare bottom and she says that she could not sit down for five days.
Mrs B, who served around the same time says that she was an insubordinate girl and was constantly in trouble, but by some miracle managed to avoid a CO’s 30.
She did however have to regularly visit the staff sergeant’s office for a meeting with what she called ‘knotty,’ which was a large bamboo cane.
She admits that she was both wilful and cheeky and usually ‘thoroughly deserved’ her regulation 12 strokes on the bare bottom and more often than not got at least an extra six for ‘offering staff some lip.’
“Sitting down was often quite a challenge and on one occasion I had my backside welted with 12 strokes on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of the same week for smoking in the lavatories.”
For more on this Gina’s story about her grandmother was posted here.
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Tags: 1940s, can't sit down, college, corporal punishment, OTK, spanking, the cane, wrens, WRNS