By STEPHEN CASTLE MARCH 16, 2014
LONDON — Prompted by publicity surrounding recent child abuse scandals involving well-known figures, dozens of British men are breaking decades of silence about molestation they say they suffered as boys at expensive private schools, forcing the schools to confront allegations that in the past might have been hushed up, ignored or treated derisively. ...
Most of these claims are directed at Britain’s preparatory schools, which typically admit children 4 to 13, with students living at the school starting at 7 or 8. Fees can be substantial, but in a country where private schooling is often seen as a key to success, many parents pay up in an effort to prepare pupils for entry to famous establishments for older children, like Eton College, Harrow School and Winchester College (known in Britain as public schools despite being private and expensive).
Britain’s fee-paying schools have a track record of brutality. These days, most have shed the strictness and austerity of previous eras, but many upper-class Britons remember childhoods of cold showers, inedible food and relentless corporal punishment.
The very nature of boarding schools — closed environments in which teachers can wield enormous power — can make them attractive to child abusers.
Keep in mind that private English schools traditionally encouraged celibacy among their staff. As I explained in my review of Bad Teacher:
Idealistic young teachers willingly sweat for their students, but once they have kids of their own, their priorities change. Hence, the most common solution that societies have come up with to get their educators—such as Jesuits, nuns, and Eton schoolmasters—to care passionately about other people’s children has been celibacy. (Of course, celibate teachers sometimes wind up caring a little too passionately for their charges.)
The NYT continues:
But in previous decades, parents were often reluctant to challenge teachers’ authority, said Alan Collins, principal lawyer at Slater & Gordon, which represented the former Aldwickbury student. He has 30 to 40 more cases pending against schools across the country.
“You had deference and the attitude that ‘this sort of thing happens,’ ” Mr. Collins said, adding that when teachers were discovered abusing pupils, they tended to be moved on quietly to avoid public embarrassment and damage to the school’s reputation.
"We haven’t told the old boy yet. I’m waiting till I land in the soup again. Then I shall play that as my last card. I generally get into the soup sooner or later."
“This looks like being the first end of term I’ve seen for two years,” he said dreamily. “Funny thing, I can always get on all right for about six weeks, and then I land in the soup. I don’t believe I was ever meant by Nature to be a schoolmaster. Temperament,” said Grimes, with a far-away look in his eyes—“that’s been my trouble, temperament and sex.”
“Is it quite easy to get another job after—after you’ve been in the soup?” asked Paul.
“Not at first, it isn’t, but there are ways. Besides, you see, I’m a public school man. That means everything. There’s a blessed equity in the English social system,” said Grimes, “that ensures the public school man against starvation. One goes through four or five years of perfect hell at an age when life is bound to be hell anyway, and after that the social system never lets one down.
“Not that I stood four or five years of it, mind; I left soon after my sixteenth birthday. But my housemaster was a public school man. He knew the system. “Grimes,” he said, “I can’t keep you in the House after what has happened. I have the other boys to consider. But I don’t want to be too hard on you. I want you to start again.” So he sat down there and then and wrote me a letter of recommendation to any future employer, a corking good letter, too. I’ve got it still. It’s been very useful at one time or another. That’s the public school system all over. They may kick you out, but they never let you down.
“I subscribed a guinea to the War Memorial Fund. I felt I owed it to them. I was really sorry,” said Grimes, “that that check never got through.
“After that I went into business. Uncle of mine had a brush factory at Edmonton. Doing pretty well before the war. That put the lid on the brush trade for me. You’re too young to have been in the war, I suppose? Those were the days, old boy. We shan’t see the like of them again. I don’t suppose I was really sober for more than a few hours for the whole of that war. Then I got into the soup again, pretty badly that time. Happened over in France. They said, ‘Now, Grimes, you’ve got to behave like a gentleman. We don’t want a court-martial in this regiment. We’re going to leave you alone for half an hour. There’s your revolver. You know what to do. Goodbye, old man,’ they said quite affectionately.
“Well, I sat there for some time looking at that revolver. I put it up to my head twice, but each time I brought it down again. ‘Public school men don’t end like this,’ I said to myself. It was a long half-hour, but luckily they had left a decanter of whisky in there with me. They’d all had a few, I think. That’s what made them all so solemn. There wasn’t much whisky left when they came back, and, what with that and the strain of the situation, I could only laugh when they came in. Silly thing to do, but they looked so surprised, seeing me there alive and drunk.
“‘The man’s a cad,’ said the colonel, but even then I couldn’t stop laughing, so they put me under arrest and called a court-martial.
“‘God bless my soul,’ he said, ‘if it isn’t Grimes of Podger’s! What’s all this nonsense about a court-martial?’ So I told him. ‘H’m,’ he said, ‘pretty bad. Still it’s out of the question to shoot an old Harrovian. I’ll see what I can do about it.’
And next day I was sent to Ireland on a pretty cushy job connected with postal service. That saw me out as far as the war was concerned. You can’t get into the soup in Ireland, do what you like. I don’t know if all this bores you?”
“Not at all,” said Paul. “I think it’s most encouraging.”
“I’ve been in the soup pretty often since then, but never quite so badly. Someone always turns up and says, ‘I can’t see a public school man down and out. Let me put you on your feet again.’ I should think,” said Grimes, “I’ve been put on my feet more often than any living man.”