Christmas was coming and speculation amongst the boys was spirited; not only were we thinking about what we would like to receive on the big day, there was also the excitement of the approaching term’s end and we would be going home for three whole weeks which, for me at least, was probably the best present of all. Life at boarding school was a different experience and although I disliked being there I had settled into some sort of routine and as I was quiet did tend to keep in the background and not get noticed too much. Now you might have expected that a timid boy could have been the subject of being pushed around, but being fearful of the headmaster’s searing and demeaning tongue kept us all in order and every boy looked after his own survival and didn’t interfere too much with creating a nuisance of himself to others. There was teasing, quite a bit of that went on, but it was mostly just high spirits from the frustration of the captive environment in which we lived. We never went out of the school grounds, weren’t allowed, the main road we could see was like another world to us and it was only the day-boys who kept us informed on what was happening outside.

Photograph of a boys dormitory courtesy of Philip HowardIt was a Sunday, this was the one morning of the week we weren’t up at 7.00am, this was the day the headmaster and matron had a lie-in and we had to stay in the dormitory until 9.30 and remain quiet until the rising bell told us we could get out of bed. On this particular Sunday the dormitory whispers became louder as we boys discussed the forthcoming yuletide holiday and eventually the volume became so loud we were shouting to one another above the din; it couldn’t last, sooner or later there’d be trouble, and there was. The door suddenly banged open and one of the boys from the senior dormitory marched in and informed us “Mr Morgan wants the boys who are making the loudest noise to stand outside the door”. That shut us up, there were twelve of us though, should we all stand outside? Of course, no-one owned up to making the most noise so there was no boy standing outside. We expected the wrath of Mr Morgan to descend upon us immediately but it didn’t and we thought we might have got away with it.

At breakfast time Mr Morgan casually mentioned that the noise that morning was unacceptable and was anyone going to own up to the racket; there was silence. Then he stated “Well, if no-one owns up by dinnertime you can all spend the afternoon in bed”. Now we had a dilemma, that meant we would have been deprived of our afternoon’s play in the grounds and something we would not have wanted, we enjoyed our Sunday afternoon of freedom, it was the one period in the week when we could do what we wanted within the restrictions of school rules and regulations. The boys of the dorm got together and decided who was going to own up as really we were all guilty. Then someone said “Stokes and Roberts haven’t been in trouble this term, we could say it was them and they might get away with just a telling off as they’re always good”; and so it was agreed that my friend and myself should be their scapegoats, despite our vociferous protests we had been making no more noise than they. We knew who the loudest were, but would never had stood up to them or blamed them publicly, they were older than us and had been in the school a lot longer than our one term and we were out-voted.

Bryntirion School as it was in the 1950s and early 60sFollowing our dinner the dorm spokesperson informed the head it was Stokes and Roberts* making all the noise that morning and after questioning us the headmaster ascertained that we had been talking and consequently sent us to bed for the afternoon, although I’m convinced he didn’t believe us. Our downstairs dormitory overlooked the school grounds (lower three windows to the right in this photograph) and we were able to see all the boys enjoying their afternoon’s play outside before it became dark and strangely not one boy stood outside the window to gloat. After what seemed an eternity, as we were afraid to get out of bed and turn on the lights, we were eventually rescued by another of the dorm residents who told us to put on our dressing gowns and come to supper. Our standing amongst our peers rose to a new level after that episode, we seemed to be given much greater respect having ‘carried the can’ for the rest of them that afternoon; the incident was never mentioned again by anyone, perhaps they all felt a little guilt, well I like to think that anyway!

*I have altered the surname of my school friend in case he wouldn’t want to be identified, although his surname does begin with R. The photograph of a dormitory is for illustration purposes only and was not taken at my school, it has been used with kind permission of Philip Howard and is from his large collection of childhood photographs and memorabilia on his flickr website. Photograph of the actual school building courtesy of Tony