Greg Peck 53B
At the time of writing this, the third of March 2003, a thread has been running for some time on the Forum message board on the topic of bullying at AAS. It certainly existed there in its various forms and everyone who passed through AAS would have been subjected to one form of it, or another, during their stay at Arborfield. As to how terrible it was, only an individual can comment on that from his or her own perspective. For me personally, bullying started much earlier than my entry through the front gates of Arborfield AAS. Bear with me and I will endeavour to relate how it affected me, as I was as a child, then as a teenager and indeed even now.
My first contact with a bully was while still a child of tender years, living at that time in Bakers Street, Luton. Michael Allen, my nemesis, lived some four doors away from the house in which we lived. Our house faced a side road, Cambridge Street, a very short but quite steep thoroughfare leading towards the Council Bus Depot and a main road into Luton from the south.
Michael Allen was quite a large and aggressive kid who led a little pack of hangers on. From the day that my family moved into the street he relegated me to bottom of the pecking order and my life was made a misery whenever our paths crossed. I soon learned to avoid him and his cohorts, slipping quietly out of the street to seek the company of my older cousins whenever I could, the gauntlet had to be run again on my return home but I became very expert at lurking without being seen and then making a very swift dash once the coast was clear. My Mother often entrusted me to go into the Town centre for the meat ration once I got a little older, I developed a defensive technique for that which never failed me. Fearing to get waylaid and having money and ration card taken from me, I would gaze out the front window down Cambridge Street. Upon seeing a couple of old dears whose routine never varied, I would dash out and walk with them all the way to Dewhursts, the butchers shop in Wellington Street. In cold and slippery conditions the two elderly ladies thought I was a very nice young lad, as they clutched my arms to help them maintain their footing. My motivation was for their presence to deter my feared persecutors of course, a very happy sort of quid pro quo for me!
Michael Allen and all of his pack ended up going to Surrey Street school, which was downhill from where we lived, while I went to Tennyson road, slightly further away but uphill. With he and his sycophants spending more and more of their time with new chums from their school, I saw much less of them and that thankfully from such a distance that it permitted me to avoid them.
Unfortunately, this did not end my problems as far as bullying went, I had become such a furtive and introspective little bloke by this time that I guess my body language invited predation by those types who need a victim to fulfil their otherwise empty lives. Another larger and older kid at my school promptly filled in the vacuum left by my erstwhile tormentor. The quadrangles at the school were poorly serviced by teachers at break times, they rarely ventured out of the building unless called out in the case of a kid getting into strife by way of a fall or whatever, or an air raid warning. This left me entirely at the mercy of this big fat older kid, who gave me several hidings for no apparent reason other than that he could. My recesses were spent skulking, or if spotted, running for my life! An older girl, noticing my plight, started to intercede whenever she saw me being set upon. I worshipped the very ground she walked upon and quickly utilised her the same way I had done with the two old dears, hanging out just close enough to her so that I could scoot to her side if threatened. Inevitably, there came a day when she was away from school for some reason, fatso had been waiting for this and at the lunch break he finally cornered me. I was trapped in a corner of the rear quadrangle and he just stood there slapping at my head, one slap started my nose bleeding and something snapped inside of me. I quite literally saw red for a second, a sort of haze, and then I felt sort of weightless. Next thing I remember is hearing screams and having a teacher pull me off of the chest of the fat kid, who I had somehow knocked to the ground. Both of us were well bloodied and were screaming, me with rage and he with fear, as I pounded at his head with flying fists.
A short while later, after a lecture on errant behaviour, I was given six strokes of the cane across the palm of my hand, my first clash with authority and a painful one too. Not even that could take away the tremendous feeling of elation coursing through me however, I had, so I believed, solved the problem where bullying was concerned. From that day on, whenever picked on, I would stand my ground and if necessary, protect myself with flying fists.
Incidents that caused me to fight became very infrequent, probably because I no longer carried myself like a frightened potential victim, instead of lurking on the periphery of whatever was going on, I became an enthusiastic participator.
In my final few days at Tennyson Road School, my old protagonist was transferred from Surrey Street School, for unruly behaviour apparently. We were preparing to emigrate to Melbourne in Australia and my mind was really on other things. Once he had settled in, he tried to start at precisely where he had left off, belittling, shoving, elbowing and the final straw, smacking the back of my head in class with his ruler. Luckily without attracting the teachers’ attention, I turned around and took a swipe at him, mutual threats were exchanged and we arranged to fight outside the school gates. He disappeared after lunch and when, after vainly waiting outside the school for some fifteen minutes, the eager crowd had dispersed, I started to make my way downhill. At the first intersection Michael Allen waylaid me, in tow he had a tough looking kid from Surrey St and they both started to shove and push at me. I lashed out and offered to fight the other kid immediately after I had sorted out Michael Allen. This bravado really nettled them and the kid said that he had no real quarrel with me, I only had to fight Michael Allen as far as he was concerned. What a doddle! He was quite hopeless, this was very obviously the first time his bluff had been called and after a few punches and a bit of wrestling, he spat the dummy. This was all the proof I felt was needed that bullying by your peers did not have to be endured.
Australia was very different, somehow much more casual and relaxed, although the schoolyards contained bullies too. As a Pom, I found myself a magnet to those who wanted something different to have a go at and every school that I went to (Nine in total) necessitated some scrapping in order to secure relief from that. I quickly noticed that teachers much better patrolled schoolyards there than had been the case in Tennyson Road School. This I utilised to good advantage. My invariable stratagem being to become extremely vociferous when challenged by a would be bullyboy, having attracted an enthusiastic audience, towards which the teacher would be hastening. I would launch a sudden ferocious assault on my foe. The object of which was to do as much damage as I could in the short time available to me, this dismayed the object of my attention because all he wanted to do was establish dominance as cheaply as possible, or arrange a clash after school. My apparent enthusiasm for instant fisticuffs totally baffled them and none showed any enthusiasm for a rematch, of course, a few strokes across the behind with a plimsoll was received by each of us for fighting but this was a small price to pay for being left unmolested.
Some of the incidents during my time there were unusual and stood apart from the ones over which I could exercise some manipulation to my advantage, not all victories were to be cheap.
While I was at Highett School I had two standout incidents, the Saturday before commencing at the school I went to the cinema for the very popular matinee for kids, I had my younger brother with me. Duncan had a really white blonde head of hair and for some reason this provoked some teasing from some kids sat in the row behind us. One of them reached forward and pulled four year old Duncan’s hair quite viciously; I grabbed him around the neck, pulled him into my row and set about sorting him out. When the ushers came to see what it was all about, plenty of other kids told what had been done to my brother, so we saw the matinee while the rat bag and his mates were tossed out. When I fronted for my latest new school on the Monday, who should come swaggering up to me but the kid who I had fought with in the cinema, he announced himself as the best fighter in the grade and told me to watch myself. I sniggered at his swollen and blackened eye and told him to scarper before I gave him a matched pair, no further trouble from that quarter.
Later on at Highett School I had befriended a kid called Paul, who complained to me that this older lad was taking lunch money off of kids, he told me that it was only a matter of time before he caught up with me. I suggested that perhaps he needed to be taught some manners and then organised to secrete some cudgels by the route we followed to school along the road down by the back paddock. A couple of weeks later, this big ginger headed yobbo confronted us and told us to cough up our lunch money, instead of which we took off down the road, he hotfooted it after us. His smirk when we pulled up by this big boxthorn bush didn’t last very long though, we set about him with the cudgels to such good effect that he was off school for three days, he never ‘dobbed us’ in though and never came near us again either.
At Auburn School we had two classes in our grade and the rivalry was really intense, this particular day we actually went for each other like you wouldn’t believe. I ended up rolling around on the floor locked in mortal combat with a biggish Yugoslav kid, as the teachers arrived to break up the scrimmage, all the kids still on their feet sprinted away, one of them managed to stomp on my hooter on the way. One broken nose! Just three weeks after this, it got done again in a fight arranged in my normal format, it was really sore but as always, things happen in threes! In the third instance, my kid brothers little red pedal car had been left outside the front of the Milk Bar that my parents then owned. This kid from a couple of doors down had decided he would muck around with it; he was sat astride it and scooting with his feet. Duncan had a bit of a toot when this kid told him to POQ as he asked for it back. My Dad told me to get this kid off of the pedal car. Well he was two grades ahead of me, although he was a runt, much as I was. I pointed out to my Dad the disparity in ages and asked if he could deal with it. He made me an offer, deal with this kid or get a belting from him, my Dad was a nasty piece of work and a hiding from him was to be avoided at all costs. Well, I tried diplomacy and when that didn’t work, grabbed the kids’ hair and pulled him off the car. The ensuing fight was the longest and hardest I was ever to have in my entire life. We ended up in the alleyway alongside the side entry to the living quarters, surrounded by a large crowd of boozy men cheering us on and even making bets on the outcome. My shonk had succumbed again within seconds of the scrap starting and I was covered in gore and snot. Three times I had my worthy opponent on the ground and each time he got up and came back at me, the next time I got him down I commenced to smack his head against the pavement. It was at this point that a foreign sounding lady came into the alleyway and, berating the onlookers, pulled me away from the other lad. She took me into the shop, where my mother took charge of me, the lady lectured my father and then took off. As I lay in the bath, nursing my sore hands, along with my badly swollen and still leaking nose, my father came in, slipped a half crown on to my piled up clothes and said, “Well done”. That was the only time I can ever remember feeling that I had earned his genuine, unstinting approval.
As a result of all the damage done to my shonk, I developed an infection in it that threatened to erode the bone and cartilage, it spread to my ears, causing mastoid problems, a course of penicillin injections, followed by cauterisation, stopped the rot. This badly frightened me and I had a bit of a rethink as to whether fighting was such a good idea after all. Looking at how most of my contemporaries coped with signs of aggression from others, I decided to try humour as a first line of defence, resorting to method two only as a last resort. This stood me in reasonable stead for some four or five years immediately prior to enlisting as an Apprentice tradesman, I had very few fights during that period of my life. Those I did have were very brief. Watching a much fancied very tall lad get his come-uppance from someone of my stamp while at my last school decided me on what tactics I would apply if ever picked on and unable to josh my way out of it. This lad simply kept edging way from Ossie Osbourne as he stalked forward, then he took three very rapid steps backwards and then one forwards, striking as he did so. Caught with forward momentum, Ossie went down like a pole axed steer. I adopted that technique, so beautifully simple and ideal for someone short in stature but with powerful arms.
Less than eight months after returning to England in mid 1950, my father succumbed to cancer of the brain. My mother had a surly Cornishman in as our “stepfather” within a matter of three weeks. He was a humourless, heavy-handed tyrant, the more so because he was not graced with any wit that I ever noticed. My brother and I greeted his advent into our lives with some antipathy; we suffered the consequences for our signal lack of enthusiasm.
Within a very short time I had been set in the role of family skivvy, having to shop, cook and be at Bill Browns beck and call whenever he needed an errand doing. His heavy-handed brutality extended to my mother one night about eighteen months after he had taken over our lives, he knocked her to the ground over some argument they were engaged in. Always protective of mine, I went berserk, grabbed a carving knife and did my level best to plunge it into his back. The fact that the plate of food my mother had been about to set on the table had spilt on the floor as she fell caused me to slip at the vital moment. Except for that, my life would have been entirely different to what it has been, my instinct and intent was to kill! As I crashed to the floor, still clutching the knife, he spun around and promptly kicked me in the ribs hard enough to stun my diaphragm. He picked me up off of the floor and threw me violently upwards so that my head broke through the ceiling, fortunately missing the cross beam; else I would not be typing this today. He battered me very badly but I did manage to have the last word to him before he slammed the bedroom door on me. I shouted out that I wouldn’t always be small. I was wrong as it turned out. He always said to me, whenever I let my hatred show through, that I would be too old by the time I was good enough, he too was wrong, very wrong!
The new Sports teacher at Challney, which was my thirteenth and final school, was a keen boxer and started a training group, he was hoping to get organised in time to take part in competitions but something went awry with the registrations, so we dipped out. I was appointed as school boxing captain but as it was my senior year and we had failed to nominate in time, I never had a competitive bout. I was very keen though and trained really hard, so of course that went into the report card that the school sent to AAS on my behalf. The other thing that was mentioned was my supposed indifference towards authority, this stemming from a refusal to accept punishment from a hectoring and bombastic type of teacher who had accused me, incorrectly, of flipping him a V sign as the class marched in from lunch recess. I defied the principal, his deputy and of course the twerp himself and such defiance was almost unheard of. Fortunately my sterling reputation for goodwill and honesty swung the Deputy principal, Mr Heelis, to support me.
Eighteen months or so before enlisting into AAS, I enrolled as an Army Cadet with the Sundon Park half Company of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. The other half of the Company was situated at Toddington village, which was about eight kilometres away as the crow flies. Rivalry between us was intense and on the two or three occasions every year when we met as a full Company, trouble was never far away. Lieutenant Sears, and his older brother, who was our colour sergeant, ran Sundon Park. The older Sears was a good sort; the CO was a bit stuck up and never took to me at all. He was ever ready to find fault with anything I did, he gave very grudging praise when I became the only cadet to pass my part two badge with credit out of some 250 cadets from all over East Anglia, when tested at Dunstable Towns drill hall. Some two months before going into AAS we had a cadet camp at St Martins plain near Folkestone in Kent. The Beds and Herts, Suffolk’s and Norfolk’s were all there together. Many of us recognised each other from the tests and all was going well until the Brigadiers parade and march past in the late afternoon of the first day. We were marching as a full Company and I had the misfortune to have the Toddington bullyboy right behind me in the centre rank. He kept treading on the back of my heel as we marched; I could hear him and some of his mates sniggering every time he did it. I hissed a warning to him with no avail whatsoever. So finally I turned around as quick as a flash and king-hit him, well that was it, eh? I spent the entire fortnight on Jankers, although the Inniskillings who ran the camp gave me a very cushy time of it. The Irish do love a rogue! Lieutenant Sears had to submit a report to AAS as part of my induction and by way of referral; I hope he modified it so that it was couched differently to the language he used to describe me when I had to front him for punishment.
Such was the baggage that I brought with me into AAS, probably not the best of backgrounds for presentation to somewhere that demanded absolute obedience, at once! At least I was reasonably well equipped to handle the various sorts of bullying that places set up like AAS could present you with.
When Master Evans thought to set himself up as the bully boy of barrack room F4 in HQ Coy at AAS, I was the first one he tried to intimidate, he tried to bulldoze me out of his way, I simply wrestled him to the ground and held him down. When he tried to repeat the experiment, obviously not believing that someone of lesser physique could manage that other than by sheer fluke, I repeated the process, the second time much less gently. The sort of hazing that seniors assume the right of towards juniors was never much of a problem to me at AAS, on the very rare occasions that it did occur, I was philosophical about it, we all had to have a turn in the barrel!
I never became a bully myself I hasten to add, I abhor bullies of any sort. My biggest problem was a form of vanity, I started to think that I could put anyone away with no more than three punches and started to become very willing to check my theory if someone was giving me a hard time. My hubris in this respect caused me to almost kill a man in 1978, less than two hundred metres from Christies Beach Police station in SA, they call what he had road rage nowadays. He was big and mean and I wasn’t going to put up with his crap, he got up after a terrible single punch felled him, my second blow was picture perfect, he hovered, horizontal and then crashed to earth, bleeding from nose, mouth and ears. Only the whites of his eyes were showing. I brought him round, thank God, before I left him in his car and drove off.
I have always been a basically friendly sort of bloke, I wonder sometimes if bullies ever stop to think that their actions can have the potential to turn a nice bloke into something very dangerous and that some other fool will reap what they have sown, or that the odds are it will one day be them on the receiving end of a “monster” created by one of their own ilk? I am only too well aware of what it is that motivates a bully. It is an adrenalin rush, I know because I got an enormous “high” whenever I tackled and triumphed against someone who was trying to dominate me. Some people achieve these highs through sporting ability, some through risk taking, some by brutalising those they perceive as lesser men. Or in my instance, by turning the tables on the idiots who wanted to hurt me for their own senseless and selfish gratification.
As for me, I am simply very grateful that whenever I did respond directly to physical abuse, actual or threatened, I never ended up taking a life.