Magnum Opus

Thanks for the latest, Opus.

You have such great and detailed memories, I hope you won’t mind me putting them in their own blog post. I believe in full transparency, something I was personally denied as a kid by the Catholic system. So fire away without risk of censorship.

Everyone’s experience is different and, just as I have no doubt your recollections are true, I think you might assume that the recollections of others, including myself, are also true. Many of us haven’t met since school days yet our recollections dovetail with each other. And what would we possibly gain by lying or exaggerating? You only have to look at the number of De La Salle Brothers who have faced the courts for abuse to see it’s most unlikely we are fantasising or guilty of misandry. Brothers like Solomon (who you’d have missed) were so notorious there are endless accounts of him as an abuser, including when he returned as a lay teacher after your time. Thanks to Solomon I have a deep love of classical music, but – as a day boy – I luckily escaped his predations.

Like you, I have positive memories of Brother James as a maths teacher. I was so thick where maths were concerned, but he knew how to get through to dense kids like me. I admired his zeal, too, as you describe below. I think I saw him as a kind of role model, even a father figure. But there was another darker side to him, not just his well-known psychotic anger. This darker side also needs recording – particularly for those of us who experienced it.

So many survivors suppress their truth and could be discouraged to come forward by scepticism such as in your posts. I hope not. Only by acknowledging the truth does it set us free.

I notice from your previous post and this one that you’re personally very critical of Brother Elwin. I wish i could remember him better – rimless square glasses, looked like an intellectual, rather aloof? It feels like you were personally ‘burned’ by him, just as other old boys were burned by other brothers.

Because nothing awful happened to you or people you knew, doesn’t mean it couldn’t possibly happen to others. Predators often go for kids who are vulnerable in some way. That may be why you escaped and others didn’t.

I think this site and others like it are a valuable catharsis for survivors. I know this to be true from their responses to me in private e-mails. Most of the brothers are now dead or infirm, but the terrible damage they caused lives on in the survivors and this site provides a useful outlet for our anger, pain and grief.

Judging by recent private correspondence with old boys, I suspect there is much worse to come from other survivors.

At school many of us were forced to keep our mouths shut about what was really going, I certainly was. This site is a way for us all to speak out to ensure the DLS Brothers’ past crimes are well known.

However, I realise there’s also a positive and human side to many of them who, like you, I admired and this is worth noting too. So do please carry on with your critique.

–Pat Mills

The proprietor of this blog having kindly published my above and not altogether in agreement with the tenor of this blog comment and I having had the opportunity to re-read the various comments on this and other threads thought that I might trusting not to try his patience too much make a few further comments which I trust might be of general interest:

1. My own late little brother who left some lengthy autobiographical writings and who attended both Oak Hill and Birkfield as a border does not once mention violence or sexual behaviour by the monks although when as a nine-year-old he broke his collar bone whilst skating during the long winter of ’63 and doing so where he was not supposed to skate he was in mortal fear of their anger: For twenty four hours yet in great pain he failed to seek medical help for his injury and his injury only came to light when some other boy went to the monks. My parents should have sued the order in Tort for negligence but they came from a generation where any person in a position of authority was seen as beyond criticism. My brother does write that once in an Ipswich cinema a stranger (male) attempted to touch him-up. I am certain that had my brother been aware of inappropriate monk behaviour he would have written of it.

2. I refer to Brother Kevin who first taught me some French (the language, I mean). Once aged eleven or twelve I managed to overturn a desk on to my right foot exacerbating a previous injury to my middle toe. I am not sure why i did not attend sick-bay but he assisted me in his room in the 55 wing (which I do not recall as having any visual access to the dormitories – it being across the corridor). He having patched my foot and far from cross with me as he might have been for my foolishness lent me his right bedroom slipper, my own right shoe now being too small given the bandaging to my foot. He asked that I return the slipper in due course. I never did yet I do not know why i did not do so.

3. In the Sixth form I sat next to a boy whom I will not name but with whom I became friends and who joined the school following his expulsion from another local school. He did not and would not give the reason for the expulsion. We all of course assumed what that reason must have been. Is this not to the credit of the La Salles?

4. The school was very violent, yet most violence was boy on boy and it was other boys – bigger, older – that terrified me (as an eleven year old) far more than the monks. Whether it was any different from other schools I cannot say.

5. In my year there were two boys loathed and detested by the remainder of us – they should have been expelled. Both were predatory homosexuals – and I do not for one second believe that propensity was caused by the monks. As a result they were on the receiving end of boy violence. A third boy who I also much disliked was I learnt much later of the same persuasion.

6. In the media, Headmasters can do no wrong yet in the early 1970s a couple of the Dailies (the Mail and Express, I think) ran articles criticising Elwin Gerard. He, of course, doubled-down and having the support of the order ignored the criticism. I forget what it was that had incensed the press. Haircuts?

7. A year younger than me was a boy by the name of George Phillips. He was likable, slightly overweight and had just passed eleven O’levels and as such was a shoe-in for Oxbridge and probably also Head Boy. One day at the beginning of term Elwin Gerard passing him ordered Phillips to get a haircut – not that his hair was in any sense long. Phillips refused and on the spot Phillips was expelled. I appreciate that a head master can not allow his authority to be treated lightly but this was stupidity on the part of Elwin Gerard – especially as Phillips was his star pupil. Happily for him Phillips had the support of his parents who he explained to me were increasingly concerned about Elwin Gerard’s running of the school. St Joseph’s loss would have been the gain of some Six-form academy.

8. One day Elwin Gerard came into class somewhat speechless and informed us that he had just interviewed the mother of a boy named Masters and that the said mother had then accused Elwin Gerard of sexually assaulting her. None of us boys believed such an obviously insane accusation.

9. The regrettable arrival of girls at the school also produced a Nun and this nun seemed to spend inordinate amounts of time in the physics Lab with a monk – Cecil?. Were they? We thought so. On the arrival of the first batch of four girls it was only a day or so before one of the four girls found her way predictably down to one of the lodges which of course was out of bounds for females. The boys who slept there were of course blamed. I blame firstly the La Salle’s for their stupidity and secondly the girl – not the boys, the La Salle’s blaming the boys for the free actions of the strong and empowered girl.

10. I refer again to Brother James; he was my first form master. It is said elsewhere here that the monks did not care for black people. I beg to disagree: I will never forget (to cut a long story short) how in consecutive weeks I parted with my entire pocket money at James’ suggestion and encouragement (doubtless following yet another blue testimonial) for the black babies. One can never ask for change when giving charity and being shamed by James (in front of the entire class) for meanness was something I wished to avoid. In the third week when again encouraged to give reparations to the Africans I sat on my hands and have since that time avoided all forms of charitable giving. My parents did not pay my pocket money just so that it could be given away!

11. On the subject of money a perusal of the appropriate school magazine will reveal Elwin Gerard (at speech day) berating parents for not yet having purchased his new school uniform and where he implies that all parents are rolling in money as if money grows on trees. I think that revealing as to the true attitude of the (unpaid of course) La Salle monks. Catholicism frequently looks much like Marxism – an ideology of envy. My parents and especially my mother went without for the sake of what passed for my education whilst wrecking the family’s finances.

12. In one of his nightly exhortations – we were then about fifteen years of age – to us standing on and around the Birkfield staircase we were informed as usual that although we were irredeemably bad and hell bound that had we any complaint or information of which the head master should be aware it was our duty to report the matter to him. Some days later I led a deputation of boys to Elwin Gerard as some matter I now long forget was I felt of sufficient importance that it needed to be reported. They always shoot the messenger do they not and on explaining myself to Elwin Gerard I was irate-ably dismissed and informed to stop causing trouble. The hypocrite!

Men are leaving the teaching profession in droves as boys are feminised. Is not the attack on the :La Salle brothers whatever their failings just thinly disguised Misandry?

–Opus

 

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2 thoughts on “Magnum Opus

  1. Pat,

    Whether my memories are correct or even materially fair (and I obviously think they are) is something I cannot judge.

    I thought then that you might appreciate on perhaps a largely lighter note though not unsexually related my further reminiscences:

    1. The new chapel had just been completed and was shortly be opened. On a morning on exiting from the dormitories, was, to be seen flying high from its spire, a pair of knickers. How the roof of the chapel was ascended (and descended without injury) and who was responsible for the prank and indeed from where the pair of knickers had been obtained remained a mystery.

    2. Aside from being Head Master, Elwin Gerard was, when I was about fifteen in charge of the dormitories in the main house which was where I then resided. In a room on the ground floor was a monochrome television set and chairs for viewing. It being a Saturday night we would crowd into the room to watch whatever the BBC were providing by way of entertainment. On the occasion in question the Beeb had imported in from the United States a light entertainment series featuring the comic actor and singer Mr Danny Kaye. Some way through the show came what would surely turn out to be a comic sketch: it commenced with the camera tracking the back of a woman with long blonde hair and the accompanying music was of the type associated with strippers. The woman’s back was bare. Elwin Gerard who was watching with us promptly jumped up and switched off the television set ordering us all to bed. I will thus never know what the joke was for surely a joke which I would long have forgotten was coming and had Elwin Gerard not been so hasty I think we would have discovered that the woman was a man, Kaye himself.

    3. At a time when Lawrence of Arabia was a justly popular film a White Father who was the brother of one of the monks (John?) visited the school, talked about his work in North Africa and to our great delight demonstrated how he put on his arab-style robes. I was told decades later that he was later convicted of indecent assault upon his charges whilst in India at a place known as Boys Town. Would that be right?

    4. My little brother was at Oak Hill from the age of just nine commencing at the beginning of the autumn term. When he returned at Xmas my Mother said (later) that she no longer recognised him as the same happy-go-lucky little boy whom she had sent off some three months earlier.

    5. I was a boomer and that meant that at that time there was by reason of increased birth-rates pressure on places in schools and thus schools could become a law unto themselves. It was also the case that the La Salles were not able to recruit sufficient men to their order and thus appear to have taken any man who was willing to join them. Certainly the calibre of many of the monks – as teachers – left much to be desired. From my point of view this was to the good such that by the time I reached the dizzy heights of the sixth-form none of my teachers were monks and (I was also studying outside the school and thus was semi-detached from it) a majority of my teachers were not even Roman Catholics. To a large extent then the Brothers faded out of my life for apart from being in Ipswich a fair amount of the week I ended my career at Birkfield living in the little lodge by its entrance where we were without any form of supervision. Neither being a Prefect nor playing in team sports (I never took to Rugby and became bored by Cricket) and by reason of one task I performed happily from the age of fourteen until I left and which gained me access daily to the lay-Master’s Common Room such that I had a good relationship with them I was by then left to my own devices.

    • Thanks for the latest, Opus. I really enjoyed reading your recollections. Again, I think the breadth of your reply merits its own post, so I have posted it, and my reply, here: https://patmills.wordpress.com/2018/04/24/boys-town/

      I know Homan started a Boys Town in India, so it must be the same one. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/12/joe-homan-obituary

      I’ve read a most disturbing account of his conduct at St J’s – think it was at Oak Hill. And also accounts by an investigative journalist linking him to a Body Shop scandal. Cheap labour and worse. I keep meaning to write to the journalist to ask for confirmation on a couple of points. I also believe that’s where the notorious Brother Solomon headed one time.

      So I was disappointed to read fellow old boy Chris Mullin singing Homan’s praises in The Guardian, especially as i’m a huge fan of Chris’s novel and film A Very British Coup.

      I believe these days, if someone said they were going to set up a ‘Boys Town’, they’d be locked up. Thus there was a very recent case of a paedophile who was one of the founders of ‘Street Kids International.’

      I think I remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia with the school and the Brothers flinching at some of the scenes. There was an implied rape – that could have been it. They also flinched and blushed when they took us to see Guns of Navarone and a woman’s naked back was revealed. Understandable – all these kids watching them for signs of human weakness. The pressure must have been terrible!

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