Aden 1940

A military punishment from World War Two, resembling rumoured events that have been circulating for many years.

By David Linnell

This story though fictitious is based on real events that apparently took place in Aden in 1940.

I was told this story by my aunt some years ago. She joined the WAAF in 1939 at the age of eighteen. After training she was posted to Aden which had become a Crown Colony in 1937, with the main Military presence being the RAF. She told me she was so ashamed of what had happened to her there that she had never told anyone about it, but felt that now someone ought to know.

She was very vague about what actually happened, but apparently it involved 12 WRACS including herself who were accused of some sort of mutiny. In her own words this is what happened next.

* * *

I shall never forget that awful morning when all twelve of us were standing in the dock of the Aden Protectorate Court. Being wartime we were all in real trouble for our revolt against what we thought was harsh discipline. I listened but was not really taking in all the things we were being accused of. However, it was a real shock to hear the verdict of “GUILTY”. I stood bemused as I heard our sentences read out. We were all sentenced to six months in the penal compound, and during our sentence we would all receive eight strokes of the birch.

We were all taken away to the penal compound to serve our sentences. A few days later however, we were told that as, due to the war, there were not enough punishment birches in Aden at the moment we would all receive twelve strokes of the cane instead.

Usually we wore prison overalls in the penal compound, but one morning my friend Elizabeth was told to change into her uniform and remain in her cell until fetched. We had to go and get on with our prison tasks for the day so I didn’t get to see Elizabeth until the evening when I found her lying face down on her bed. She had had her caning that morning and was in a terrible state: her bottom a mass of deep red weals. She was still in agony, and it took her several days to be able to move properly without considerable pain.

About once every two weeks one of us would be told to change into uniform that morning and knew that the time had come for their whacking. The results were always the same, with considerable pain for several days afterwards. One day I was near the door that led out into the exercise yard and I saw Jane, a very loud and bolshy girl, being dragged out in her uniform for her whacking. She was shouting and screaming at the top of her voice: “Stop it! You can’t do this to me! No, no please!” The WAAF NCO with her told her to stop behaving like a child and behave like an adult and take her punishment like the others had done. She still continued crying but did calm down a bit.

I was determined that when my turn came I would try to take my punishment as bravely as I could however hard it might be. The days dragged on with the dreary prison routine until one morning my name was called out, and I was told to return to my cell and put on my uniform. My date with the cane had arrived. Of the twelve of us sentenced eight had already received their caning. Some had taken it bravely and others had made rather an exhibition of themselves. I was trembling all over as I dressed carefully in my uniform, but somehow I also felt relieved that my turn had arrived and that, however painful, it would soon be over.

At ten o’clock a WAAF NCO arrived accompanied by a male police sergeant. They told me to come with them. So started the slow walk of the condemned to my fate. We walked along the bleak prison corridors until we emerged through a doorway into the exercise yard. There in the middle of the yard was a fairly large bench affair that I knew to be the “Whipping Block”; and there very shortly I knew I would be bent over to be flogged.

As we approached the block I saw there were quite a few people around it, mostly male, though I noticed a young WAAC Officer from my unit. As soon as we reached the Block we stopped and the Prison Governor stepped forward and read out my sentence.

“Leading aircraftwoman Johnson you have been sentenced by the Aden Protectorate Court to six months detention, and also to receive twelve strokes of the cane to be carried out during your confinement. I have to tell you that that part of your sentence will now be carried out. Prepare yourself.”

I was then told by the WAAF NCO to remove my skirt and knickers. In normal circumstances I would have been too embarrassed to reveal myself half naked in front of all these people. As it was, however, I dumbly complied and handed my skirt and knickers to the WAAF NCO.

I was then told to step on to the small platform at the front of the Block and then bend over it with my arms hanging down the other side. The NCO and police sergeant then secured each arm with a strap to bars at the rear of the block. They then repeated the process with each of my legs to similar bars at the front. Finally, a thick leather strap was secured and tightened across the small of my back. Try as I might I could not move, I was now securely strapped in place for my flogging.

I felt and heard nothing for what seemed like ages, and then I felt a slight tapping of the cane across my bottom. Then suddenly I heard a whoosh and then a resounding crack. For a moment I felt nothing before the most terrible pain I have ever felt spread through my bottom and completely engulfed me with agony. However brave I thought I would be I could hold myself no longer and let out a tremendous cry and immediately began sobbing. After what seemed ages another whoosh and resounding crack. I shrieked again louder this time.

And so it continued whoosh, crack, whoosh, crack, as stroke after vicious stroke crashed into my poor bottom.

This seemed to go on for ever and then I realised it had stopped. I felt the straps on my arms being unbuckled and then the ones on my legs. Finally the strap across my back was removed. I just lay there sobbing, but was then helped to my feet. My legs felt so weak I could hardly stand and had to be supported off the exercise yard still half naked.

I was taken to the medical room and told to lie on my front. After a while the Medical Officer appeared and examined my bottom. It appeared that the skin was just about intact despite the deep agonising weals that had been inflicted. He told the nurse to clean my bottom up and apply an antiseptic just in case. It of course stung like fury. After that I was helped back to my cell and lay on my bunk face down for the rest of the day.

It took a very painful week before the worst of my weals had healed, and the bruising took well over a month to finally disappear. But at least I had survived the ordeal.

A couple of months later my prison sentence was over. By then all twelve of us had received our canings and had managed to survive. We were returned to our units. In normal circumstances we would have been dishonourably discharged. But this was wartime. I think the authorities felt that our sentence, especially the caning, had taught us a lesson we would never forget, and that we would certainly never again disobey an order from a superior officer.

I served throughout the war with no further incidents and was surprised to find that there was no mention of the caning in my discharge papers when I was demobbed. I think the authorities wanted to make sure that such things were kept securely under wraps.

Do I resent what happened? No I don’t. It was wartime and in fact I was treated very leniently. I thoroughly deserved the caning I got.

The End