The master led us up the grand staircase and along a dim corridor with bare and squeaky floorboards; past the dorms of the older boys, who were still chatting noisily downstairs on that first night.
We found ourselves in an attic dormitory with its eight beds all squashed in. The master left us to get to know each other and prepare for ‘lights out’, as he called it, but boyish chatter was in short supply that first evening. I felt the strained silence of shyness and unspoken distress as we all got undressed and into bed. The master returned to check that we were all tucked in, then blurting his impersonal ‘good night’, he plunged us into darkness. As the light went out I momentarily noted that several boys had already disappeared under their coarse woollen blankets.
I lay face up adjusting my eyes to the darkness until, after barely a minute, muffled sobbing came from the bed next to me, with at least one more further away. Through my disorientation and numbness came a very clear and determined thought:
‘I must be OK because I am not crying’.
My own attempt to self-comfort – the inner voice of a sensitive eight-year-old protecting himself against the unbearable pain that lay barely hidden beneath his bravery. The only thing we had in common on that dark night was that we would not be seeing our parents for three weeks at least and our homes were unimaginably far away.
My inner protecting voice ensured I survive that night and the next five years. It dampened my sense of loss. But my statement to myself also effectively cut me off from my feelings and imprinted me with emotional blocks that have affected me over the following fifty years.
I lay awake a while longer, my loneliness and confusion becoming overlaid by the more immediate fears of what tomorrow would bring; whether I would be able to find my way back to our classroom and all the other areas of this seemingly vast and spooky old building. Eventually, exhausted by it all, I fell into a restless sleep to the eerie yet soothing sound of the night wind moaning in the casement windows.
Over the next weeks and months, I grew to cherish that time of the night before sleep; lying in the dark dormitory with just my own thoughts disturbed only by the restless breathing of the other poor sods with whom I shared my life. It became a necessary moment of coming back to my self in that quiet, after all the bustle and pressure of the day. I could allow my inner feelings a little, wonder what might be happening at home, try to make sense of it all in my childlike way and worry over whatever homework or test lay in stall for us the next day, knowing that it was all down to me. Noone else was there to share my burdens and worries. There were no reassuring arms to fold myself into and no kindly words of advice to show me the way.
……..At some point in those early days, possibly even during that first lonely night away from home, I made a massive but unconscious decision that would have far-reaching effects on the rest of my life. But I will come to that later……….
– This is the first part of a longer autobiographical essay about the moulding of young souls to become leaders of men, how it affected me and my future life. I have never spoken out about it before and my story flows in fits and starts. Much of it still lurks unformed, after years of gestating in my body. Further excerpts will follow.