|Dennis Buckland (m. 1940)
Cambridge in 1940
‘At ten o’clock every night I will lock the outer doors and securely fasten with a locking device approved by the Syndicate the windows of the ground-floor rooms occupied by members of the University in statu pupillari. I will further take means, to be approved by the Syndicate, to prevent anyone from entering or leaving the house between 10pm and 6am without my knowledge, and between these hours the outer doors of my house shall not be opened, except by the master or mistress in person, or by a representative approved by the Syndicate…
‘I will note down the time after ten o’clock at which any student lodging in my house enters or leaves the house, and will deliver or send by a responsible person a statement thereof once a week…to the College authorities, with a special note of occasions on which such student has so entered or left without his academical dress.’
This is part of a promise made by a prospective landlord, as included in ‘Regulations relating to lodging houses’ and printed in ‘A Compendium of University Regulations for the use of persons in statu pupillari’, dated September 1940 and on sale for Price Ninepence.
Similarly, in Christ’s own ‘College Regulations’ of October 1939, we can read that ‘The College Gates are closed at 10pm and…it is expected that any lady visitors will leave the College by that time. The following fines are imposed on all who come into College or into their lodgings after 10 o’clock: between 10 and 11, 3d; between 11 and 12, 4d; after 12, 1s.’ So perhaps it was no wonder that some undergraduates became notorious for their exploits at ‘climbing in’.
Residence in College was reserved for those who had won a scholarship and for those who could otherwise afford it. In 1940 I was living in SE London with a widowed mother, and had sat for and won a Tancred Divinity Studentship; so I was allocated two rooms out of four that were being let in a house in Jesus Terrace. There I was cared for by a homely landlady, Mrs Morgan, who provided me with breakfast, lunch and tea. Attendance at Hall in College for the evening meal was required daily, with the option of dining out once or twice a week. For this, Mrs Morgan would provide me with a meal. As it was war-time, every citizen had their own ration book, which was handed in to the College at the beginning of each term and a certain amount of a student’s rations was allocated to his landlady. The evening meal in Hall was always three course, starting with soup, and was preceded by the recital of a Latin Grace; there were two sittings, one at 6.30pm and a second at 7.30pm. You were not expected to arrive more than ten minutes late.
Generally I did not find any of these regulations irksome, although getting back to my lodgings by 10 o’clock from some Society Meeting or other evening function could be a rush. (I always managed to avoid a fine.) I certainly had no spare money for ‘dining out’ from my lodgings. I lived as economically as seemed reasonable on my year’s allowance of £225 (the recommended minimum); this was made up of £100 from my Tancred Award and £125 from two other subsidiary grants. In this way I even managed to save what I could to give to my mother in the vacation. I saved by sending my laundry home, by burning very little coal and by cycling to the town bath-house, where I had to pay 4d, instead of a term’s fee for the use of the College baths. (Incidentally, Mrs Morgan told me that she made do with ‘an upper and a downer’ in a tin bath in her kitchen.) The toilet was at the rear of the back yard, and to reach it I had to ask to pass through the kitchen, which in term time became the Morgans’ living room.
Weekday mornings regularly involved attending a 50-minute lecture or two in the town or doing a written exercise in College. My chosen subject was Classics. My supervisor was the Senior Tutor, Sidney Grose. When he invited me, with other freshmen, up to his room for sherry, not being used to ‘sipping’, I soon found my glass refilled. The consequence was that when eventually I tried to leave, I was so lightheaded that I found it quite difficult to descend the stairs!
Perhaps twice a week I would enjoy playing football for Christ’s in the afternoons; I even briefly found time to train and play for the University. All this involved cycling to playing fields on the outskirts of town. If free on an afternoon, I might spend time in bookshops or in visiting other colleges.
My Tancred Studentship was for ordinands in the Church of England and I occasionally went to Student Christian Movement meetings as well as regularly attending the daily College Chapel services. The Master of Christ’s at that time was Canon Charles Raven who, like not a few others, had become a pacifist following the First World War. As a convinced pacifist myself from my schooldays, I had the opportunity of questioning him on the Church’s failure to reject war. He told me he regretted this and was trying to influence the Church towards pacifism from within; in fact he was writing regularly on Christian pacifism, including a book he entitled ‘The Cross and the Crisis’. When I was eventually ‘called up’ in 1941, I duly registered as a conscientious objector; it was not until 1946–8 that I was able to complete my degree course at Christ’s, by which time I had become a Quaker and had obtained a government grant for intending teachers.
I conclude with a reference to the now outmoded rules regarding Academical Dress, which involved Cap and Gown. (In fact, by that time the cap was not worn.) Under the simple heading of ‘Discipline’ in the afore-mentioned ‘Compendium of University Regulations’, it states ‘Members of the University in statu pupillari are required to wear their academical dress in decent order and in the proper manner at all University lectures and examinations, in the University Church, the Senate House and the Library; every evening after dusk, in all parts of the town and the immediate neighbourhood. The penalty for the breach of this rule is 6s 8d, or if there is any circumstance which increases the gravity of the offence 13s 4d’ (i.e. it is doubled). These rules were presumably introduced in times when undergraduate behaviour had become seriously threatening to the public peace, especially on such occasions as Bonfire Night. Landlords would tell, if questioned, of such unruly ‘high jinks’ from their own experience and there was mention of a general antagonism and of violent clashes between ‘Town and Gown’.
There were two Proctors, who were ‘officers in the University charged especially with the discipline of undergraduates’. So, as the extract quoted above adds, ‘According to the normal procedure a Proctor, when he sees fit to do so, sends his Constable (known popularly as his ‘Bulldog’) to enquire whether a person is a member of the University and to request him to speak to the Proctor; the latter may enquire his name and College and other particulars. Any student who fails to give a proper answer to such enquiries or who fails to obey the Proctor’s instructions is liable to be punished by Suspension, Rustication, Expulsion, or otherwise.’ What more needs to be said? Perhaps just this, as is in fact added later, ‘students are reminded that, whilst they are required to render unquestioning obedience to the Proctors, they may consult their Tutors if in any doubt or difficulty as to their position’. I sometimes wondered what a Proctor and his Bulldog looked like, because I never met any.
[Editor’s note: The College’s legal responsibility for University members in statu pupillari was altered in 1970 when the Family Law Reform Act (1969) came into effect and the age of majority was lowered to 18 years of age.]
Wartime experience outside Cambridge
When I recall my schooldays in south London during the 1920s and ’30s, I think the two main reasons for my becoming a pacifist were, first, my acceptance that Jesus’ command to love our enemies was what God required and, secondly, daily news of the heroic behaviour of Gandhi and his teaching of non-violence. I also remember seeing photos of trench warfare in copies of the Illustrated London News in our attic and listening to Donald Soper arguing for pacifism in a radio talk. So, at least by the time I entered the sixth form, I was a convinced pacifist.
From 1939 to ’40 I was evacuated with my school, St Olave’s, from south-east London, first to Uckfield and then to Torquay. This was my 3rd year in the Sixth Form when, traditionally, we went to sit for a scholarship at various Cambridge colleges. Eventually I gained a Tancred Divinity Studentship at Christ’s College, Cambridge, for ordinands in the Church of England.
So, in October 1940, a month after the start of the London Blitz, I went up for my first year. At home my family spent most night s sheltering in our cellar; in the vacations I joined them, and occasionally in the daytime I would help at a Rest Centre in Peckham, which housed families who had been ‘bombed out.
In 1941 I registered as a conscientious objector. Incidentally, the master of the college, Canon Charles Raven, was a well-known pacifist, with whom I discussed my position. I asked him what he thought about one of the Church of England’s 39 Articles, stating that it is just for a Christian to fight for his country. He said that when he was ordained he was not a pacifist and I would have to deal with this as I felt right when the time came. I had also obtained leaflets from the Central Board for Conscientious Objectors (CBCO).
At my tribunal in Cambridge as a CO in July 1941, I accepted as a condition of exemption that I should work in what became the Light Rescue Service of the Civil Defence in south-east London. The Blitz was just ending and for the next two years there were almost no air raids. So it was that, in 1943, I was directed to report to a Reserve Unit of the Civil Defence at Barton Hall in Kingskerswell, near Newton Abbot. I had learned through other COs that in Kingskerswell there would be semi-military discipline, including drilling in exercises related to the projected Allied invasion of Europe, which eventually occurred on D-Day in 1944. I had refused to co-operate in exercises with the Home Guard, and I now felt I should perhaps challenge the system.
So I decided it was time to leave the Civil Defence and did not report. In due course I was summoned to appear at court in Newton Abbot on January 18th, 1944. When I failed to obey this summons, I was arrested at home in East Dulwich by a policeman pushing a bicycle. After spending a night in East Dulwich police station, I was escorted to Newton Abbot and sentenced to one month in Exeter Prison. I knew that after the month I was likely to be retried and given a longer sentence in the so-called ‘Cat and Mouse’ procedure. So I had decided not to co-operate by refusing to work.
Soon after arriving in my cell I was given a mailbag to work on, but I did not work on it. Next morning I was again given a mailbag, this time in the workshop. As I sat doing nothing, my neighbour whispered that I would be sent to the ‘Tea Gardens,’ meaning the dungeons. The warder in charge did nothing, but on returning in the afternoon the warder came up to me and said, “Just stick the needle in and I shan’t have to report you.” As I refused, I was later conducted into the prison governor’s office, with several warders standing round. He asked if I knew that Quakers had been responsible for introducing work into prisons; for I had learned from the CBCO that I could register as a Quaker in order to be granted a Quaker visitor. When he couldn’t understand my reason for not working, I said, “Let’s assume that you didn’t approve of nightclubs and were taken to one and required to work as a waiter.” “I understand,” he immediately responded. “I can deal with criminals, but I don’t know what to do with you. It’s like swatting a fly. I’m afraid I shall have to punish you.” I replied, “Do what you think is right.” He then ordered two days’ bread and water in the dungeon. So I was taken down to a cell in the dungeons for this. After a return to my original cell for one day’s normal food, I was given another two days of this punishment. When I felt I could no longer eat dry bread, I was asked if I was on hunger strike, but I said ‘No.’ At one point a warder said, “Do you realise you are undermining the discipline of this prison? Do you think that is a Christian thing to do?”
By now I was unable to sleep, and I became restless and started singing. I was soon strapped into a straitjacket and taken to a padded cell. At first this was quite painful and frustrating, and I also imagined that I was being gassed, but I felt resigned to die. I had no idea of time, but eventually I was taken out of the straitjacket, given warm milk to drink and illustrated magazines to read, before being returned to my original cell and given normal food again. Throughout this time I had been sustained by constant prayer and a very real sense of the presence of God.
During the remaining days I was not required to work, or taken out for exercise or to associate with other prisoners. I had had a copy of the Bible in my cell and was given the two books I had taken into prison with me. I also remember visits from the prison doctor; and once I was taken out to be questioned as to whether I belonged to any organisation or had any ulterior motives for my behaviour.
At the end of the month, just before I left, one warder advised, “Box clever! We don’t want you back here.” Another said to me, “After all you have gone through, I think you must be right, and all those who are dropping bombs are wrong.” “But,” I replied, “they also think they are doing right.”
When I returned home to Dulwich, I was still unsettled and suffering from delusions. So I was visited by my local doctor, and taken by ambulance first to London Hospital, then to Maudsley Psychiatric Hospital. I was, as I later learned, certified and spent 4½ months in St. Ebba’s Mental Hospital near Epsom. Early on, when I would not rest, I was roughly handled and hit, in a way that I had not been treated in prison, and I soon suffered from a severe pain in my ear. The male nurse who had inflicted this visited me as I lay in bed in the ward to which I had been wheeled. He asked me what I thought had caused the pain. I said, “It must have been the way you hit me round the head.” “So you remember that, do you?” he asked. “Of course,” I replied.
On one occasion in the hospital grounds I ran across the exercise area to separate two patients who were fighting. They merely tried to get at each other round me until a male nurse came over. Twice I was attacked by other patients. I did not retaliate, but felt little or no pain. After several weeks I was given insulin injections, which not only put me in a coma but also slowed me down and I began to regain weight, having lost two stone since going into prison. At first, paradoxically, I regretted losing the feeling of elation that I had been experiencing for so long.
On returning home I applied for a teaching post at the Religious Society of Friends’ School, Sibford. At my interview I explained what had recently happened to me and the headmaster told me that he had been in Dartmoor Prison as a CO during the First World War and so he could identify with my experience.
After two years of teaching there, in 1946, having given up my wish to be ordained, I was able to return to Christ’s to complete my degree course on a government grant for intending teachers. After graduating, and before I went on to Woodbrooke for a postgraduate teaching certificate, I applied for membership of the Religious Society of Friends, having left the Church of England and been regularly attending Quaker meetings.