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Childhood School Abuse

A Survivor's Testimony

This Website Contains a Life Story Describing

The Psychological Devastation Caused

By Corporal Punishment At School

"Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy"
Gustave Mark Gilbert: Psychologist, Nuremberg Trials, Germany, 1945 - 46.

The abusive school discipline has resulted in life-long mental injury, suffering PTSD with associated flashbacks, anxiety and suicidal idealisation from 8 years of age.

Even in retirement, I still need to keep myself safe by avoiding stress that may trigger historical school feelings of anxiety and fear that can lead to further psychological flashbacks. I will never attend school reunions.

The very unprofessional, depraved behaviour by teachers in the 1950's and 1960's schooling was an absolute disgrace! Corporal punishment finally became illegal in 1990.

This website is intended to achieve three objectives:

Robin Bremner

Uploaded: 1997
Updated: February 2023

(1953 - 1961)
(1962 - 1964)

This is a personal story describing the psychological impact resulting from corporal punishment at school. This is a true story that covers my struggle over many years.

The memories described are still very painful, even after the long passage of time.

I am going to begin by describing the abuse I suffered and attempt to cover the history in order of event. It was the experiences in these first years at school that are responsible for a lot of the psychological damage I suffered. The classroom abuse I was subjected to caused trauma that necessitated psychotherapy and counselling in an attempt to overcome flashbacks resulting from the historic abusive discipline.

The school where the abuse occurred is located at a country area called Taikorea, near Foxton and Rongotea in the Manawatu district.

I started at the Taikorea School in 1953 when I was five years old. My memories of actually starting school are very sketchy but I can remember much of this early time. I can remember feeling very afraid and the atmosphere of the school enhanced this fear. I felt very unsafe there.

The two teachers who caused so much long-term damage is described below.

Miss Budd
The first teacher's name was Miss Budd. An incident I clearly recall that Miss Budd did was destroying a toy I owned. At one stage I must have taken toys to school. The memory of having toys at school is rather scant. I remember not wanting to take anything of value to the school so I really do not know why I had any toys there at all. However I have this distinctive memory of having a toy tractor that I valued. This incident happened in the hall across the road. Somehow, I must have left the tractor somewhere within the 'classroom' vicinity and Miss Budd had got hold of it. She knew it was mine. The class was in a line, going out the door, probably to go home. She stood near the entrance where we were going out. She was holding the tractor. Then she began to twist the back of the toy and deliberately broke off the tow loop at the back. She then pulled off one wheel. I walked past her and I remember trying to pretend not to notice it. But I can clearly recall the intense feeling of distress and anxiety that came from this. I felt very afraid of Miss Budd and of what she had done. I found her actions very frightening. I can recall her giving the tractor back to me. At this point the memory fades. However, I think that the parts she had removed were never returned. Today, I can still feel the distress of this incident.

I would often lose my handkerchiefs at school. They would be found by Miss Budd and she would hold it up and ask the class who it belonged to. I was too afraid to say it was mine, and Miss Budd would then hold it over the stove burner that was alight and say, if nobody owned up, it would be drop it in the fire. This happened many times and my mother never understood why so many hankies were being lost.

Another incident involving Miss Budd occurred when a group of standard six students bullies, known as the “Jarrard Kids” enticed me to come over to a water tank saying “we want to tell you a secret”. As soon as the got me over, they turned on a tap and soaked me with water. Miss Budd came over and told me it was “my fault”.

Miss Collin
The second teacher's name was Miss Collin. Miss Collin was very cruel and sadistic. Miss Collin would be the most toxic and destructive teacher during the primer era. It is my estimation that I would have had to endure Miss Collin for most of the primer period, and I do not know for how much longer after that. It is difficult to assess the exact years of the primer period. However it probably would be around 1956-57 when I reached standard one. The class was placed in a recently built classroom block. The classroom was a single one-room block with a cloakroom attached. This cloakroom played an important part with the abuse meted out by Miss Collin.

This was a time of terror. Miss Collin was keen on using the strap. She also used humiliation as a weapon to ensure compliance in the classroom. This Miss Collin did not give a damn about a child's feelings and would not hesitate to use the strap if she thought a child was not doing what she wanted. Often she would use this in front of the class. This certainly ensured maximum humiliation and deprivation of dignity. Other times she would use the cloakroom. I can recall her giving other children in the class the strap, parading them at the front of the class. Everyone had to watch this ritual. As a six year old, I can clearly remember experiencing terrible fear on having to witness this appalling practice.

I am now going to describe a number of incidents as I remember them and try to describe the feelings, I felt as a child in relation to each incident.

Miss Collin used emotional as well as physical abuse as punishment. Punishment would be was meted out if a child did not know how to do a sum or spell a word. I cannot remember why I was singled out. But Miss Collin decided I deserved humiliation. She did this by ordering me to stand in the corner, facing the wall. I cannot remember how long I had to stay there. The strange thing about my reaction to this treatment is that my feelings shut down. It was later, after it was all over that I suffered the effects. These were feelings of constant anxiety that lasted for a very long time. I can remember feeling the anxiety during the night and I was a child that often could not sleep. I can remember feeling very fearful of this terrible place called “school”.

The next incident that I can clearly recall was probably more devastating. This time Miss Collin decided I deserved the strap. When she meted out this punishment it was a ritual. On this occasion she ordered me out into the cloakroom. I was ordered to stand behind the door there. While standing behind that door I heard the whole class clapping. It was great to them, that I was being given this treatment. It is difficult to describe the feeling I experienced but I seem to remember 'closing down'. It was the knowing that I had to accept the treatment. I had no control over what was being done to me. I was rendered totally powerless. I can recall Miss Collin coming in with her strap and ordering me to hold out my hand. She gave at least one stroke of the strap over the hand. I cannot remember whether I felt any physical pain but I remember how my stomach felt. It was as if I had swallowed burning acid. I know I never cried or showed any feeling during this abuse. If I were shaken Miss Collin would have laughed.

Miss Collin also used humiliation as punishment. This was the result of me not understanding something in class. I recall her asking me a question and I could not answer it. Very often this would qualify for the strap and I was petrified. On this occasion she used humiliation. She called me "rubbish". I was rubbish to her and I was made to feel like rubbish. She often described me as "rubbish" if something was in disagreement with her.

The next incident happened in the playground. I was sitting on the seat outside picking at my lunch. The incident resulted in my dropping a soft-boiled egg on to the seat. I can remember some of the egg falling down to the ground through the gaps in the seat. This created laughs from others and drew the attention of Miss Collin. When she saw the egg, she called me a 'pig'. I was made to wash it down while everyone looked on. The degradation I felt was very devastating.

At another time I was eating my lunch. Miss Collin must have decided that I needed force-feeding and she took a sandwich and put it to my mouth and shoved it into my mouth as I tried to bite it. She repeated this several times.

One day Miss Collin read a story to the class. Then she began to single out individuals in the class to describe parts of the story. I was singled out and she asked me about a part of the story. I could not remember. So as a punishment I was made to sit in the classroom all playtime to read the story. I can recall being able to answer her question after that. I knew I had to for my survival!

I am certain that there are many more incidents that have been blocked from my memory. The trauma, this one perpetrator has inflicted on me has certainly affected my quality of life over a very long period.

By the time I reached the standards, the anxiety cycle was well established as result of the abuse perpetrated by Miss Collin. By the time I reached standard four I found learning very difficult. As a 9, 10 and 11 year old child I had an underlying death wish. This suicidal development was to have a near tragic outcome when I attempted suicide in 1974 and 1981. Throughout the rest of my school years, I suffered continual childhood depression and anxiety. By the time I reached form two, my potential had been seriously affected. The anxiety condition continued well into my adult years that led to suicide attempts.

Miss Collin, you have a lot to answer for!!

Rangitikei Street, Palmerston North.
(1962 - 1964)

I began at this school at the start of 1962 to complete the third, fourth and fifth forms. This was the beginning of a serious decline and terrifying time. This school was very toxic and run like a detention centre.

What I will do now is cover the events that happened at this school in order of year as close as I can.

The principal in charge of the school during this time was Dr. Spurdle.

My first days at the school were very frightening. It seemed we were all herded up as sheep and put into 'grades'. This consisted of some academic test to see how 'bright' you were. I did dismally and was put into a bottom class. (Form 3 - T3G, Form 4 - E4C, Form 5 - E54) I cannot remember if all this happened within a day or over several days. Another aspect of this place was the reference of calling everyone by surname only. This felt very threatening and intimidating and enhanced the impersonal atmosphere of the school. It was a place of detention, toxic and dehumanising where no one seemed to matter.

The morning assembly was very toxic and threatening. Seeing this evil looking authoritarian man covered in a black gown coming on to the assembly stage looking like something that represents Darth Vader was terrifying. The most hideous behaviour he engaged in was to single someone out who may simply be scratching his knee or looking down, and order the subject to his office to be caned. I felt very fortunate that the 'dumb' labeled students who were put in a lower class were relegated to the back of the hall, so I was able to hide behind a taller student to protect myself.

I remember my first real experience of terror very well. This happened when some boys (the school was segregated) in my class, tried out some javelins that were lying out on the playing field. What happened came 'out of the blue' when the class was back in a classroom. This teacher came into the room raving and shouting and waving a cane. He demanded that those who touched a javelin to 'own up'. I remember this teacher's name as the physical education teacher, Mr Poochies. As far as I know all the 'culprits' owned up and they were ordered to line up in front of the class. Then each one was systematically caned, I do not know how many times. It did not seem to matter. What I did know was that I was absolutely petrified and I can recall my heart pounding inside me and I was shaking with absolute terror. This was my introduction to the secondary school. The tone had been laid down and I felt I was going to be fighting for my very survival.

I do not remember a lot about the first two years at this school. In fact I find a lot of the memories very hazy or 'incomplete' because of the fear I had experienced during this time. I can very well remember, the anxiety that I felt. And I can remember how I tried to keep myself 'safe' from the abuse that systematically went on in this school, such as the incident just mentioned. Incredibly, I was actually able to use my fear as my protector against these abusive teachers. I must have worked it out (if not consciously) that they would not 'pick on a terrified school boy' - if they had any compassion at all. This in itself was very destructive (as I realise now) as this allowed my fear to feed on itself. This tactic of mine did work but at an enormous cost to my emotional well being and learning. I am very aware now as a result of psychotherapy, just how much mental damage this inflicted. The whole system was a crazy cycle of abuse, terror, power-craziness madness and destruction.

The knowing that if you simply forgot some trivial little item, such as a book or whatever, this automatically qualified for the cane.

The most terrible aspect of the abuse I had to endure was witnessing others caned in front of the class or outside in the corridor. This was a frequent occurrence and the fear and terror I experienced was always the same. The horrifying memory of these 'torture' episodes was seeing the action and reaction of this abuse. These incidents would always be a ritual: - Someone has just been singled out in class because they have qualified to receive the cane. They would be ordered to come out in front of the class. Then either they would be marched out into the corridor or made to bend down and 'touch their toes' in front of the class. Then the cane would be delivered on their backside. The terrible whack of the weapon hitting the backside was absolutely terrifying. Sometimes the victim would cry out in pain. If it was in the corridor the act could be heard as a loud crack, as the cane made contact with the victim's rear side. That horrible sharp crack or whack could be heard from the other side of the closed classroom door. And the count could number up to six. Always when these incidents took place I experienced crippling terror. The still remember the pounding of my heart and the terror. And this treatment was given to victims who simply forgot an item!

I can recall a shocking incident when a pupil was singled out for this treatment. He was put in front of the class and caned. His distress was very terrible indeed. He cried out in terrible pain and the resulting distress lasted for some time. After the caning he was ordered back to his desk and his crying did not stop. The perpetrator took no notice and did not give a damn about his distress. It was as if these teachers enjoyed applying this sadistic torture to their subjects and enjoyed seeing the resulting suffering of the victim.

There were two incidents that occurred when I did forget something. I do not remember at which period of the first two secondary school years these incidents actually happened. However I do know that they did not happen in the third year. One time was when I forgot my gym shorts and I left them in the locker. I ran back to get them but then I was late. This qualified for the cane. A "closing off" of feelings technique came into play. This closing off of emotion was to have a very devastating effect on me later in life. It was that Poochies teacher that abused me on this occasion. The one other time I got myself on the end of this abuse again was in a classroom and I don't even remember why I "got it". But I did, this time by a Mr Campbell, a metalwork teacher. This school was a very unpredictable place that seemed to have no sense or reason. It was run on fear, terror and abuse. The reactive feeling was this 'closing down' of emotion and becoming numb. That is all I can remember of both incidents. It was always later however, when the distress and anxiety would set in. I have no doubt that the Campbell and Poochies incidents were responsible for some of the long-term mental injury I suffered. The incidents that frequently occurred of seeing others being caned in front of the class or in the corridor were responsible for the rest of it.

I was sitting in a class one day. I cannot recall what the class was or even the name of the teacher was who was taking it. But I can recall very clearly having a severe anxiety attack during this class. When I have a severe anxiety attack it was usual for me to completely break down into uncontrollable distress and this was what happened on this day. I cannot remember the events immediately after, but I do remember ending up in the sick bay with a teacher not knowing what to do with me. The memory of what actually happened is absent. I can vaguely recall this happening to me many times during these years and I would end up, each time in the sick bay. There were many times when I had terrible anxiety attacks.

I became increasingly depressed during this time and felt more and more alone. I can remember very clearly, feeling that I did not matter and I can clearly recall beginning to believe that I was worthless. I began to feel suicidal, which I kept secret from everyone.

I cannot recall any more about those first two years at that school.

FIFTH FORM - E54 (1964)
My final year was different from the first two years. I had a teacher who actually respected me as a human being. This teacher's name was Harry Ward. He was the form teacher of my class for that final year. He assisted me in every way he could. The terrifying toxic abuse that was happening in my class in the previous two years stopped. I have never been able to understand this. But I have very fond memories of Mr Ward. It is very fortunate that I have these memories to hold on to. I will never forget Mr Ward for his compassion and his very caring approach. I will never forget the kindness he expressed toward me and other pupils in my class.

Because of the anxiety and terror that I went through, I learned nothing of any academic significance at Queen Elizabeth Technical College. Instead, I am left with very painful memories that I cannot erase and also have ongoing painful mental flashbacks.

History of Psychotherapy and Counselling

From my childhood to my mid-twenties I suffered terrible anxiety and clinical depression. This condition had suicidal overtones, which stemmed from my childhood and remained untreated until I obtained help in adulthood. At the start, I did not understand why I suffered from depression and anxiety, only that it was having a very profound effect on my life with the inability to work to full potential and relate to people. I found trust very difficult and approached people with suspicion.

In 1970 I began employment with the Government Printing Office in Wellington.

In these earlier years, it became obvious to those around me that I was suffering severe anxiety and needed professional help. So in that year, I received counselling from a minister and psychotherapist and also received outpatient treatment at Wellington Hospital psychiatric unit. This was when I began to learn what caused the mental injury and that I suffered PTSD. I was put on medication to reduce anxiety and depression.

It was in 1974 that the first real crisis came and a severe bout of anxiety and depression led to a suicide attempt by means of an overdose. This attempt put me in intensive care for a day, and two weeks in-patient care at Wellington Hospital psychiatric unit.

After this first suicide attempt and further psychotherapy I was finally able to acknowledge anger that stemmed from my childhood years. I became even more angry when I learned that I had suffered the mental injury at school, inflicted by the toxic school environment. Over the following years I received ongoing support but still suffered flashbacks with associated anxiety and depression.

In the late 1970's I took up a new job with the Department of Lands and Survey and this change unfortunately triggered further anxiety. This had an adverse effect on my work performance.

However, I continued to work at this department for two years before applying and getting a job at the Palmerston North Hospital in 1980 within the Medical Photography section. Unfortunately medical study attached to this job sparked off my condition so I became incapable of work and ended up on extended sick leave. Then in 1981 I had another severe bout of anxiety and depression that led to a determined suicide attempt. This time I wanted to end my own life, which I had almost succeeded in doing. I was admitted in intensive care. The doctors said that it was a miracle that I survived as I had taken a near lethal overdose.

After a stay in hospital, it was strongly recommended by the medical team that I spend some months in in-patient psychiatric care so I spent three months at Ashburn Hall in Dunedin where I underwent intensive group therapy and individual counselling.

After this stay I returned to Palmerston North and took refuge for several months before obtaining work in Wellington with the Labour Department's Arbitration Court in 1982 then for New Zealand Immigration Service from 1987.

Over these years I had pitfalls, the most serious ones in 1984 and 1990, when I suffered flashbacks. Both these times I was admitted to in-patient care for about two weeks, each time for anxiety attacks and suicidal feelings.

After a stay in Porirua Hospital in 1990 I was finally medically retired in early 1991.

During my school years I suffered childhood depression and had an underlying death wish. Today this childhood feeling triggers flashbacks and any stress may cause me to become suicidal. The sick discipline methods caused me to feel I was worthless. Today, I still experience flashbacks when I remember the terrible humiliation, as if I was back in the toxic classroom.

During my times of depression and suicidal tendencies I can now clearly recall the same feelings of wanting to "disappear" when I had to witness the sick discipline. I clearly remember the feelings of closing off and wanting to disappear when the strap was being used in the classroom.

A pattern was established as I became older and these feelings became very deep-seated and profound. To cope with the feelings of isolation and humiliation, I engaged in secret self-harm as a child.

A lot has been lost due to my struggle to overcome the damage. In group therapy, I met others who had suffered long term affects as result of similar depraved discipline.

During many therapy sessions over the passage of time, I tried to desensitise the feelings to reduce flashbacks and overcome the trauma. But I still suffer triggers and flashbacks with associated anxiety.

Yours Faithfully,

Robin Bremner.

Updated: February 2023

(Father's family name 'Bremner' expelled by deed-poll)

The Child Discipline Law (2007) often referred to as the 'Anti-Smacking Bill'
outlaws domestic violence against children.


One of the most serious incidents of abuse I clearly recall, happened at the hands of my father. This incident happened, probably when I was about twelve years old. I cannot remember why I was physically punished on this occasion.

My father picked up a broom. He used the handle of the broom to strike me. He hit me harder and harder. I can remember the pain and the force of the weapon. While he was hitting me he kept saying "you did do it, you did do it".

He hit me mostly about my legs and stomach. My mother was present and made no attempt to stop it. I suffered bruises resulting from this hiding. These hitting episodes were always promptly swept under the carpet. The pain and distress was totally ignored.

This toxic abusive discipline can only be described as despicable and illustrates the true coward my father really was.

It was several years before I spoke about this discipline smack; during a counselling session in around 1973. Today, the painful memory of this hiding still haunts me. I can still feel the force of the weapon and the intense emotional pain and bewilderment over the way I was treated. My father deserves to be shamed for his disgraceful and cowardly behaviour.

Robin Bremner
Taikorea Road (1948 - 1969)
Glen Oroua
Palmerston North
New Zealand.

(Father's family name 'Bremner' expelled by deed-poll)