Chapter 13: Raincoat at Boys' Camp

With so few playmates my own age, Mum and Dad decided to send me off to a Boys' Camp for a couple of weeks over summer. It was at a beach near Gisborne or somewhere.

Richard Bradley was more my brother Rick's age, and I was about nine. He was the other one going to the camp - from up the road - and was to look after me on the train journey. Somehow we arrived at the camp, and to my dismay, we were put into different tents. I was a bit younger than most on the camp, but they had made an exception for me. I think the oldest was about eighteen.

Me and Richard Bradley
At the station
Me and Richard Bradley


There were about six in my tent. They were all a lot older than me. The ages were mixed, but on the first night the older ones in the tent, following some time-honoured tradition, grabbed the youngest one (excluding me), ripped off his trousers and "nuggeted his balls". It was "initiation". I lay awake all night in terror.

At the beach
At the beach

The next day I can't remember, nor any of the other days. I don't know what we ate, or where we ate, or when we ate. I don't know if I swam in the sea or not - but there's a photo of me at the beach. At night we assembled in the hall and everyone in the camp roared at the top of their voices:

It isn't any trouble just to S-M-I-L-E
S-M-I-L-E S-M-I-L-E
It isn't any trouble just to S-M-I-L-E


I was terrified. It was so loud. I'd never heard anything so loud in my whole life.

Building castles
Building castles

Each group had to decorate the area around their tent - with shells, and wooden fences, and paths, and so on. Word spread that a group was being sent home. They must have been drinking or something. I crept through the trees to look at their tent. They were there dismantling it; destroying their fences and paths. They were old. They were criminals. They looked to be angry. They were swearing. I'd never heard swearing like that before. Not even Dad at the bees. Dad only ever said "bloody". This was different. I was terrified.

That night I wrote home on paper blotched with tears.

Dear Mum and Dad,
I arrived here safely. I do not like it here and I want to come home please could I because I miss you and if I can't send me my rain-coat.


Letter from Camp

You see, it had started to rain, and that added to my misery.

I went to the Superintendent to get my Brownie Box Camera. When we arrived at camp we had to hand our cameras in.

"Come in!" he called as I knocked.

I entered.

"Yes?"

"Can I get my camera?"

"It's under the table".

I went under the table. There were a thousand cameras there. He had his feet amongst them.

"Hurry up!" he snapped.

"I can't find it".

There, under the table surrounded by the thousand cameras and the Superintendent's feet, I burst into tears.

"Hurry up, boy!" he repeated.

Silence.

"Hurry up".

"I haven't got my raincoat," I gasped.

"Hurry up then," he said. His feet shuffled. I found it! I found the camera! I emerged.

"Your parents rang," he said.

"They haven't sent my raincoat."

"You'll be right in a couple of days".

Camp Kitchen/Dining Room
Camp Kitchen/Dining Room

So I left the room and went to the beach. Nothing else I remember. There's a vague taste of summer somewhere.

But most of all I remember the train station and the arrival home, and Mum and Dad, and Tony, Sue, Rick, France and Leo. And the long trail of string through the rooms of the house that I followed to find at the end a welcome home present of something Dad had made for me and Mum had wrapped. And I remember the raincoat I found, all rolled up, at the bottom of my suitcase when I unpacked.


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