When my working class kin tell me that public school is a den of privilege and a free ticket to success, I sometimes tell them the odd tale from my time. It makes a lot of people but breaks quite a few too.

In 1712 Queen Ann founded the Greenwich Hospital School to educate sons of men on the lower deck in the Royal Navy. Almost 200 years later, the culture hadn’t changed much, even in the 500 acre campus built near Ipswich for the Royal Hospital School. 

This is a memoir founded on PTSD flashbacks that would have me standing on the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol in 1999 with a view to jumping. I changed my mind about killing myself because a dear friend might never know my fate. After I’d phoned Dad on the way home I was rapidly introduced to the mental health system, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and (22 years later), autism. 

I’m now on the best money of my life as a freelance copywriter and business consultant with a beautiful daughter who dotes on me – I survived. Even so I now hear that that armpit of a school has been privatised and the fees are close to that of Eton’s. Perhaps a tale or two might remind others what life there was like when education was free for all seafarers’ sons…

1987 – Falkland Islands

I’d been mobile all my life thanks to Dad’s job in the Royal Navy. By the time I visited him in the Falkland Islands in 1986/87, I’d lived in the US, Cornwall, Portsmouth, Belgium and been put in a prep school in North Devon after expulsion from my US elementary school. 

I was about to be expelled for another contretemps and Dad, planning to retire, needed me to have an education. RHS would cost him nothing even after he retired. At this stage I’ll make the one mention of his new love, met on their posting to the Falklands – suffice to say I didn’t get on with her. She was an RAF doctor and if I thought I’d moved about a lot even at that stage, I was in for a treat – she had 5 postings in my next six years. 

September 87 – July 89: Good Years… 

The school was a shock. I’d been at a preparatory school for the public school system. RHS was a charity grammar school as opposed to a public school. It had its own language – we grunted ‘Lobs’ when a teacher was coming where at public school it would have been ‘KV’. Lobs meant ‘Look out Below’ from its naval heritage. 

In full RN Number 1 uniform we would have parades every other Sunday on the one acre parade ground. Dignitaries like Prince Michael of Kent would inspect us, and in our house anyway we’d have perfectly polished shoes done by spit and polish, one of the naval skills we’d had ingrained in us. 

Marching wasn’t just parades – as well as parade practice we’d also march to the mess for meals and up to the school buildings for prep (homework). Morning parades in the house paddock where our shoes, clothes and bearing were inspected. Afternoon parades at lunchtime. 

All our clothes – even underwear – was supplied by the school. We had a quartermaster’s stores where when our shoes wore out we’d be issued new, as well as the clothing required for our rank and age. Blankets and sheets were issued too. 

As we grew older we’d get more space but for the first four years we would largely have a two cubic foot cupboard for all our personal possessions. Our downtime was spent in the house dayroom which was like the dorms, poorly heated. Under our first housemaster, TV was largely banned except for the news, The Bill, Casualty and a video every Saturday night. 

The sleeping accommodation was pretty military too. When I joined, the junior dorms were open with perhaps 20 beds next to one another. Had to make our blankets and sheets perfect every morning or we’d have to tell the housemaster we’d ‘fallen down the stairs’ because a Petty Officer (PO – prefect) had punished us with his fists and boots.

I remember how a kid from borstal visited and told us they at least had their own rooms. He was there to tell us what would happen if we were bad lads but his home seemed pretty cushy by comparison! 

Next to me in the dorm was a good looking, blond haired boy who got lots of attention from one PO every night in the bed next to me – I fell asleep while they talked. When I met him later in life he still wouldn’t comment on his friendship with the 18 year old… 

Such good relationships served you well – I got on with the POs differently in that there was nothing sexual but I had lots of fun. As such, because I was a lot of fun I’d be punished by having a golf tee put in my mouth and a golf ball knocked across the office with a golf club. Other kids had to keep their mouths shut and explain they’d ‘fallen down the stairs’… Those stairs were bloody dangerous I must say as there was at least one accident a week on them.

Our housemaster at the time, Bugsy, was a stern and academic type with a PhD. I excelled under him. Tight discipline and many said if he’d stayed I might have made head boy, or certainly head of house…

Bugsy, the deputy housemasters and POs would give mass punishments to the juniors if something went wrong and no one admitted it. Standing to attention for upwards of two hours by our lockers until the boy who did it cracked. As with parades, boys would faint and be carried off to recover. 

The Holbrook Sound and Other Joys 

The school had a chapel with a huge pipe organ in which we would belt out hymns every Sunday as well as a short service every morning other than Saturday. The “Holbrook Sound” as it was known would embarrass The Kop, Fratton Park or Twickenham with its sheer quality and volume. That was one of the regular moments when the school came together as one. 

Other things I loved was the reservoir across the road and the salt marshes at the bottom of the playing fields on the River Stour. Come my 4th Form I’d sail for at least 4-5 hours a week and also become a brilliant runner – even in my 20s in the Territorial Army I once broke a regimental record for a 1.5 mile run. 

But life was pretty grim. The next bit will explain why I’d be a suicidal mess by 1999. 

Change of Regime – 1989-92

In mid 89 I’d been hazed by a classmate who’d thrown a knife at my back that stuck in before dropping to the floor. I broke the omerta of the boys by grassing him up. He was expelled. I was ostracised. 

In summer 89 Bugsy got a new job at a proper public school and an old boy who’d been a prize fighter we’ll hence call Spam moved into the housemaster’s house. Though I’d been clever politically with the upper 6th boys, I’d not done so well with the ones who’d replace them. Consequently, as school reject and getting angrier and more volatile by the day, I was in lots of trouble. 

To add to the misery, a 13th boy joined our house year for the 4th form. There was only 12 places at the mess tables and a fight was arranged between me and the new boy for our place at the mess table. We fought in the 4th form office until we were stunned with bloodied faces and both sat dazed in arm chairs – an impasse. Someone told me to go finish him off so I did but he got a good punch in and knocked me out. From that moment on, I was both house reject and school reject, and would sit alone at mess. 

I was accused of faking sickness at home when I vomited copiously before being put on transport for school. I would be sick until my stomach was empty out of fear of returning. Always kids taking the piss or winding me up. It was like being a cat in a pit of hungry dogs. I’ve long loved outdoor sports like sailing and long distance walking due to those days – five hours walking or sailing was five hours away from the bear pit. 

Spam didn’t lift a finger to help. I was so tweaked that shortly after being made an APO (junior prefect) I referred to Spam as ‘dick face’ due to his boxer’s nose. Never made PO again. Fights, fear and loneliness that has dogged me ever since. I’m also a heavy smoker – more on that later.

In the Upper 6th we were by that time given a separate house (Nelson) to live and work in with the majority of us given our own cabins for privacy and study. My last night in Howe, I got ‘House Beats’ where, pissed out of my mind I was pinned down, had a pillow put over my head and punched by every boy in the house. Spam would have heard the screams in his flat below the window where the beating took place – I reckon he’d been forewarned of the plans. 

Getting My Revenge – Nelson House

By this stage you’d think I was going to lose it for sure but I still had go in me. That go has driven me to success that few achieve with paranoid schizophrenia let alone autism as well. 

The house had its own bar – we were allowed to enjoy one drug appropriate to our age. Except, led in part by me, we collectively disagreed with the smoking rule that forbade us from smoking. That rule was demolished in the anarchy that would ensue. Essentially because all the CPOs, SPOs and POs smoked, if they followed the school rules and expelled them there would be no leadership left among the school. 

I smoked roll ups. One of the CPOs’ brothers was a weed dealer in Gosport. Since I could roll cigarettes, could I roll a joint? Of course! I supplied him with one for every two I had for myself and he could do nothing about it. 

I’m a year dry now (with another 11 years sober in previous years) but soon learned at RHS that people would come together when pissed and ultimately I would feel happy too. Consequently we as a house would let loose every weekend. The housemaster would comment I was usually comatose and asleep when things really kicked off (blaming me for it happening). 

For me it was redemption. Sadly I had leaving parties before all my A level exams and did them while usually off my nut on something or other. The school was more than happy when I was offered an opportunity to join a replica of a 18th Century Royal Navy Warship in the USA before the final Speech Day and Commemoration Sunday. I was in Cleveland, Ohio and very drunk that day. Even without me there was carnage between exams finishing and the final day so I gather, but I sailed on in life…


The flashbacks from that place largely died out in my 30s. Half planning this article last night, the fear, depression and loneliness had me almost sweating. An experience like that never leaves you. 

Writing something like this is a bit of a busman’s holiday for me. I work 28 hours a week at home as a writer for considerably more than nurses or teachers earn. Life at home isn’t too bad these days, though my constipated cat is largely the only company I have day to day. Yes, it tickles me that Admiral Hardy of Portesham was a governor at Greenwich Hospital for a time – can’t get away from the bloody school, can I?!

Being in the jungle at RHS taught me a few life lessons. Confronted with a mortal battle in 2015 against bureaucrats and lawyers, I won hands down. Put me into combat and RHS ensured that I won’t easily lose. I have a rod of iron self-discipline and thanks to the ASD I have to accept I’m different to others. I have a deep mistrust and hatred of authority that helps with my Marxist philosophy in sabotaging the system – this time local and national misrule by the government. 

But yes, I have many memories that are all too fresh from 30 years ago at RHS and most of them aren’t pleasant. 

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