Gary Botting, co-author of the Orwellian World of Jehovah’s Witnesses, sent me a link to the “Sister Eunice Spry’s story that has been reported on other posts on JWD. His subject title for his message was: “Jehovah would be proud.” I wrote back in an e-mail the following:
I read the story about "Sister Spry" a few days ago on the JWD board. When I read it I thought of your experience as a young boy in the JW private school you attended. I always meant to ask you, what town, what time period, and if you knew the name of the newspaper that published the story of the school closing and why? Why do I want to know? Because I believe that there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.
If you can tell me where the school was etc. I would like to try and do a search in newspaper archives in England to bring the story to the surface and "give occasion for “ jehovah to be proud once more."
He wrote back the following account of his experiences when he was seven years old:
I'm not sure the school closure was ever reported in the press. "Theodena" was a "Kingdom Boarding School" run by Rhoda Ford, the sister of Percy Ford, the Branch Servant for the International Bible Students Association, the British equivalent of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Theodena operated initially (and probably legally) in Bexhill, East Sussex for several years but then in 1950 moved to Thorpeness, two or three miles north of Aldeburgh, Suffolk. I was seven years old at the time, and my sister was nine. All the students but one were the children of Jehovah's Witnesses - the "one" was the daughter of Baptists. All the students except me were girls. There was one instructor besides "Auntie Rhoda" - a Danish woman, I don't remember her name. Her nephew also was in attendance, periodically, but not as a student; he was there to learn English. I was the youngest there; the oldest, the two prefects, would have been in their early teens.
There were 13 of us altogether. Since everything was purchased in quantities of a dozen, we were always one short, and the "little guy" would usually be odd man out, especially since I had been taught "Ladies First" - a principle vigorously defended by every last "lady" in attendance! Rhoda and the two Danes always ate at a different table - and had different fare from us altogether.
The house in which the school was located was one of a strip of houses along the beach at the extreme north end of Thorpeness, to which a covenant applied vouchsafing that no business, and specifically no school, would be operated from the premises. That covenant, dating back to the 1940s, is still in place to this day. The neighbours, naturally enough, objected to the private school operating in their midst and in 1951 had the place shut down. By then, I had been beaten a few times with bamboo canes, and nearly drowned by the Danish teacher whose thumb I bit in terror while she was trying to teach me how to swim in the icy North Sea. She slapped me really hard so that I saw stars, then swam and waded back to shore leaving me floundering beyond my depth in the sea. I sank, touched sand, kicked upwards, reached air, floundered some more, sank again, touched sand again, kicked myself closer to shore, and eventually was able to stand on my tiptoes, mouth facing upwards, to get my breath. As a direct result of that incident, I hate swimming to this day.
I could write a book of anecdotes about what happened at Theodena. Suffice to say, that was a very formative year! Being younger, and a boy, I was as dumb as a sack of hammers by comparison to the others, and usually took the blame for their misdeeds. Sometimes, I deliberately took the fall for my sister, on whom I doted - and who was a perpetual source of entertainment, being a tomboy and a born rebel (I acquired my rebellious trait much later). Once, she crawled along a ballustrade and entered the prefects' bathroom via the window, opened the door, and proceeded to show some of the other girls how to pee standing up like a boy. The girls pointedly formed a human screen so that I could not see what was going on. They were tittering so loudly (partly, I suspect, at Mavis' inaccurate aim) that they alerted the prefects. Perhaps it was in her haste to bail that Mavis peed all over the seat. Suffice to say, on the approach of the prefects, the girls - including Mavis - all split, leaving me standing there wondering what was going on. The prefects noticed pee all over their toilet seat (Mavis had, naturally enough, forgotten to raise it) and of course I got the blame.
That was bad enough, but when I tried to explain that one of the girls (I didn't specify who) had been trying to pee like a boy, Auntie Rhoda went ballistic at the sickness of the very notion. She washed out my mouth with the most disgusting soap imaginable (lye soap, I suspect) and gave me a thorough thrashing across the front of my bare upper thighs with her cane. She didn't actually hit my pecker, but came awfully close!
Since the prefects believed that I had violated their sacrosant space, they were unremitting in their cruelty from that point on.
Mavis was having a pillow fight with her friends in our bedroom when one of the pillows burst, spewing eider feathers all over the attic. Then with reckless abandon, the sparring girls ripped open a fraying seam on my eiderdown, and emptied it of its feathers. They must have frolicked in them, because when I first saw the mess - escorted by the ear by an irate Auntie Rhoda - the feathers covered the floor a quarter of an inch deep from wall to wall. I honestly denied any knowledge of how the feathers got there, but got caned for making the mess - then caned some more for lying. It was, after all, my eiderdown!
Later, Mavis and her friends used my bed as a trampoline, and one leg gave way, leaving it lopsided. Again I honestly denied any knowledge of what had happened to the bed. Again I got caned.
That was when I decided to run away. Not that it was a conscious decision - I started walking and found that the further I walked away from Thorpeness, the better I felt. I wore shorts and a short-sleeve shirt. But the weather was chilly. To the north there was nothing but beach and moors; the only option was to head south. That night, I tried to sleep under an upside-down lifeboat in Aldeburgh But I was too chilled to sleep. I huddled there until dawn, and was absolutely relieved to see the sun! I fell asleep in its rays, but soon awoke again, hungry and cold. It was then that I realized that I had been sleeping amongst rotten maggotty fish.
I had nowhere to go but back to Theodena. It was nearly noon by the time I got back. A search party had been organized, and Auntie Rhoda was out there ringing the school bell. One of the prefects saw me and delighted in pinching my arm as she hauled me back towards Theodena as if I were a criminal under arrest. Once again, I got the cane.
For several days I was forced to sleep on the lopsided bed, and twice fell out onto the floor. Suffering from what I thought was chronic bronchitis, I hacked my lungs out, and I was allowed to skip class lest I "gave" it to the other students. Auntie Rhoda denied me medical treatment or even medicine (other than semi-raw onions, which I detested). My chest hurt, and I began to have the most awful dreams, verging on hallucination. I almost died.
My sister, realizing the seriousness of my plight (we shared an attic bedroom), defied Auntie Rhoda and hiked two miles to the Aldeburgh train station, where there was a public telephone. She phoned our neighbours in Cambridge - with a tale of woe that brought my mother scurrying to Thorpeness. When she arrived, I had a temperature above 105 and rising. I only vaguely remember the doctor, making a house call to Theodena, diagnosing double pneumonia. It may have been he - or even my mother - who initially blew the whistle on Auntie Rhoda and Theodena.
Suffice to say, Theodena was shut down in 1951, and following a disciplinary "committee meeting," Rhoda Ford was disfellowshipped for misrepresentation. Whether she also faced criminal charges or housing infractions that were publicized I do not know. My mother, a personal acquaintance of Percy Ford, introduced us at an assembly in the spring of 1952 and he seemed both embarrassed and apologetic - to me as well as to my mother. She told me that Brother Ford was the former Branch Servant, reminding me that he was "the brother of 'Auntie Rhoda,' who has been disfellowshipped." I took it that the scandal over Theodena had led to his stepping down as Branch Servant. I suspect that he had personally endorsed the school to my mother and to others, leading the Society to distance itself from him and his sister.
My mother went to the International Convention in New York in the summer of 1953, visited Canada, and decided to immigrate. After spending several weeks in New York and new Jersey, we first arrived in Canada, on 8 January 1954.
Is there any one in England who know the places where these events took place that could do a search in the archives of newspapers to see if there are any articles from that time period that reported the closing of the school? Gary was seven at the time, he says he doesn't know if the newspapers reported it. Any one in the position to check the story out and give Jah the occasion to be proud once more?
belbab, letting the moths outta the closet.