Comboni Missionaries | Becoming a Collaborator

Catching Escapees

By the beginning of second year, Pinkie seemed to be taking a bit of a shine to me and was giving me more responsibility, which I appreciated. I knew from the previous year that the reason that we were told to leave our outgoing letters unopened was that Fr. Rector would read them first before sealing them and sending them out to our parents, friends, or anyone else.

It seems that when some of the eleven year old boys, who came from all over the country, experience what it is like both to be away from their parents, family and friends for the first time and experience the harsh unchanging regime, that they immediately ‘lose their vocations’ and wanted to go home.

They, of course, told their parents this in their letters of the first few weeks at college. They were sad and lonely. They missed their Mum. They missed their Dad. They missed their favourite brother or sister. The missed their dog. They missed their friends and the places they grew up in. They wanted to come home immediately.

Not Allowed to Leave

However, they couldn’t abandon their vocation just like that. God had called them and this was just a temporary weakness on their part. Once they settled down and got used to the place they would be all right.

So, the parts of the letters where they said they were completely miserable and just wanted to come home were censored by Fr. Rector’s stamp. If it was the theme of the whole letter then the whole letter was simply binned.

All incoming letters were also opened and read. If the content wasn’t approved they were inked out or binned altogether.

Wanted to Go Home

I knew when I was in first year that several of the boys were distraught that all their entreaties to their parents to come and get them were simply ignored. The letters that they received from their parents ignored what they told them of their loneliness and their despair and their wish to come home. Little did they know that their parents knew nothing of this at all.

These eleven year old boys were, in effect, prisoners in the heart of Old England in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Some of them actually tried to escape and were caught and brought back. This was a children’s Colditz in West Yorkshire – and nobody, even a hundred yards away, knew it was happening.

Collaborating With Pinkman

As I said, previously, Pinkie was starting to give me more responsibility by the start of second year and I was very proud of it. He seemed to be taking me into his inner circle. We had only one Dad to share between all of us and I was very happy that it seemed he was starting to favour me.

Anyway, he took me aside and told me he had reason to believe that one of the new first year pupils might try to escape. My job, he said, was to watch him at all times especially during periods when we were outside, for instance at recreation. I wondered how he had got that information. How did he know that the boy would try to escape?

The Police State

However, the state knows everything. The poor boy must have been pleading desperately with his parents to come and take him home. The powers that be there would have been aware of that from his (censored) letters home. They would also know, from past experience, that boys who were in despair because their parents seemed to be ignoring their pleas to come home would eventually try to escape.

The boys never had much chance. Many came from parts of the country perhaps hundreds of miles away. He would have had no money as we had to hand that in at the start of term. It could only be spent at the inhouse Tuck Shop. Even those who lived a mere twenty miles away couldn’t have made it.

They were doomed but they were desperate. No one ever successfully escaped in all the time I was there. It had a better record than Colditz. It had a better record than Alcatraz.

Part of ‘State Aparatus’

I didn’t really expect the boy to try and escape. However, I was now a privileged part of the ‘state apparatus’ and I kept my eyes on him at all times. I couldn’t believe my luck when on the second day after I had been told to watch him, the poor guy looked around and then made a break for it up the driveway from the lower school recreation area.

I immediately darted in and got Pinkie. What kudos I would get for that. I was now an accepted part of the establishment I felt. He would be so pleased that he had picked me. He could see how I had performed.

The priests immediately got their cars and went into operation. They grabbed the guy less than a few hundred yards from the college. I can’t remember the guy’s name. To this day he still wouldn’t have known what happened.

He must have been astonished by the ruthless efficiency of the system. He had waited until there were no priests around before he made his break for freedom. How could he have been caught so quickly?

Repressive Systems

The truth is that in all repressive systems you never know who is the informer. He could never have guessed that I had been recruited into the state structure and that it was I who was spying on him and who had ‘handed him over’.

Even though I was only twelve years old when I was ‘recruited’ I still feel a little guilty that I succumbed so easily. I suppose that it was the desire to fit in, to be a valued member of the system. I suppose it is this that causes people who live under repressive regimes to become informers on their own friends and colleagues.

I learned a valuable lesson there. I have always rejected all attempts by systems elsewhere in my life to suck me in and make me a part of it.

It was a terrible thing I did and I’m thoroughly ashamed of it. How many people who were informers under the ex-Soviet bloc, and the dictatorships in South America must now feel the same.

At least I was only twelve years old when I was recruited.

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