Memories of a Wartime Dentistry Student
Reminiscences from Maurice Allin – Dental student from 1939
Maurice Allin sent us some reminiscences from his time as a Dental student at the University back in 1939. We found these fascinating. We’re sure you will too.
“As I celebrate my 95th birthday in May 2017, I have written a few words to provide a short account of my experience during the Second World War as a dental student at Birmingham University. My brother Tony and I went up to Birmingham in 1939 from our home in Oxford, as many in our family had done previously. Tony studied medicine while I studied dentistry.
The first year course comprising anatomy and physiology was the same for both of us. I found myself dissecting a complete body and I learned more about the dorsal vein than I did about oral anatomy.
Soon after the debacle of Dunkirk in 1940, and with the expectation of a German invasion, I joined the local military and we practiced drill using broomsticks as most of the British equipment had been abandoned in Europe. Studies were suspended for the summer.
With the passing of the threat of invasion, I went back to my dental studies. Then the air raids in Birmingham started, although they were never on the scale of the London bombings. We acted as “fire watchers” in exchange for board and lodging in the ward at the general hospital, which was allocated to us. Ward 22 became our home away from home. We also had a small contingent living with us from Kings College who had been evacuated from London.
I still remember a few of the names of my fellow students. There was a student called Piccaver, who I remember dissecting a firebomb while smoking a cigarette with the smoke curling in his eyes. I remember Paul Bramley who had a very distinguished career in dentistry. A group of us formed a rugby team known as the Parasites. Our usual opponents were teams from the local boys’ schools who invariably won.
Queen Elizabeth Hospital had a defused, unexploded German bomb. A group of us managed to capture it but our success didn’t last long as a counter-attack was made and the bomb was returned. I would like to know where it is now.
The General Hospital was very old and I remember one of the nurses complaining that the only time that there was protein in her soup was when a cockroach fell into it. They swarmed all over the walls.
In those days, we were responsible for our own equipment and the drills were all operated by foot engines.
There were no girls in our year so students today would hardly recognize the conditions we worked under.
The dental hospital in those days was in Steelhouse Lane. I bought a motor cycle, a BSA 500, in order to be able to drive home to Oxford. It cost me £6 and it didn’t work until a fell dental student named Bond very ably mended it. The exhaust had an unpleasant habit of falling off and I lost one passenger riding pillion who jumped off rather than risking his legs getting burned.
I eventually graduated in 1944 and subsequently enlisted in the British Army where I served as a dentist with the rank of captain. I was first sent to Burma and then India.
Back at home in Oxford, my father Hubert, who was also a dental graduate from Birmingham University, lived in a large Victorian house, which had its own dental surgery, which also provided accommodation for German refugees. I frequently found complete strangers in my bed. One of them, a man named Hans Meyer, joined the British Army and I later met him in India where I was also serving.
I hope these brief recollections will amuse present day students and show them how much dentistry has changed.”
Thank you to Maurice for allowing us to share recollections of his time at University. If you would like to do the same, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.