I was born in Chester and I went to Chester Grammar School. When I left school I didn't really know what I wanted to do. However, my father knew a dentist and he suggested that I took an apprenticeship in dentistry to be a dental technician. So I did. I met a friend called Tony Fieldstead there. I didn't know that he had decided to do the same. This was when the National Health Service was set up about 1948. The dentist we worked for had a huge grey Chrysler car in his garage and a wife who liked her gin.
But the time came for us to be called up to do our National Service, and we both went to Liverpool on the same day for our medicals. I was only 18 years of age and I remember feeling very embarrassed at having to pass water into an empty bucket. I may have been by myself in a small room but the sound echoed to all the blokes waiting outside. We were both sent to Aldershot to the Royal Army Dental Corps. We neither of us wanted to go into the Army anyway but at least we were going into something we knew a bit about. We arrived at night and sorted out getting fed and finding our beds and so on and agreeing how lucky we were to be together when about eight o'clock somebody marched in and told Tony that he was being sent to the Cheshire Regiment the next morning! That was the end of us being together.
In the Royal Army Dental Corps you did just two weeks training and the rest of the time in school basically. I ended up a Dental Operating Room Assistant or a DORA. If you go to the dentist nowadays you'll find that it is always girls doing this job. You worked with the Dental Officer in the surgery, booking in the customers (always Service men of course) as they came in. We were always very busy. There were Regular and National Service men, a lot of old soldiers came in. We had our own building with all needed to run a dental service, dentists, technicians and the craftsmen who made the false teeth. We were an entity on our own, we were not involved in Army duties. I never learnt to do drill or fire a gun. We didn't do any marching up and down except perhaps on parades sometimes. It wasn't like being in the Army really.
The condition of people's teeth is so much better these days. After the war when the National Health service was set up, people went to the dentist regularly whereas previously few people did that. They couldn't afford it, perhaps and of course there weren't the toothpastes and adverts then except the old Gibbs Dentifrice! If you think back to your parents' day, most people had lost their teeth by the time they retired from work. They had to go and have their old teeth out and have dentures fitted. Now most people keep their teeth, except for one or two maybe, into their old age.
I was at Oswestry by this time and there was a dentist there called Major Garrard who had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese for most of the war. I think he was probably captured when Singapore fell. He always came to work on a big red bike. He had in the corner a large book on Dental Practice and he would go into the corner and turn the pages of this book to try to find out what he should be doing in this particular case. He had been out of dentistry so long that he was out of touch with the more modern methods. If he found that he couldn't do what was necessary, he would suddenly scream out , 'Lieutenant so-and-so take over, I've got paper work to do!' and he would rush out of the room. Because he was the boss he could get away with it. It was quite horrendous really. But if someone came in to have their teeth out - and some had them all out they would be made unconscious by gas and he would have their teeth out in seconds. I've never seen anything so fast! It was amazing. I used to have to sit on top of them to hold them down because they would struggle or fight sometimes. Eventually all the camp got to hear of him and they would come in and say, 'It isn't Major Garrard today is it?'
We were in a huge great camp and we dealt with all the lads who had just joined up. They spent one day with us as we made up their dental records which then went with them wherever they were posted. One of the men of whom I was taking the records was Lord Gunner Medway. It didn't matter who you were, you had to do your National Service and you were treated just like everyone else. Later he might go on to Officer Training but when he came in he was just a raw recruit and had to the initial training which took about two months.
Our free time was spent in the NAAFI in the town as that was all you afford to do. It was a good NAAFI and they sold very nice cider. We stayed in huts on this camp. One day we were in our hut when someone shouted 'Fire!' and we all ran out. When we got back inside, someone had tipped every bed up and the place was in a mess. It was supposed to be a joke! Someone was getting bored.
There was one chap there from the Black Country who was as rough as they come with a terrible accent you couldn't understand. He volunteered to stay on after his National Service and, because he was a technician, he was made up to Lance-Corporal and then to Corporal almost immediately. I met him later on in Germany where he was a Sergeant. Some years afterwards I was walking in Bridge Street in Chester and there he was marching along swinging his arms and now he was a Staff Sergeant. I got a letter from a friend some ten or so years ago and he told me that this bloke was a Lieutenant Colonel! If you spoke to him earlier, you would not have believed it. He turned up at a reunion I went to at Aldershot some time later on and he was thrown out for behaving so badly and they would not allow him to come again, ever! I understand he had a prelidiction for officers' wives. It was unbelievable that a chap like that would get promotion in the Army.
Then I was sent to Chester for a short spell which was where I lived to fill a vacancy. There was another technician there, just the two of us, but he was an alcoholic. He would go every lunch time to the NAAFI and drink! I was at Chester for only a short time before I was posted to Germany where I stayed for twelve months and was made up to a full corporal. Here I was with the Field Ambulance with the Royals and Blues, a very posh regiment. When they went on manoevres with their great tanks and stuff, we would trundle behind with a lorry and all the equipment and a tent. You would be surprised how useful we were as men were always smashing up their teeth and other parts of themselves - on manoevres. You would be in this tiny village with wooden houses where, of course, there was no war on by now but you would think that there was the way they tore about playing at soldiers. It was quite fantastic.
I was in Hamburg for a while and then at Luneburg where I met Tom Driburg of the Binns who went on to be the MP for a Scottish constituency. I think he is the Father of the House of Commons now. He was a private in the Royals and Blues then. He was a big bloke with flat feet. He used to go off at the weekends to see various places so another chap and myself decided we would do the same. We were due for a bit of leave so we went to Copenhagen. We went by train and across the sea. I was very impressed by the smart railway station. We stayed at a hotel called the Hotel Cosmopolite I remember, right opposite the Royal Palace. We didn't have a lot of money so we went bed and breakfast. There seemed to be no shortage of food, they had soon picked themselves up after the war. One night we went to a night club called the Gold Digger which was full of Yanks. We had our uniforms on and I met a very nice girl. But one of the men who worked there warned me to be very careful so I backed out quick! During the day we had a wonderful time walking round and enjoying the sight-seeing although it was very cold. Once when we were walking around some Danish bloke shouted out 'Oye! Montgomery!' We stayed for two weeks but everything was very expensive we thought.
Three months before I left the Army I heard that you could take the exam to be promoted to Sergeant but when I sat it, I discovered that it was all about Army administration and regiments which I knew nothing about. We had had no teaching or information given to us about these things, so I couldn't do it. When my time was up I was discharged and that was that. There was no leaving ceremony or anything like that, nor a certificate to say that I'd done my duty to the country. We didn't even get a free suit like they did after the war. I think you can claim a medal if you write up for it. My old friend Fieldstead who I had joined up with, ended up in Cyprus and then in Egypt during the Suez crisis. He was in the Cheshire regiment but he didn't do dentistry.
I didn't want to do dentistry after I had left the Army either. Again I was in the situation where I didn't know what I wanted to do. You could come out of the Army six months early if you went to college, as my cousin did. But I needed some money so I had to stay in until my discharge and then look for a job. So I got one at the de Havilland Aircraft factory. This would be January 1953. I took up sales and I was a salesman ever afterwards until I retired.
I went on to work for a little company that sold copper tubes when plastic was just coming in. The job was in Liverpool and I lived in Chester but I had to go by bus as I had no car. The office was up some stairs and hadn't changed for years. It was like something out of Dickens! There was an old chap running this office had been there all through the war and the bombing in Liverpool. One of the questions he asked me was, 'Are you Church of England?'. So your religion was important in those days in Liverpool. Anyway he gave me this job which was to come into the office three times a week and check the messages while he went out. The firm had lost a lot of business during the war as they couldn't supply them with copper being so scarce, but now business was looking up as the supply situation picked up. In between I went round opening up accounts for them in Chester or Warrington, always by bus. But the old fellow in the office used to claim that he had had this or that account ten years or so ago, and it all belonged to him. I decided that I was not going to get anywhere with this system. I only stayed about twelve months and then I applied for another job where the interview was taken in the same street where I worked. I slipped out for the interview when the office was empty and I was in charge. When I got back I was relieved to find that there had been no enquiries about the price or copper that day or any messages during my absence.
I didn't get this job but I did get one with Exquisite Form, the bra people. That was a Canadian company and was quite nice except that they expanded into the corset side with roll-ons. I was asked to go into that side so I had a go and went round the shops selling them all round Cheshire. I was a bit embarrassed but it didn't bother the lady shop-keepers. But I didn't like it very much. I didn't think that the roll-ons, in spite of being very pretty with fancy patterns and all that, did the job that they said they did. I don't think you can get them now. They went out of fashion about thirty years ago.
So this time I moved on to Hotpoint and sold washing machines, twin-tubs and automatics, spin dryers, refrigerators, Ice Diamonds they were called. The Countess was one of the first to come out. It had a wringer with a handle, and then came a bigger version called the Empress. We also sold water heaters and what have you. It was a good company but Retail Price Maintenance came out which meant that the manufacturers of the appliances decided the price at which they were to be sold. The shops made their profit by ordering a number, say 100 or even 300 items, and getting a discount for quantity. This changed the business completely because the big companies sold in large numbers and could afford to cut their prices. The fun of selling to a variety of shops finished. I ended up going into the big firms like Leicester Co-op or Nottingham Electricity Board or Kingstones of Leicester where the attitude was not 'How good is it? or what does it do?' but 'What's the discount if I buy so many?' The small shops selling the stuff disappeared as they were forced out of business. We used to have demonstrators in every large store and we all worked together happily. But this all went and the joy in the job went. I believe the Heath Government eventually abolished Retail Price Maintenance.
I finished up working for Bosch who sold excellent machines, far superior to the English machines. I moved to Leicester as my new area was in the Midlands. I travelled about quite a lot as you can imagine and one day I was going home across Lincolnshire when I thought that I would take another route, away from all those busy main roads. I came through Colsterworth on the way to Melton and decided that I wanted to come and live in the country. We were then in one of those Jelson houses on an estate in Leicester. This house was up for sale and I knocked on the door and met Mr Price who lived here then. I put my house up for sale but it was during the Harold Wilson Government when there was a slump in house prices and I couldn't sell. I dropped the price by £100 and then down £200 and it sold. I had come to see Mr Price about the delay but he said, 'Don't worry, there's no rush'. Eventually we came in January, in the snow.
There was more space in the village then. There was no Woodlands estate and no Bocock estate either. I became a Parish Councillor and I am keen on conservation. How people get planning permission for some of the houses they put up, I do not know.
This page was last edited on Sunday 09-Aug-09 22:46:10 BST