The BDA Museum recently received a collection of items from the family of Eric Cooper, who had been the consultant dental surgeon in the Morecambe Bay district from 1951 to 1974, which form the basis of our new temporary exhibition at the BDA Museum.
Eric's story was recorded in a BDJ interview in 1995 in which he described his capture during the Second World War on Crete whilst practising as a dentist in the Army Dental Corps.
After working as a prisoner of war dentist in a number of camps he was eventually transferred to Colditz for the remainder of the conflict.
Eric was a modest individual who rarely talked about his experiences. However, the items in the BDA Museum together with oral histories from some colleagues help to build a picture of his work both in Colditz and afterwards, and the amazing contribution he made to dentistry.
There are details of his qualifications from Guy's Hospital as one of the first dental students to achieve a Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree and his Royal College of Surgeons (England) certificate – one of the first surgeons to obtain a Fellowship in Dental Surgery by examination.
From Colditz there are Red Cross food tins that were used to help dig escape tunnels, and cards that Eric sent home including one which details his flight back to the UK at the end of the war.
Eric was a practical surgeon and helped build the wings of the famous Colditz glider. And later on in life, as a consultant he often sent his assistants to the local hardware shop to buy a bag of screws, which were sterilised and used to fix fractured jaws – an innovation that was well ahead of its time!
It was however the hunger that he and the other prisoners experienced which remained with him throughout his life. He bought a small farm in Nether Kellet and kept livestock so that he would be self- sufficient if necessary. He relished his freedom and once wrote:
"I travelled to Barrow at 2am and stopped the land-Rover to gaze at the full moon shining on the snow-capped mountain peaks. I had it all to myself, to be a cherished memory for ever."
After the war he worked at a consultant dental surgeon, going on to work in over 83 hospitals during his career. He was an innovative and enthusiastic dentist and a credit to our profession, as well as a bit of an 'unsung hero'.
Eric was always keen to encourage people to go into dentistry and I was fortunate enough to watch him carrying out some oral surgery procedures in theatre as a sixth former.
When I got a place at the Royal Dental Hospital he said he was very pleased but was sorry "that it was not Guy's"! He was certainly my inspiration to go into oral and maxillofacial surgery and years later when I was appointed as a consultant in Lancaster, there were many patients who remembered been treated successfully by him.
We are delighted to be able to showcase some of the objects from Eric's fascinating history and tell his amazing life story through our display – if you are in London, please do pop in and take a look, as well as seeing the many other quirky and interesting objects in our permanent collection.
Peter Dyer, Chair, Central Committee for Hospital Dentists
& Consultant in Maxillofacial Surgery, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay 1998-2017
The BDA Museum
has one of the largest collections of dental heritage in the UK. Spanning the 17th century to the present day, highlights of the collection include dental chairs, drills, oral hygiene products, and the infamous 'Waterloo' teeth. Pop in and see for yourself