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Fighting tooth: Beryl Murray Davies (1928-1933)

Beryl Murray

Murray Davies was a non-degree student-in-residence in Bristol from 1928 to 1933

Dental Curriculum 1923

A copy of the 1923 Dentistry curriculum

Bristol General Hospital in 1925

Dental students in Bristol General Hospital in 1925

12 January 2015

During the Second World War, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) sent thousands of agents into occupied Europe – but not before the agents paid a visit to Bristol dental graduate, Beryl Murray Davies (1928-1933).

Murray Davies treated agents before they were sent on missions, replacing their 'English' fillings with 'European-style' dental work so as to disguise their nationality if captured or killed.

In Between Silk and Cyanide, A Code Maker’s War 1941-45 (The History Press, 2007), historian Leo Marks writes: '… a bemedalled major […] wanted to know what the agents were most frightened of. I replied that above all else, they were scared of a lady dentist who had to make sure that none of their fillings were of English origin. She had also to change the impressions of their teeth before they left for the field in case the Germans had records of them.'

Murray Davies often worked at night, and alone, and Marks’ book also talks of another dental treatment particular to war time: the hollowing out of the molars in order to hide L-pills, or cyanide capsules. Marks recalls: 'We had learned never to brief agents within a week either side of their appointments with her. There were a number of open mouths as I described how she did it...'

Emeritus Professor Chris Stephens has been researching Murray Davies' time in Bristol, where she was a non-degree student-in-residence from 1928 to 1933. 'We offered both a Bachelor of Dental Science (BDS) degree, and an Licence in Dental Surgery (LDS) at Bristol at that time,’ says Professor Stephens, ‘However, she, like most students, opted to take the older LDSRCS examination of the Royal College of Surgeons of England as this was better known. The curriculum Murray Davies would have followed would have been very similar to the programme we offered in 1923.'

Although Bristol’s Medical School provided dental lectures and laboratory-based teaching, the Dental School didn’t come into being until 1940, so Murray Davies would have undertaken her clinical training at either Bristol General Hospital (pictured) or Bristol Royal Infirmary. Both hospitals had been approved as suitable for LDSRCS (Eng) training.

'My guess is that after she qualified, Murray Davies went to the newly opened Eastman Dental Hospital and Postgraduate Institute in London,' says Stephens. 'One of her former teachers, Mr Claremont, Lecturer of Dental Surgery, was appointed as its first Director. He was doubtless keen to fill the places he had for postgraduate study, and would have known Beryl as a "good student"'.

'Murray Davies was also justly proud to have worked alongside Sir Archibald McIndoe CBE, who arrived in London from New Zealand in 1932. Working at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Sir Archibald would later be knighted for his pioneering work in plastic surgery.'

After the war, Murray Davies continued to see patients at her private practice in Harley Street – a practice she had set up single-handedly in the early 1940s, and indicative of her determination and dedication to her work. Murray Davies worked until the late 1970s, when she was forced to retire after discovering she had cancer in her hand (thought to have been caused by exposure to X-rays throughout her career). She passed away in January 2012, aged 102, her work during the war still having gone largely unrecognised.

Professor Stephens is author of A History of the University of Bristol Dental School and its site, available to buy for £10 from the Bristol Dental Alumni Association.