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  • Writer's picturePaul Coleman

The Gravesend Butcher they called a Dentist.

Updated: Sep 9

ID Card with Sea School Photo
ID Card with Sea School Photo

I used to have a very good set of teeth, until 1971 when the dentist at the Gravesend Sea School got hold of me and drilled so many holes in my teeth that he damaged them for the rest of my life.

Within a year I was in agony at sea, with the most horrendous toothache on the MV Westminster Bridge, an iron ore carrier, sailing from Sierra Leone in West Africa all the way to Japan, where I was finally able to go to a dentist, only to discover that it was his day off!

The ship sailed the next day, which meant two more weeks of agony to Port Headland, a small mining town in Western Australia, where a dentist removed the wrong tooth. By the time I realised this we were at sea, sailing back to Europe. Two more months biting on cloves until I finally got back to the UK, where I had another tooth pulled, with an abscess!

This led to another visit to the dentist, this time back home to Manchester, where yet another tooth was pulled. After bleeding all night long I returned to the dentist to find him pulling out the driveway with his car loaded with his family and suitcases, towing a caravan, on the way to their holiday destination. Vacation plans stalled, he was not at all happy to see me, and he let me know it, while I sat in his dentist chair for three hours biting hard with inflamed gums on wads of cotton to stop the bleeding.

This last visit kept me away from the dentists for decades.

Only recently have I been visiting them again, this time at the clinic in La Junta, the tiny village where we live in Chilean Patagonia. The dental care is free, the dentists young, as everyone appears to be nowadays :) and the treatment is excellent, just like it was before I went to sea.

I am a member of a facebook group of former and current British Merchant Seamen and originally wrote this for them as I reckoned that I was not the only one to go through such experiences at the sea school or at sea. I was right. Here are a few of their comments. Some of them are quite funny, even though they reflect a lot of pain filled nightmares:

Chris Harris I heard from one of my old colleagues that the Dentist at Gravesend was prosecuted for defrauding the NHS! It would not surprise me as i was checked by my own Dentist before going there but miraculously when checked at Gravesend I needed a number of fillings!

Iain Maciver Aye the butcher left a full root in my gum. I had it there for 15 years. He broke the tooth trying to haul it out. I was in agony. So he threw me out saying I was a difficult patient. Could smell the drink of him. I still have the mental scars!!

Mark Waller I joined my first ship with a bruised chest where the bastard leant on me for leverage. Spent the first month at sea on pain killers

Robert George Martin I went to sign on Rangitane an doctor said go and get broken tooth out. Gravesend dentist ripped my gums so much they would not sign me on when I got back.

Steve O'Neill Strange coincidence, dentist at port headland removed two of mine when he should have removed one, turned out he was a fellow Cornishman and came from same village.

Vix Holloway I had to have a tooth out in Kuwait City, the dentist was an Irishman and he was as pissed as a newt...he had his knee in my belly and the f****** chair tipped backwards with him lying on top of me and the tooth still intact. I said, "I think you've broken my jaw?" He said, "Don't be so f****** silly." 'I' had to lift the f****** chair up because he could hardly stand, after about 15 minutes he managed to get the tooth out....then he went over to the desk and scrawled..."Nothing to eat or drink and NO WORK for 24 hours!" In big letters like John's First Reader. When I got back to the ship the bosun said, "Just in time stations forward and aft." He hit the roof when I handed him my 'sick note.' But he calmed down a bit when he saw my jaw. I was one of the few to see Kuwait City and it looked quite a nice place, too.

Richie Sloan Remember a Bosun suffering with a bad tooth went on for days then one night in the bar all a bit pissed the Bosun shouts I've had enough...he storms out into the alleyway ...we all thought he was on about the booze....5 minutes later he comes back into bar with a big size mole grip.... at the bar he knocks back four whiskys and puts the grips into his mouth, were all looking wide eyed saying don't do it...after a bit of grunting twisting and turning out comes this tooth with blood following .he slams down the grips on the bar and sticks his hand out..more whiskys and then he seemed fine...after a big session we all turned morning the 2nd Engineer is looking for his grips ...the Bosun still half cut hands the grips back..and the engineer looks at it and shouts its got a fecking tooth init...the Bosun just standing there with a big silly grin on his face and a big cap in his teeth

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