Retired Dentist, now aged 96
Main photo – Alan and his wife Mary
The Whole Tooth and Nothing but the Tooth
Mary and I moved to Cranleigh after I retired from working as a dentist in South London in 1999. When I retired we wanted to get out of London but we weren’t sure where to go. Our friends John and Sue Sainsbury had moved to Cranleigh when John was appointed as assistant minister at Cranleigh Baptist Church. We visited them several times and enjoyed visiting the church, the village and enjoyed some walks in surrounding beautiful countryside. We decided to look for a house in Cranleigh and when we found a suitable chalet bungalow in New Park Road, we moved here a few months later.
We sought to link up with the community and joined U3A classes in art, computing and Cranleigh History Society as well as getting involved with the Baptist church activities. We took round hot food for the Meals on Wheels service. We took part in the ward services in the old Cranleigh Hospital and in local care homes. I joined the Churches Together ‘Open the Book’ team, acting out Bible stories in school assemblies once a week at the St Nicolas Primary school, Park Mead and Cuthbert Mayne Catholic school.
Immediately after I retired, Mary and I went on trips to Africa. I treated patients in a mission hospital in Zambia and in Kwa Zulu, South Africa. Mary helped in a mission school for girls.
At a recent meeting of the Cranleigh History Society, members were invited to present the story of their family history – similar to the TV Show “Who do you think you are?” I spoke of my family who were farmers in Switzerland, living in the German-speaking district of Bern. It was the custom that if there were 3 successive years of bad harvests, the oldest son would move to another country to farm. When this occurred my great grandfather went to South Africa and farmed near East London in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. After the reported discovery of diamonds in Kimberley, the family joined the rush to live there and established a grocery and bottle store. Gradually the ‘wild west town’ became the city named after Lord Kimberley, who was Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1873.
My father, Herbert, was educated at Kimberley Boys High school. When he was 18, he had no plans for a career but his best friend told him he was going to London to study to be a dentist. So Herbert decided to join him. The family must have discovered some diamonds to cover his expenses for the 5 year course in dentistry at Guy’s Hospital! Oddly his friend gave up after one year and returned to South Africa but Herbert persevered and qualified as a dentist in 1917.
He was called up into the army and served as a dental officer in Winchester. After demob, he married and settled in a dental practice in Bournemouth. My parents had 3 sons and it was suggested that I, the youngest son, should follow in my father’s footsteps and become a dentist which I was willing to do. I enrolled in the dental school of Birmingham University.
After the war in 1947, medical and dental students weren’t called up at 18 like other young men. They waited until we qualified but straight away after qualifying, they called me up to serve as a dental officer in Portsmouth. I served 2 years in the Royal Army Dental Corps there for a year before they called me to Austria to serve in the Army of Occupation after the war. Of course this was peace time and I learnt to ski and to speak a bit of German. One accolade occurred when I was stationed in Vienna when I made a denture for the Major General in charge of the British troops in Austria.
When I was young at school I wasn’t keen on sport, I was more academic, and especially interested in the sciences. We lived in Bournemouth then and our next door neighbour attended Ryde school when David Tryon came as a visiting speaker to the school and he said ‘I’m having a camp in Bembridge would any boys like to come?’ So my next door neighbour took my brother Bob and they went to the boys camp together. Bob was so enthusiastic when he returned home that I wanted to go. The friend, my neighbour, never went again but Bob and I went every year where we heard about the Christian faith and the gospel.
I was particularly affected one year by the Bible text in Revelation 3:20 ‘Behold I stand at the door and
knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.’ The speaker spoke about the painting
by Holman Hunt of a man knocking at a door based on this verse. We were told it depicted the risen Lord in a robe with a golden crown but underneath was the crown of thorns and on his hands were scars from the nails of the cross. I wanted the Lord to come into my life but I had often heard about people becoming a Christian and having a wonderful feeling of great peace, power and love and I didn’t sense that. However I realised that it says don’t trust your feelings but trust in the word of God where the text promises ‘I will come in’. Although I didn’t feel any different I just knew the Lord had come into my heart to be my Saviour and forgive my sin. So from that day at the age of 13, I began to grow in the Christian life and I wanted other boys in the school to hear about him. I had one or two Christian friends and together we formed the Christian Union and held meetings to invite other boys to.
It was through my faith that I met Mary. There were 3 of us that were particular friends at our church – Mary, Beryl and me. In 1954 Billy Graham came to Harringay to preach the gospel message on his UK campaign tour. Beryl went on holiday that week so that left Mary and I who could go together. At the Billy Graham meeting Mary came to faith in Christ and that was the start of our romance. She was so lovely, great fun and had a good sense of humour and we shared the same passion for our faith.
Once we were married in 1956 I moved to Wandsworth Common, South London, where I joined a dental practice, and remained there for the rest of my dental career. My great aim was always to help my patients overcome their fear of the dentist!
When patients used to say ‘I’m very nervous’ I would reply, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll treat you gently’. I tried to make friends with my patients and having been 35 years in the same practice, mothers would bring their children along and I remembered when the mothers were that age! I became a friend of the family and used to try and encourage them. I would give out Christian comics as prizes for being a good patient and in the waiting room we had Christian literature and a Gideon bible. We had a booklet titled ‘How can I find God?’ written by Maurice Wood who was the Bishop of Norwich at the time. I had a sign ‘Please take one’ and placed a whole lot of copies on the waiting room table. One lady who had to wait quite a while, (although I tried to make sure patients didn’t have to wait long because I felt that was unfair) but this patient happened to be waiting long enough to read the whole booklet all the way to the end where it quoted the verse Revelation 3:20 ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock, if anyone opens the door I will come in.’ She was a church-goer but she always thought of God as ‘up there!’ The idea that she could know God and he could share her life was a great revelation to her and so she asked the Lord into her heart there and then, in the waiting room before having her dental treatment. She didn’t tell me at the time but I heard later through a friend when she joined our church.
One day of the week, I went to run the dental clinic at Bethnal Green Medical Mission. I also went to treat housebound patients at home. This was when I really saw the life of East Enders, similar to the TV program called “Call the Mid- wife”. One time I called on a patient, an elderly man in tears. His home where he’d lived for 70 years was about to be knocked down the next day or slum clearance. He was offered a flat in a high rise block with a modern kitchen and bathroom but he was about to lose all the community life he’d ever known and enjoyed which was devastating for him.
On another occasion a doctor I knew from the Bethnal Green Medical Mission went to visit a patient in one of the high rise flats, right on the top floor and he was very interested to look at the view from the window where you could see the Houses of Parliament, river Thames and Tower Bridge. He kept looking at the view for a long time when finally the patient said to him ‘Oi doctor! You came to see me not the scenery!’
Another time I recall realising how treating patients at home could be so different from a clinic consultation. I was removing a tooth for a man while he sat in his comfy armchair when his dog jumped up and sat on his lap!
Our surname often evokes interest, we pronounce it ‘Vote’. One year when Mary and I were on holiday in Switzerland, the manager of the hotel commented ‘Oo Vogt!’ as he did the ‘thumbs down’ gesture. I discovered Mr Vogt was originally a local landowner who oppressed people and had rather a bad name. However, when we were near Bern where my ancestors lived, we looked the name up in a telephone directory and found there were over 50 Vogts listed so it must be quite a common name in Europe.
Mary and I celebrated 65 years of happy marriage in 2021. We had 4 children – 3 girls and 1 boy but sadly, Anne, the youngest died of cancer when she was aged 55. We have 10 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren. None of the family wanted to take up dentistry except a nephew who became a dentist in Banstead. Our son Paul is in IT business, Sue is nursing, Anne was a speech therapist and Libby teaches in a school for the deaf in Zimbabwe.
Although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my career as a dentist the highlight of my life has been to see people come to know God and understand the Christian faith. I experienced that happen in Africa where I treated people who’d had painful teeth for years and I was able to remove the tooth painlessly and relieve their pain. The trouble was I didn’t know their language and all I could say was ‘Open wide!’ not even in their language. I got the Padre from the hospital to give me some gospel tracts in their language. After an extraction they would want to take the tooth home and show their family. I would wrap the tooth in a cloth and then wrap a tract around that for them to read at home.
I stopped practising 30 years ago and today’s dentistry is completely modernised with more emphasis on not taking teeth out, with root canal treatment, advanced techniques of filling and crowning teeth. In my time, I often did dentures for people who had lost all their teeth, both up- per and lower dentures. They weren’t so good in those days because the dentures were just balancing on the gums, there was no suction there.
I had a patient who was the principal of the London Bible college. One day he was preaching when his lower denture turned upside down. He hastily got a handkerchief and removed his denture before carrying on. He subsequently came to see me to obtain new dentures. I felt quite a burden of responsibility to supply new dentures that would stay in position for him.
Sadly Mary died a year ago and I’m learning to live alone. I’m well supported by my family and friends. Over the year I’ve been particularly con- cerned with a number of people who live alone like me and I invite them round. I enjoy baking cakes and always hope to share my faith with them over afternoon tea. I no longer remove people’s teeth or give them a dental check-up but I will always have a passion to talk to people about my Saviour who still stands at the door and knocks. If anyone hears his voice he will come in.