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Jim's experiences: The first time I should have died I was 17. It was 20 December 1940, and the ‘Christmas Blitz’ on Liverpool had entered its second night. My family's house suffered a direct hit from a parachute mine (figure 1). I was buried for several hours, alongside the bodies of my father, two sisters and best friend. Somehow I managed to work one arm up through the rubble to the surface. I grabbed the trouser leg of a rescuer and heard a faceless voice shout, “There's one ’ere…”. He used his bare hands to create a cone of clear air around my face. I could breathe easily again, and I was dug out of the wreckage of my home, with astonishingly little serious injury.
I was completing my secondary school education, and despite this harrowing event, won a place to study dentistry at Liverpool University the following spring. Life as a student in wartime Liverpool was challenging: rationing was in force, the tram route from the home of my cousin—where I now lived—to the dental school was disrupted by bomb craters, and the city suffered further damage as air raids continued, notably in the intense attacks of May 1941. But the undergraduate training ran its course, with the added novelty of earning pocket money by camping on the dental school roof watching for fires ignited by incendiary bombs.
Having cheated death in late 1940, I qualified in dentistry in summer 1945 and chose an academic career, moving from lecturer and senior lecturer to reader, finally being appointed Professor of Operative Dental Surgery in 1979.
The second time I cheated death was more recent. One evening …
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed. This paper was reviewed by Christopher Kennard, Oxford, UK.