The New Zealand Dental Services
The resources of 10 Mobile Dental Section were now strained to the limit by the wide dispersal of the Division. Headquarters, less its sub-section, the maxillo-facial injuries section and 10/1 subsection were at Guadalcanal, where there were still about 1600 troops. Captain S. N. Jolly1 of the maxillo-facial injuries section helped with the general work but could not be moved from the Casualty Clearing Station. Sub-sections 10/HQ, 10/2 and 10/5 were with 14 Brigade on Vella Lavella, 10/6 was on Mono Island and 10/3 and 10/4 on Stirling Island.page 328
With only casualty treatment being carried out for the Division in the forward areas it was obvious that there must be some deterioration in the general dental condition. The Mobile Section must have reinforcements, so, anticipating the request, the ADDS instructed three sections in New Caledonia to be ready to go forward at short notice and in January 1944 went to Guadalcanal himself to sum up the position. On the face of it this was merely a redistribution to meet a special set of circumstances but in fact was not so simple. He was having difficulty in maintaining the strength of his establishment and was not receiving a very sympathetic hearing about his staff troubles from Force Headquarters. He had managed to keep up the strength of dental officers by exchanging the one or two casualties with fit ones from New Zealand, but sickness and inefficiency had left him short of three orderlies. His attempts to replace them from other units were unsuccessful as only over-age men, difficult to train and not fit enough for the rough conditions in the Solomons, were available. The only other source was New Zealand.
In all good faith he asked Force Headquarters to cable New Zealand for three Grade I orderlies to be sent as soon as possible, little suspecting that this simple request was to involve the force in an argument with Army Headquarters on general policy in which he became the ‘chopping block’. Unaware of the fuse he had lit, he left for Guadalcanal before the cable was sent.
The Adjutant-General replied to the cable:
In view of the direction that no further reinforcements for any arm are to be despatched to 2 NZEF, IP, it is requested that you submit to Army Headquarters an explanation of your demand for further NZDC personnel, action concerning which is, therefore, being withheld pending receipt of your advice.
This cable, dated 14 January 1944, evoked a reply from Headquarters 2 NZEF (IP) by letter on 24 January, suggesting, beneath the official phraseology, a degree of irritability that augured ill for the ADDS:
Reference your D330/7/91 of 14 January, this has been referred to ADDS for his comments.
At the time of despatch of the signal his explanation was that he had arranged this matter with the DDS in New Zealand in order to ensure that the dental requirements of this Force could be efficiently attended to. At the present time the ADDS is visiting the forward areas but on his return a further reply will be despatched.
Your statement that you have a direction that no further reinforcements for any arm are to be despatched to 2NZEF, IP, is noted but it would have been appreciated if such information had not been sent under open cover.page 329
At a recent conference attended by the GOC of 2NZEF, IP, DGMS of NZ Military Forces and the DDMS of 2NZEF, IP, it was arranged that to assist in relieving the shortage of medical practitioners in New Zealand, immediate replacement of those medical officers who had returned, or who were returning, to New Zealand on the grounds of sickness or to take up civilian work would not be asked for except those already promised. In these circumstances the DGMS agreed that, should an emergency arise, necessary medical officers would be immediately despatched either for temporary or permanent duty.
The first part of your cable would appear to render such promise null and void but before referring this correspondence to the GOC, could we be advised that the decision that ‘No further reinforcements for any arm are to be despatched to 2NZEF, IP’ will not be adhered to in the case of replacement of medical officers should they be required.
A separate communication is being despatched in regard to the replacement of personnel who have been returned to New Zealand on compassionate grounds.
The ADDS returned to New Caledonia as to a hive resounding to the humming of angry bees and, whether it was retributive or merely coincidental, he received his share of stings, leaving his relationship with some senior staff officers somewhat strained. There were suggestions that the dental services were overstaffed, that too much work was being done for the French, that a certain dental officer should be moved to another section and generally the administration was criticised. The ADDS had good and sound proof that these statements were incorrect but made a tactical error in attempting to refute them. He asked for them in writing. To use his own expression:
Whether I was going to Infantry Reinforcements or to New Zealand roll, medically graded IV on grounds of insanity wasn't clear for the next ten minutes.
It would appear that if it is necessary to sit on a circular saw it is unwise to inquire too closely which tooth did the damage.
Everything soon quietened down and no grudges were held on either side. The ADDS got his orderlies, a dental officer was tactfully switched with someone else, and a section at the camp at Bourail whose hut had been blown down in a hurricane and which had been refused other accommodation was set up elsewhere with only slight inconvenience. The arrival of a hurricane must have been but a mole hill to the mountain of worries as the ADDS does not mention it in any of his reports but only in a personal letter to the DDS:
The roofs of the two four-man huts at Bourail camp were lifted off and tossed into the next valley. I don't know yet if they are repairable. A good job of work was done collecting the stuff and getting it under cover. All tentage was flattened and in some cases so were the huts. My staff is living temporarily in some rooms in the school here until accommodation is rebuilt. The camp really did look a sorry sight when I went up first thing page 330 yesterday morning…. The camp dental hospital was all but flattened but everything is under control and an emergency surgery had been erected. ‘Business as usual’. Subject to check, there appears to have been no loss of equipment right through. The dental sections North of Bourail were not inconvenienced very much at all. At Moindah the bure had the roof blown off but as the natives were due the next day to put a new one on anyway, the storm saved the trouble of taking the old leaking one off.
At the end of 1943 the force was static and divided into four groups, viz., New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, Vella Lavella and the Treasury Islands. Arrangements were therefore made to re-examine and treat all the men. Results to hand indicated that the amount of treatment required would be much as estimated, i.e., just over 50 fillings per 100 men and 11 per cent denture cases, mainly remodels and repairs.