The New Zealand Dental Services
It was known early in January 1944 that the spring was being coiled for a further operation in the Solomons and the GOC with his senior staff officers once more set up headquarters in Guadalcanal. The Mobile Dental Section was reinforced by Nos. 3, 4 and 5 Dental Sections from New Caledonia. Though not strictly part of the establishment of the Mobile Section, they came under its command and were used as sub-sections of the unit.
The operation being planned was an assault on Nissan, largest of the Green Islands Group, north-west of Bougainville and four degrees south of the equator. Fourteenth Brigade, then on Vella Lavella, was to be combined with American forces under the command of General Barrowclough,1 GOC 3 Division, to carry out the assault in conjunction with Rear-Admiral Wilkinson, in command of amphibious operations. Major McCowan had to consider a suitable distribution of his forces to cover the operation but could only guess the time he would have to do it in as D-day was known only to a few officers in key positions.
The Green Islands Group is an atoll, that is to say, an island or number of islands surrounding a lagoon. It is of coral formation covered by dense jungle, and at that time there were only a few native clearings and two coconut plantations, Pokonian and Tangalan. By the time the dental sub-sections arrived there Japanese resistance had been overcome, two airfields, a bomber and a fighter strip, were well on the way to completion, roads were being made and the troops were settling down to another garrison period. The page 331 sub-sections did not land without incident as their equipment suffered from several submersions in sea water, fortunately without serious damage. 10/HQ acted as administrative detachment and was located with the Field Ambulance. It was issued with two months' expendable stores as a reserve. Work continued where it left off in Vella Lavella a short time previously.
A problem common to all on Nissan Island was a shortage of fresh water, the only natural source being rain, other than native wells which were all condemned as polluted. Large condensers capable of distilling 4000 gallons of sea water daily had been installed and units received a daily ration to be used sparingly. Fortunately, in the early stages of the occupation, the bulldozers were pushing down palms right and left to clear the ground for landing beaches, roads and airfields, and the milk of the green coconut became a standard drink. The water shortage, widely dispersed units and poor communications added to the difficulties of providing an adequate dental service. The few roads there were mere tracks to begin with and most transport was by boats across the lagoon. One particularly annoying pest was a hairy caterpillar which lived off the leaves of the trees and, when moulting, filled the air with fine hairs which produced an itchy skin rash similar to an urticaria. As on the other islands, there was trouble with metal instruments and certain stores which had to be protected from the heat and humidity.
After working for about a month, the sub-sections found they were losing ground and had to ask for reinforcements. 10/1, which had not previously been further forward than Guadalcanal, arrived on 27 March by air with all its equipment. In the meantime sections 3 and 4 had been sent to Stirling Island in the Treasury Islands to help with 8 Brigade.
1 Maj-Gen Rt. Hon. Sir Harold Barrowclough, PC, KCMG, CB, DSO and bar, MC, ED, m.i.d., MC (Gk), Legion of Merit (US). Croix de Guerre (Fr); Wellington; born Masterton, 23 Jan 1894; barrister and solicitor; NZ Rifle Bde 1915–19 (CO 4 Bn); comd 7 NZ Inf Bde in UK, 1940; 6 Bde, May 1940-Feb 1942; GOC 2 NZEF in Pacific and 3 NZ Div, Aug 1942-Oct 1944; Chief Justice of New Zealand.