The New Zealand Dental Services
As has been stated earlier, the dental section with the Air Force in the Pacific was seldom confronted with the large volume of work met with in the Army. There was always plenty to do, but neither the same banking up of arrears nor the desperate urgency. Consequently there were more leisure hours and an obligation to page 365 occupy these hours to some purpose, a highly important factor in the maintenance of morale.
Books, magazines and digests were sent to the forward areas from time to time and current issues of the principal dental journals of the world were circulated among the officers. A monthly newsletter was also started to keep closer touch between Headquarters and the scattered sub-sections. Hobbies were encouraged and were numerous and varied.
Some idea of the conditions and of the general life can be gleaned from the following excerpts from narratives supplied from dental officers who were there:
Number 5 Flying Boat Squadron Camp is situated beside the sea at 50 to 100 feet altitude so there is a cool breeze to make living conditions pleasanter. The camp itself is in the middle of a coconut plantation and consists, for the most part, of Quonset huts. The administration is American so the food to a large extent consists of American dishes. These were enjoyed as a novelty but were not really palatable to us. Facilities are available for swimming, basket ball, volley ball and table tennis and in addition there is a good library and outdoor picture show. Launch trips are always a great delight….
At the Base depot there is a well established camp, very clean, with well-constructed buildings, good roads and all possible conveniences such as electric iron and hot and cold showers. This camp compares very favourably with those on Air Force Stations in New Zealand.
The hours of duty are 0730 to 1130 and from 1330 to 1615. This leaves two spare hours in the middle of the day for reading, relaxing in the shade of a palm or swimming. Gardening and boat building are other forms of recreation. Fresh milk is one of the things missed most.
… a beautiful spot just like a tourist's guide to the South Seas. Jungle in the background, palms, coral sand beach, coral reef with breakers on the outer edge and deep blue sea beyond.
We established the section in one end of the medical hut with the chair in the open doorway to get the best light and began work under the curious gaze of an audience of natives.
On the Saturday evening a native arrived from the Catholic Mission about twelve miles away with a note from Father LeClark … requesting my assistance with a maternity case, a delayed placenta. We went there on the Sunday and were greatly relieved on arrival to find that our services were not required.
During off hours we built a raft of oil drums and bamboo and using a viewing glass spent many hours examining the underwater life of the reef. Also, wearing goggles and armed with bows and arrows we hunted fish to the advantage of our general education but with little increase to our rations.
Halavo Bay, Florida Island:
Halavo Bay is on the Western shore of Florida facing Guadalcanal and about 15 minutes by launch from Tulagi. It was formerly a Melanesian mission station but, with the advent of the Japanese, the natives fled inland.
We shared a Quonset Hut with the American Dental Officer. Living conditions were good and food excellent and there were pictures every night and an occasional travelling concert party. We had our own vegetable garden with plenty of tomatoes and cucumbers.
The experience of erecting our own building was thoroughly enjoyed. Everything was done by the men of the section except cutting the rafters and the lighting and plumbing installations. The kit of tools was a Godsend as the Works Section could only spare one hammer and a rip saw.
The camp site was well chosen on clean coral with rapid drainage. The climate is good, the average temperature being about 85 to 90 degrees.
The study and hunting of butterflies can be followed to some extent and some beautiful specimens were obtained.
H.M.N.Z.S. ‘Kahu’, the New Zealand Naval Base on the island is attached to an American Naval Unit and the camp is situated in the midst of a coconut plantation at the head of Renard Sound. Climatic conditions are good with the Anopheles mosquito not in evidence.
Excellent swimming is obtainable at Lingatu, an American Recreation Centre on the opposite side of the island. Launch trips to neighbouring atolls interspersed with deep sea fishing for bonita or tuna help to pass our leisure hours.
The section is well known for its interest in queer insects of which there are great numbers, especially butterflies of all colours.
The climate is one of the best in the area, the temperature remaining much the same all the year round, i.e., 90 degrees in the daytime and 72 at night. The soil is sandy so the rain which is daily and often heavy soon drains away. Very few fruits grow on this part of the island.
The ship steamed into Hamburg Bay, Emirau Island, situated in the St. Matthias Group…. The island is small, some 7 miles by 4 at its widest part. It is the island where the survivors of the sinking of the ‘Rangitane’ were landed.
The heat is intense, particularly with the glare off the coral strip and shoreline but against this, the rains and storms bring welcome relief from the incessant dust and cloudless skies.
The camp site was cleared out of the dense jungle. Timber as we understand the word does not exist but there are many young saplings which are invaluable for our type of tropical building.
The camp, abandoned two months previously by the Americans, was a dilapidated affair of broken down buildings and rotting tents, the whole page 367 place overgrown with rank weeds, vines and creepers. Snakes abounded and the small barking toads made sleep almost impossible. Scores of pigs wandered about as if they owned the place. However these were only first impressions. As the weather improved and the mud hardened, the weeds were cleared, the tents made habitable and the pigs driven away, more or less, and we found we had a camp as good as any on the island.
|Patients rendered dentally fit||13,614|
|Extractions with local anaesthetic||1,601|
|Extractions with general anaesthetic||32|
|Amalgam fillings or inlays||16,345|
|Full upper dentures||229|
|Full lower dentures||101|
|Partial upper dentures||273|
|Partial lower dentures||93|
Knowing that the RNZAF was to be demobilised, every attempt was made to make all personnel dentally fit as late as possible in their tour of duty. To assist this an extra officer and orderly were transferred to Jacquinot Bay, where the work was behindhand owing to the protracted changeover from Nissan Island earlier in 1945.
In conclusion, it would appear that the Mobile Dental Section with its headquarters section, advanced base dental store and subsections was the best organisation to service a scattered force such as No. 1 (Islands) Group. It is also clearly shown that without individual initiative, no amount of organising would provide a satisfactory dental service under conditions such as existed in the Pacific. Judging by the amount of construction done by the officers and men of the Corps, a good kit of tools is an essential part of equipment. Transport is not so important, as in many cases there are no roads. The specially converted truck can seldom be used in the Pacific and in many cases was dismantled by the sections themselves so that its equipment could be moved into buildings. When trucks are needed, there is a strong argument in favour of the use of standard types which can be easily fitted with specialised equipment and just as easily dismantled. A certain number of trucks could page 368 then be allotted to the Dental Corps, but not necessarily used by it unless conditions warranted it. It is not economical for any unit to keep to itself transport that cannot be fully employed and which in bad climatic conditions tends to deteriorate rapidly. One dental tender was released by the Senior Dental Officer in November 1944 at the request of the Chief Supply Officer, but the Senior Dental Officer made it clear at the time that he had no intention of parting with any others. It is difficult to see how any of his transport could have been fully employed on dental business. The fear that transport released to the common pool would not be available if required under different circumstances should not influence a decision that should only be based on a co-operative attitude for the efficiency of the whole force. It should not be difficult for a Senior Dental Officer to justify demands for transport, specialised or otherwise. His Commanding Officer is usually in a better position to assess the priorities of the units of his force.
The remarks of Lieutenant-Colonel Simmers on 26 October 1945 make a fitting ending to this chapter:
I wish to record my appreciation of the service rendered by all ranks. At all times their general conduct has been very good. They have worked consistently well under trying conditions and the results of their efforts have been evident in the dental service rendered to the R.N.Z.A.F. and in the number of excellent sections which were constructed by their own efforts and initiative.