The New Zealand Dental Services
CHAPTER 7 — Organisation and Treatment of the Royal New Zealand Navy
Organisation and Treatment of the Royal New Zealand Navy
THE dental service for the Royal New Zealand Navy provides a sharp contrast to that for the Army and the Air Force. It is hoped to show that the fault did not lie with the New Zealand Dental Corps, whose every effort was to give the same service to all branches of the armed forces. The fact remains that the Navy was not prepared to accept that service except under conditions of its own making, and the result fell short of the ideal. There was already a dental service in the Royal Navy before the war but, if this was considered sufficient by the Admiralty, it was but a cipher to the needs of the New Zealand Division of that service. The dental needs of that force were identical with those of the other two services, and the spasmodic attention of a handful of dental officers attached to ships or shore stations merely scratched the surface of the problem. The New Zealand Division was suckled on the traditions of the Royal Navy, whose dental service had been in existence since 1915. In support of these statements it is therefore fair and reasonable to examine the position as it existed in New Zealand in 1933.
The only dental examination of candidates for entry into the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy was carried out by a medical officer. Physical and medical standards were laid down by the Naval Board in July of that year in a pamphlet entitled ‘Instructions for Surgeons and Agents’. There was only one reference in that pamphlet to dental matters:
Candidates under the age of seventeen should have twenty one teeth present either sound or capable of efficient repair, and those over seventeen should have twenty two. They should have some molars and incisors in good and efficient occlusion on both sides of the mouth. Where teeth are only capable of efficient repair and the candidate does not intend to have the defects made good prior to final examination, acceptance for entry will be subject to his undertaking to have the necessary treatment effected at his own expense.
This was meaningless and it is difficult to understand on what grounds the arbitrary assessment of the number of teeth was based. page 69 After the age of twelve the full complement of teeth is twenty-eight, and after the eruption of the third molars or wisdom teeth, not normally present at the age of seventeen, the full number would be thirty-two. Granted that a boy of sixteen should have at least twenty-one of his twenty-eight teeth present in good occlusion to qualify, why, when one year older, should he have twenty-two? It must also be remembered that the decision was not made by a dental officer. It was neither fair to the medical officer, nor the candidate, to expect a decision on such false premises.
In 1934 it was recognised that all was not well and the Naval Secretary wrote to the Commodore commanding the New Zealand Station:
I am directed to request that the standard of dental fitness required of candidates for entry in the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy and the routine for the examination of candidates may be reviewed, and a report furnished as to the suitability or otherwise of the present arrangements.
It is desired to maintain as high a standard as practicable and consideration of requirements in ‘Instructions for Surgeons and Agents’ section 11 paragraph 12 (c) should be directed towards determining whether they are fair and reasonable from the point of view of the general standard of dental fitness in New Zealand.
The opinion of the Director of Dental Services, Lieutenant-Colonel B. S. Finn, DSO, should prove of value.
Apart from the excellent suggestion that expert advice be sought from the DDS, there was also a suggestion that the regulations be brought more in line with those dealing with entry into the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines, where no candidate could be rejected for dental reasons without prior examination by a dental officer.
The New Zealand Division consisted of ships on loan to the Government from the Royal Navy, manned partly by the Royal Navy and partly by New Zealanders. Conservative dental treatment was provided at the public expense to all naval and Royal Marine personnel and to officers and men of the Naval Reserve Forces while training in His Majesty's ships and shore establishments of the New Zealand Division. This was carried out by civilian dentists, who were appointed as Naval Dental Surgeons and Agents. In the various out-ports these agents worked at a standard scale of fees and in Auckland, the Naval Base, they were paid at a flat rate per annum. The system, which incidentally had been in force in England before 1915, was unsatisfactory, so, in 1935, the Naval Board asked the New Zealand Government to co-operate with the Admiralty in maintaining a dental officer with the New Zealand Division. A satisfactory graduate was to be selected and sent to England for commission as Surgeon-Lieutenant (D) in the Royal Navy, with the understanding that he would return for service with the New Zealand Division and come under the direction of the DDS.page 70
This was an important decision. It recognised the need of the New Zealand Division for a dental service but bowed in conciliation to the traditional organisation of the Royal Naval Dental Service, which was hopelessly inadequate to cope with New Zealand conditions. As Surgeon-Lieutenant (D) the officer came under the control of the Royal Naval Medical Service, but while serving with the New Zealand Division he was subject to direction from the Director of Dental Services of the New Zealand Forces. Lieutenant-Colonel Finn was not fully appointed as DDS until 1939 but acted as DDS at the time of the dental officer's appointment. He was an army officer receiving a very small honorarium from the Navy and had little official authority, and what little there was needed the utmost tact to administer in His Majesty's ships. Somewhat naturally, the commanding officer of a ship did not welcome interference with his direction of his dental officer per medium of his medical officer, as was the custom in the Navy. With equal justification, the DDS, having regard for his responsibility to the Naval Board, felt that he should have some say in the management of the dental service to the Navy. Mutual tolerance and understanding were essential. They were not conspicuous. In justice to the DDS, he had no intention to usurp the powers of the commanding officers and was entirely distinterested in the internal economy of the ship to which his dental officer was attached. ‘His control was limited to technical matters. He was, however, vitally interested in the dental health of the ship's company, for which he had a responsibility to the Naval Board. He had to equip the dental officer to establish and maintain dental health, and had a right to expect co-operation from the commanding officer to that end. He made it perfectly clear that for discipline the dental officer was under the sole direction of the commanding officer, but that the DDS expected full reports of the dental health of the ship's company direct through the commanding officer, and not per medium of the medical officer. If this had been borne in mind by all concerned the service would have been happier and more efficient.
This was a decided improvement on past arrangements and worked reasonably well under peace conditions, when the movements of the flagship could be foretold with some accuracy, but there were drawbacks. A dental officer permanently attached to a cruiser was restricted in his activities with other ships or shore establishments. This was recognised by the DDS, as can be seen by his letter to the Royal New Zealand Air Force when a dental service for that force was being considered:
Personally I do not favour the establishment of the dental officer on a cruiser permanently for obvious reasons, but circumstances prohibited the installation of a shore dental clinic at the base where the dental officer would normally be stationed, transferring periodically to either of the cruisers for duty. Provision is made in the plans of the new base sick quarters for a modern dental clinic to cope with all classes of dental work and, when erected, it is hoped that perhaps an increase of staff on the station may be effected which will allow all naval personnel to be catered for, having their own prosthetic laboratory and dental mechanic, X-ray plant and facilities for major surgical operations etc. Treatment at the public expense by civilian dental surgeons will be confined to an occasional extraction or repair.
The naval base was situated at Devonport, Auckland, in the name of HMS Philomel, an obsolete vessel moored there for use as accommodation and training. The dental clinic in the sick quarters did not materialise but, some time later, a dental department was established in the entrance hall of the squash courts. The Squadron Dental Officer came ashore in August 1939 into these poorly designed and inadequately lighted quarters to work to the best of his ability. There was no prosthetic laboratory and all dentures had to be processed by the Naval Dental Surgeon Agent in Auckland. This was the only service dental treatment, as in ports other than Auckland civilian dentists were used.
This was the position at the outbreak of war. It was in conformity with the policy of the Royal Navy, where dental officers were carried afloat only in capital ships, aircraft carriers and in one ship in each cruiser squadron. With a high dental standard on enlistment, such a service could only expect to drift with the tide, but with the standard in New Zealand, it was submerged in a torrent. With war came a rapid expansion of the Navy from the only source available, New Zealand citizens, and enough has already been said about them to realise that most of them were dental cripples. The Royal Australian Navy, faced with similar conditions, had already increased its service to one dental officer to each cruiser, but New Zealand continued to drift, with the exception of providing a dental section from the page 72 Army for the training station, HMS Tamaki, on Motuihi Island in the Auckland harbour.
A serious problem then arose in the two cruisers employed on detached duty far from their base. They were dependent on casual dental attention in such ports as they might visit for fuel. Such visits were of short duration and only the more urgent cases could be treated, with a complete lack of continuity of treatment. A report from HMNZS Leander in February 1941, after ten months’ detached service, showed that although 336 cases had been attended to in this manner, the work was piling up and routine examinations were out of the question. The commanding officer wrote to the Naval Secretary as follows:
The routine under which the cruiser in New Zealand waters now operates is not known but presumably facilities for dental treatment ashore are less frequent than in peace time. Even when lying in a naval base, the presence on board of a dental officer would result in an appreciable reduction in the time lost from training and important ship work. The possibility of the ship being ordered abroad at short notice is a further factor in favour of the proposal, while a dental officer possesses qualifications which would be of real value in action. The necessary accommodation can be made available provided that the ship is not carrying a flag.1
The general dissatisfaction was crystallised into action by the emphasis of this report, and on 17 March 1941 the DDS wrote to the Naval Secretary:
With reference to the dental condition of the sea-going personnel I have to report that present arrangements are not efficient nor are they economical.
1 In other words, the Admiral's sea cabin could be used.
HMS ‘Achilles’ and HMS ‘Monowai’
There is virtually no provision for the dental treatment of the ships' companies of either of the above excepting that which may be provided during their brief visits to the naval base and ports other than Auckland, with the result that the dental condition of the personnel—of HMS ‘Achilles’ especially—is deteriorating.
Port and Shore Establishments
A considerable amount of money is being paid to Naval Dental Surgeon Agents for dental treatment of ratings from minesweepers, trawlers and shore establishments at Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin and for denture work carried out by the agent at Auckland.
The result was a complete reorganisation aimed at bringing the service into line with those operating for the Army and the Air Force. The services of the Naval Dental Surgeon Agents were dispensed with except for urgent relief of pain at Lyttelton or Dunedin, on occasions when a ship's movements did not allow time for treatment at Army or Air Force stations. Examinations for page 73 ‘continuous service’ engagements were still done by them and their sterling service was recognised by an official letter of thanks from the DDS on behalf of the Naval Board.
At HMS Philomel new quarters were designed and authorised, and a dental section was seconded from the Army for duty. A full service including prosthetics was then available for Auckland from either the Philomel or Tamaki. The oral surgery specialist stationed at Papakura was at their service and, in ports other than Auckland, any ship not carrying a dental officer sent its men to the nearest Army or Air Force dental section. The Monowai, an armed merchant cruiser, was to have a dental section when she was ready to go to sea at the end of 1941. At long last the Navy was being offered a dental service comparable with that in the other services, but it was not prepared to accept it entirely in that form. The traditions of the Royal Naval Dental Service had to be upheld and a new Corps, however efficient in operation, could not be easily assimilated.
The result was a compromise. HMNZS Achilles took the Squadron Dental Officer, Surgeon-Lieutenant (D) D. M. Page, RN,1 from the Philomel, nominally responsible to the DDS in New Zealand but actually reverting to the system in vogue in the Royal Navy. HMNZS Leander, at that time away from New Zealand waters, instead of being provided with a dental section under the co-ordinated scheme for the three services, had to have special arrangements made for her. Lieutenant J. C. W. Davies, NZDC,2 had to resign his commission and be recommissioned as a temporary Surgeon-Lieutenant (D), RNZNVR. He had to be antedated three years in seniority to offset a disparity between naval and army rates of pay, and similarly, Sergeant F. E. Aldridge, NZDC,3 had to receive the rank of Sick Berth Petty Officer before he could join the ship. To all intents and purposes they became separated from the NZDC organisation and could be used nowhere but in the Navy.
Even this compromise was not effected without considerable opposition from Navy Headquarters. From the comments on the files it is doubtful if the serious dental condition of the Navy in late 1941 would have led to the reorganisation if the attraction of reduced costs had not been thrown into the balance. The estimates are interesting, though only a fraction of what they would be today. Ignoring the pay of the Squadron Dental Officer and his staff, which was common to whatever scheme was adopted, the cost of treatment by civilian dentists for the year ending 31 March 1941 was:page 74
The Director of Dental Services' estimate was as follows:
|1.||To provide dental officers for cruisers on New Zealand Station||Nil||Nil|
|Transfer of Surgeon-Lieutenant (D) with|
|(a)||Sick Berth rating||Nil||Nil|
|(b)||Equipment provided by DDS||60||500|
|2.||To provide dental officer for cruiser operating on detached service|
|(b)||Sergeant NZDC as SBPO||277||Nil|
|(c)||Equipment ex Philomel||Nil||Nil|
|3.||To provide a complete NZDC section for Auckland and to undertake prosthetic work|
|4.||To provide dental service at ports other than Auckland|
|Discontinue Agents and prosthetic service at Auckland and make use of existing NZDC sections|
At £1000 capital outlay and £900 per year, the New Zealand Navy was offered a dental service afloat and ashore, more than it had had before. The Navy was by far the smallest of the three services in New Zealand and its dental problem in comparison was negligible under the general Corps organisation. With the obstacles it placed in the way, it created a problem impossible of solution. Admittedly there were some difficulties of accommodation afloat, but the urgency of the dental problem itself, combined with the insistent demands of the medical and dental authorities, forced acknowledgment of the essential nature of the service. In this connection, Surgeon-Commander H. K. Corkill, RNZNR,1 Director of Naval Medical Services, wrote:
All opposition quickly faded when the great value of the service became apparent. The service provided by the Army Dental Department proved thoroughly successful throughout the remainder of the war. Not only did it provide for the needs of the New Zealand personnel but it rendered extensive service to ships of the British Pacific Fleet. One feature in particular which excited the envy and admiration of the Royal Navy was the provision afloat of competent technicians and equipment for prosthetic work.
The provision of prosthetic facilities was a sine qua non in the NZDC wherever it operated, at the base or in the field, so without detracting from the sincerity of the tribute from the Director of Naval Medical Services, it cannot be regarded as anything remarkable. It can only be regarded as a further reason why the NZDC organisation for the three services was so much more efficient than that existing in the Royal Navy. Without the naval compromise it would have been more efficient.
From the end of 1941 to late 1943, only one surgeon-lieutenant (D) was appointed with the exception of the Squadron Dental Officer, who already held a commission in the Royal Navy. All other work was in the hands of dental officers with army rank. This was not acceptable to the Navy, who insisted that all officers in His Majesty's ships should have naval rank. This was against the principles of the NZDC, who worked as Corps troops, but it was felt that it was better to accede to the request rather than cause disharmony. An added argument in favour of the change was the attitude of the dental officers themselves. From conversation with some of them it appears that allegiance to an army command, even of a technical nature only, was not appreciated by commanding officers of the Navy, and ‘Toothy’, as he was familiarly called, ‘Trod a very narrow and sometimes difficult path between the Navy and the Army.’ ‘Toothy’ may have been supersensitive, but there is no doubt that he sometimes was made to feel that as an army officer he was not quite in the picture. His attitude was therefore probably the line of least resistance. The result was that all dental officers seconded to naval units were commissioned as surgeon-lieutenants (D), RNZNVR.
Apart from the disadvantages already mentioned, there were individual disadvantages. The rate of promotion in the Navy was slower than in the Army. There was an irritating disparity between the pay of a medical and a dental officer, which was inconsistent with the comparative volume of work. The naval medical officer received three shillings more per day and two shillings more deferred pay, a total of five shillings. There was also a reluctance to give suitable recognition to the special qualifications of the dental mechanic. The rank LSBA (D) was not given in the New Zealand Navy until May 1942, although the Royal Australian Navy made use of it. A first-grade dental mechanic was indistinguishable from page 76 a dental orderly or a medical orderly with no special qualifications. The Naval Board on 18 July 1942 wrote as follows:
As ratings serving in cruisers are only called upon to act in the capacity of dental mechanics on occasions, the institution of the rating DM is not justified, notwithstanding the fact that the ratings borne for dental duties may be qualified for higher duty. It is not in accordance with the Naval Board's policy to allow in complements ratings of a higher grade than those necessitated by Service requirements.
The reasoning was unsound. The ratings had to be fully qualified even to act as mechanics on occasions. The Navy had not trained them but had received them fully trained as first-grade mechanics, key personnel who could ill be spared from useful work with the other services. The last sentence is the crux of the matter: ‘It is not in accordance with the Naval Board's policy to allow in complements ratings of a higher grade than those necessitated by Service requirements.’ The assessment of service requirements was entirely that of the Naval Board, and the greatest mistake of the NZDC was that it did not accept this at its face value and provide a service commensurate with the lower standard acceptable by the Board. The other services would not then have been deprived of the excellent mechanics who were not fully appreciated by the Navy. It is hoped that the disadvantages for officers and ratings serving in the Navy were outweighed by the compensation of more harmonious conditions. Whatever their plumage, however, they still were responsible to the DDS for the dental health of the ship or station to which they were attached.
Despite these difficulties, the dental health of the Navy improved after the NZDC came in in 1941. The description of its somewhat precarious attachment can be conveniently divided into four:
1. New Zealand
Just as there were three military districts in New Zealand, there were three naval ones, although the boundaries were not the same. The dividing lines ran east and west, one at Gisborne and one at Westport. The central district therefore included the lower part of the North Island and the upper part of the South Island. Each district received the name of a ship, the Northern being HMNZS Philomel, the Central HMNZS Cook, and the Southern HMNZS Tasman.
Philomel was situated at the naval base in Auckland and was responsible for the treatment of all naval personnel in the Auckland page 77 area, with the exception of those under training at HMNZS Tamaki on Motuihi Island, where there was a separate dental section. Cook was at Shelly Bay, on the shores of the Wellington harbour, and had a similar responsibility in the central district to that of Philomel. In addition, the Wellington Dental Section provided treatment for those at Navy Headquarters. Tasman was at Lyttelton. There were not enough in this district to support a dental section, so treatment was carried out by either Army or Air Force dental sections or by borrowing from them for a time. Several attempts were made to have a dental section permanently attached to Tasman on the grounds that too much time was wasted in travelling to and from the Army and Air Force sections, but the numbers were too small to warrant it.
This was the nearest that the Navy came to being serviced by a comprehensive Corps dental service. Men at the Base, from minesweepers and motor launches, and at times from visiting units of the British Pacific Fleet, were accepted at any dental section, Navy, Army or Air Force. Ships in any port, as well as scattered radar posts, were always within reasonable distance of dental attention.
2. In the Pacific
The Corps system of treatment was adopted in the Pacific but not without a struggle. There was no difficulty in Fiji, where the naval force was small, consisting of 23 officers and 132 ratings. Some were New Zealanders and others belonged to the Fiji Naval Volunteer Force, of whom 206 were natives. HMS Viti was the seagoing ship and the shore personnel belonged to HMS Venture. Full treatment for the Europeans and partial treatment for the natives was easily given by existing Army and Air Force dental sections. Details are given in the chapter on Fiji.
In the Solomons, however, there was a flotilla consisting of five ships, the Arabis, Arbutus, Matai, Tui and Kiwi. The base was situated in the Russell Islands under the name of HMNZS Kabu. Operating in the area was the No. 1 Mobile Dental Section of the RNZAF and the DDS intended to use this to treat HMNZS Kabu. Again the Navy failed to appreciate that there was a comprehensive dental service for all the New Zealand Armed Forces and attempted to make its own arrangements. What is more, it proposed an archaic and totally inadequate dental service which could not be justified except under conditions of the utmost urgency, and which constituted a definite menace to the health of the men. It was suggested by a surgeon-lieutenant (D) that the Sick Berth Attendants carried in the ships should be given lectures and practical instruction in the relief of dental pain, a supply of instruments and some written instructions. The Director of Naval Medical Services agreed and page 78 recorded his approval of the use of the Sick Berth Attendants as dental operators. Fortunately for the men of the Navy, the decision rested with the Director of Dental Services.
The surgeon-lieutenant is entitled to his views as to the capabilities of Sick Berth Attendants to carry out dental work but showed surprising disregard for service procedures. He submitted his scheme to the DDS through the Director of Naval Medical Services, implying that the latter had a right to be an intermediary in such correspondence, whereas his only right was in permitting his Sick Berth Attendants to be used in any other capacity than that in which they were trained. It was not his province to arrange for dental treatment of the flotilla without consultation with the DDS, and the surgeonlieutenant should have known that what he was suggesting was a danger to the men of the ships. Colonel Finn's reply was emphatic and unequivocal:
I have to inform you that the well-intentioned and prepared instructions and charts for the purpose of enabling Sick Berth Attendants to render urgent dental treatment to RNZN personnel cannot be approved.
It is pointed out to you that such procedure on the part of the rating would render him liable to prosecution for committing a breach of the ‘Dental Act’ 1937 which prohibits, as do service regulations, anyone other than a registered dental practitioner (or medical practitioner where the services of a dental practitioner are not available) from performing any dental operations in the oral cavity.
All Naval Officers in charge and Ships' Commanding Officers concerned are being notified that Number 1 RNZAF Mobile Dental Section NZDC is responsible for the dental treatment of RNZN personnel in the South West Pacific area, and that dental sub-sections are located throughout the New Hebrides, Solomons and Admiralty Islands, and have instructions to give every facility for dental treatment to RNZN personnel.
You are to take immediate steps to withdraw the instructions, dental instruments and authority for Sick Berth Attendants to undertake urgent dental treatment.
3. The Cruisers
HMNZS Achilles: Before August 1939 this cruiser carried the Squadron Dental Officer, who was a surgeon-lieutenant (D), RN, but at the outbreak of war and during her glorious action with the Graf Spee he was at the Naval Base and the cruiser was without a dental officer. As a result, the dental health of her complement seriously deteriorated. It was not until June 1941 that Surgeon-Lieutenant (D) D. M. Page, RN, returned on board. The Admiral's sea cabin once again became a dental surgery, but not for long. It was more often needed either for a Flag Officer or for sleeping accommodation for other officers near their action stations. The dental surgery was therefore transferred to the gunroom pantry, where the light and ventilation were poor and the outer port page 79 propeller throbbed incessantly. Even in harbour the accommodation ladder obscured the scuttle and it was difficult to work in comfort.
Dentistry in a cruiser was often interrupted. Heavy calibre shoots meant that all breakable equipment had to be dismantled, while rough weather and high speed made operation impossible. In action the dental officer had to work with the medical officer in the care of wounded and, in any case, all his equipment was dismantled, as instance the report from the dental officer in January 1943:
January 5 (A.M.), the ship was hit by a bomb resulting in casualties. January 5 to 9 inclusive no dentistry was attempted. Sterilizer badly damaged and engine foot-control soaked in water and repaired by ship's staff.
The Achilles went to England in early 1943 for a refit and on 12 April her dental officer left her for a course in the treatment of jaw injuries at East Grimstead, Sussex, being discharged on leave at the end of the course. She was recommissioned in May 1944 and joined by Surgeon-Lieutenant (D) A. De Berry, RNZNVR,1 who had come to England in HMNZS Leander, arriving on 26 January. From 8 February to 13 May this officer also attended at. East Grimstead and from 15 to 19 May had a course in ‘damage control’ in London.
There is no doubt that at sea there was only a possibility of maintaining dental comfort and the standard of dental fitness had to deteriorate, but there were other factors which influenced the position and accentuated the difference between the naval dental service and that of the other services. The question is, whether as much was done under this system as would have been done under the organisation already proving so successful in other theatres of war.
In the Achilles from 1 July 1944 to 28 February 1945, 1160 fillings were found on examination to be required but only 702 were done. Likewise, 539 men needed treatment but only 272 were made dentally fit. The ship's complement was 850, which with one dental officer ashore would be well within his capabilities. Taking fillings as a reasonable basis for comparison of the rate of work afloat and ashore, it was 22 a week as against 63 for a similar period. Having due regard for the handicaps of bad weather and gunnery, the discrepancy was too much. The reason was that the naval assessment of the value of dental fitness was below that of the New Zealand Dental Corps. The dental officer was too often used for duties outside his profession. One dental officer in the Achilles reported that he could not avoid being called on for cipher duties, which took up as much as a whole forenoon, until he took the bull by the horns and refused to do any more. In the meantime, while decay was eating into the mouths of the ship's company, the dental officer was frittering away his time as a supernumerary clerk.page 80
HMNZS Leander: As already described, the report from the commanding officer about the unsatisfactory dental service precipitated the reorganisation of the service to the Navy in 1941. Apart from this, there is little difference in the dental organisation from that in her sister ship Achilles. When she was damaged in action in 1943, her dental staff went ashore but rejoined her when she sailed for England on 25 November 1943. They returned to New Zealand in the Achilles when the Leander ceased to be attached to the New Zealand station, being replaced by HMS Gambia.
HMNZS Gambia: On 27 September 1943, the DDS received the following communication from the Naval Secretary:
I have to inform you that telegraphic advice has been received from the High Commissioner for New Zealand that a Surgeon-Lieutenant (D) RN has been appointed to HMS ‘Gambia’, on loan to the Royal New Zealand Navy.
The Naval Board concur in a proposal that a New Zealand Dental Officer be sent to join HMS ‘Gambia’ in order to relieve the Royal Naval Dental Officer, and I have to ask you to nominate an officer for this appointment from the dental officers at present seconded to the Royal New Zealand Navy. The officer selected will be required to take passage approximately mid-October next.
Captain H. C. B. Wycherley, NZDC,1 was selected. He had been seconded to the Navy since June 1941 but resigned his commission and was recommissioned as Surgeon-Lieutenant (D), RNZNVR, joining the cruiser in England in January 1944. At the same time LSBA (D) J. E. Batten,2 who had been serving in the Achilles, transferred to the Gambia. When the cruiser returned to New Zealand in November 1944, Surgeon-Lieutenant (D) E. H. Stephenson3 took Wycherley's appointment and LSBA (D) T. E. Gill4 that of Batten.
During Stephenson's appointment certain interesting changes in the equipment and design of the surgery took place. The first concerned lighting. During a 6-inch-gun shoot the lamps vibrated more than was considered safe and were suspended from the bulkhead in a manner that made it difficult to remove them quickly. After removing the inner lining, two iron staples were welded to the deckhead itself, a piece of five-ply wood was fastened to the staples by rubber shock-absorbers and to this were attached the three ‘Controlens’ panel lamps, each having two shock-absorbers. The bulbs could then be removed when there was a shoot and damage to the rest of the system was unlikely. The second concerned the water supply to the unit. The cruiser was expected to spend long periods at sea and fresh water was therefore strictly rationed.page 81
Experience in the Hospital Ship Maunganui showed that the unit could function with salt water with only some tarnishing of the bowl, which meant periodical replacement at small cost. The saliva ejector could operate at a pressure of 30 pounds but the circulating system could only provide a pressure of 25 pounds. The answer was to instal a small booster pump, bringing the water to the unit by means of a half-inch pipe. The pump was actually made, but there was trouble in getting a suitable 230-volt DC motor to work it and before the ship went in to refit, hostilities had ceased and the necessity had gone.
Towards the end of the war the NZDC in the New Zealand cruisers had to bow further to the system operating in the Royal Navy. In April 1945 a Fleet Dental Surgeon, Surgeon-Commander (D) S. R. Wallis, RN, was appointed to the British Pacific Fleet. He was on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief and was accommodated in the flagship for fleet administrative and ship's duties. All correspondence relative to dental matters and personnel of the fleet, demands for stores and returns of treatment had to be passed to him. The New Zealand cruiser was part of this fleet, so the dental officer was in the anomalous position of being subject to direction on policy matters from two sources. There was no friction as it was recognised that the organisation was customary in fleets of that size in the Royal Navy, but it is submitted that the system was less efficient than the Corps system used by the New Zealand Dental Corps for the three services. Regular examination and treatment are necessary if a force is to be maintained in a state of dental health, and this can be done only if dental reinforcements can be readily mustered and as easily transferred. By insisting on the dental service being part of the Navy system the fluidity of movement was lost. The dental service became confined in watertight compartments, not only in the ships it served but in relation to the rest of the Corps. The details of organisation of a service in seagoing ships away from their bases for a long time are, admittedly, more difficult to arrange than in the other services, and the appointment of a Fleet Dental Surgeon was one method of co-ordinating the dental work of the Fleet. If the Navy consisted of ships perpetually at sea, fighting the war as lone rangers, it would be the only system, and the lowering of the dental standard of the officers and ratings would have to be accepted as a service exigency. Such, however, was not the case, and under a Corps organisation embracing the three services dental reinforcements could have been quickly made available to catch up with arrears of work whenever opportunity offered. The main point is that reinforcements must be available immediately, and this is only possible if the dental services are under one command. The insistence that the dental service to the Royal New page 82 Zealand Navy be even partly segregated from the main organisation made this impossible. The dental forces at the service of the Fleet Dental Surgeon were puny compared with those that the Director of Dental Services could offer.
HMNZS Monowai: In this ship, an armed merchant cruiser, was a modern dental surgery in addition to all facilities for prosthetic work. Much of her work was done at the base, Philomel, when she was in Auckland, but at sea she carried a dental section in charge of an officer of the NZDC. She was not at sea for such long periods as the cruisers, so a comparison of the dental health of her complement with that of the cruisers is inconclusive, the conditions of work being entirely different.
When the time came for men to be discharged from the Navy, the same obligation was undertaken by the Government as with the other two services. The dental condition was to be no worse than it was on entry into the service. The instructions were as follows:
Members of the Royal New Zealand Navy will be made ‘dentally fit’ before release but where a member, on being discharged, has been certified dentally fit within a maximum of six months prior to discharge, this certificate will be accepted for the purpose of dental clearance. No extractions necessitating the provision of artificial dentures will be performed for any member due or liable for discharge at short notice unless the member signs a witnessed declaration that he or she requests extractions and agrees to the insertion of immediate dentures and that the cost of any remake will not be sought from public funds.
Where it is possible to anticipate discharge, endeavours will be made to render the officer or rating dentally fit at an early date in order that ultimate discharge will not be unnecessarily delayed.
As far as the Navy was concerned this was lip service, as the dental service as constituted could not keep abreast of the work already presenting, let alone organise a drive for complete dental fitness before discharge. The watertight compartments into which the Navy confined its dental units were a sufficient barrier to the natural flow of dental reinforcements to cope with such an emergency. Before actual discharge everybody was examined and the necessary treatment was authorised by the Dental Division of the Department of Health to be carried out by civilian dentists, as was the case with the other services. The Government's obligation was fulfilled, but the Navy dental organisation was unable to play the same part in this as did the NZDC for the other two services.