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The New Zealand Dental Services

CHAPTER 2 — Between the Two Wars, 1919–39

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Between the Two Wars, 1919–39

IN December 1919 general demobilisation of the New Zealand Military Forces was nearly complete and the need for a large Dental Corps had passed. Lieutenant-Colonel Hunter was demobilised but was retained as Director of Dental Services for the Military Forces on a peacetime basis. He remained responsible for all policy matters which were referred to him by Major C. G. Gray,1 late Assistant Director of Dental Services, who remained on the active list and became Administrative Officer for the DDS. This was purely a temporary appointment to tide over the short remaining period of transition from war to peace.

The only treatment left for the Corps was that of patients at the military hospital at Trentham, the convalescent hospitals at Hanmer and Rotorua and the sanatoria at Cashmere and Pukeora. For this, one officer, Major R. D. Elliott,2 and one mechanic were considered sufficient. There was also a section still attached to the jaw hospital in Dunedin where Lieutenant-Colonel Pickerill was completing the treatment of the long-term cases of jaw and facial injuries. One dental officer, Captain W. S. Seed,3 and one mechanic comprised this section. With these exceptions, the NZDC was demobilised and its officers posted to the reserve. Within two years none was left on the active list.

1 Maj C. G. Gray; born 1880; dental surgeon; died 15 Aug 1941.

2 Maj R. D. Elliott; Eastbourne; born Northern Ireland, 5 Feb 1879; dental surgeon.

3 Capt W. S. Seed; Christchurch; born Christchurch, 1887; dental surgeon.

In exile, 1922–33

After the war, a Territorial Force was maintained in New Zealand on a compulsory basis, the training consisting of regular parades and annual camps. In the annual report for 1920, the General Officer Commanding the New Zealand Military Forces made the following reference to the NZDC:

It is not proposed to retain a permanent establishment of the Dental Corps, but experience has shown the need for an Army to be dentally fit and the great influence sound teeth in a soldier have in reducing the rates of sickness and invaliding. It is proposed to maintain the Dental Corps as part of the New Zealand Territorial Force, utilising it in all future camps of training that force. A definite establishment will be laid down which will provide for peace requirements and for the expansion of the Corps for war purposes if necessary.

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For the next decade, however, in spite of this statement of policy, the NZDC was not maintained as part of the Territorial Force, although there was retained a Director of Dental Services and a Reserve of Officers.

In 1930 Lieutenant-Colonel Hunter was posted to the retired list in the rank of colonel and was replaced as DDS by Lieutenant-Colonel J. N. Rishworth, MBE. Then, in 1931, the Territorial Force was placed on a voluntary basis, with considerable reduction in size. Strange to say, this general reduction was soon followed by a revival of the NZDC, but before describing this it is necessary to go back a year or so.

In 1928 a Territorial unit known as the Otago University Medical Company had been formed. It consisted of medical and dental students who were liable for compulsory military training and it aimed at combining this training with specialised work to qualify them as medical or dental officers in a future war. Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel C. E. Hercus, DSO, OBE, NZMC,1 it attended annual camps of fourteen days, the training consisting in instruction and exercises in stretcher drill, first aid in the field, military hygiene and the organisation of medical services in the field. This was in addition to instruction in general military subjects such as close-order drill, map reading and army organisation. The abolition of compulsory training produced a unit keen enough to flourish on a voluntary basis. From 1932 onwards, dental as well as medical instructors were included and the dental students were trained in the work and problems of a field dental officer in wartime. On the completion of their second and third annual camps, examinations, both practical and written, were held for the students. As a result of these examinations the dental students received an ‘A’ certificate after the second camp and a ‘B’ certificate after the third. A unit founded as a legitimate escape from the boredom and impracticability of the compulsory training scheme, which was lethargically administered and supinely accepted, fanned the spark of enthusiasm which had characterised the NZDC in the 1914–18 War. There would never be another war of course, the Great War had been a war to end wars, but the subject was extremely interesting and, who could tell, there were still armies and, where there were armies there was a need for a Dental Corps. The Otago University Medical Company thought so and so did the DDS.

In September 1931, Lieutenant-Colonel Rishworth submitted a memorandum to the GOC recommending that the Dental Corps be re-established as an active part of the Territorial Force. He sub-

1 Lt-Col Sir Charles Hercus, DSO, OBE, m.i.d.; Dunedin; born Dunedin, 1888; Professor of Bacteriology and Preventive Medicine, University of Otago; DADMS, A and NZ Mtd Div, 1916–19; Dean of Otago University Medical School, 1937–58.

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establishments for that Force and also for an Expeditionary Force in the event of mobilisation. Dental students who had completed their training in the Otago University Medical Company and had gained their two certificates would, on graduation, be eligible for commissions in the NZDC. They would be placed on the active list as soon as vacancies occurred in the establishment.

This was not wholly acceptable, and the matter was temporarily held in abeyance. Something, however, was done. Captains H. E. Suckling1 and R. B. Dodds2 were transferred from the reserve to the active list, the former as dental officer to the 3rd Territorial Field Ambulance and the latter as instructional officer to the Otago University Medical Company. In addition, Mr O. E. L. Rout3 was given a commission in the NZDC as a lieutenant in the Otago University Medical Company. Then, in January 1934, Lieutenant-Colonel Rishworth relinquished his appointment in favour of Lieutenant-Colonel Finn.

1 Lt-Col H. E. Suckling, ED; Blenheim; born Christchurch, 1890; dental surgeon; Capt, NZDC, 1917–19; ADDS, Army HQ, 1940–45.

2 Lt-Col R. B. Dodds, ED; Dunedin; born Ashburton, 1894; Dean of Dental Faculty, University of Otago; CO 15 Fd Amb.

3 Lt-Col O. E. L. Rout, ED; Wellington; born Invercargill, 15 Jan 1904; dental surgeon; ADDS (Army, Navy and Air) 1941–42, Mar 1946–Feb 1947; ADDS 2 NZEF(IP) 1942–44; ADDS 2 NZEF (UK) 1944–46.

Revival, 1934–39

Due to Lieutenant-Colonel Finn's strong recommendation to the GOC, the NZDC was re-established in the Territorial Force in 1934. He submitted that this was the only method of ensuring an efficient dental service to be put into the field in the event of general mobilisation, in contrast to the position in 1914. A peacetime establishment was authorised:


Six dental sections, each consisting of one officer and two clerk orderlies. Two of these were to be attached to each of the three Territorial field ambulances.


The Dental Section of the Otago University Medical Company, which was recruited from dental students and officered by two NZDC officers.

With the appointment of officers already mentioned, this left a vacancy for five more officers for the sections attached to the field ambulances. These were filled by commissioning recent graduates from the Dental School instead of using reserve officers who had served in the last war. To complete the establishment, dental clerk orderlies were recruited, chiefly from the staffs of the dental trading companies. There were fourteen days of annual training, made up of weekend or whole-day parades and an annual camp of six days.

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Although, on the establishment of the Territorial Force, each dental section was attached to a field ambulance, it went into camp attached to some other unit. In this way as many Territorial units as possible were provided with an emergency dental service and each dental officer gained experience in setting up a field dental section and fitting it and himself into the general military organisation. The emergency treatment for so short a time was not enough to interfere with general training but was greatly appreciated by the Force. In the first years the dental officers themselves provided all the equipment, but later, seven outfits of standard equipment were provided by the Army, each contained in two panniers and one chair case.

Very soon two significant facts were noticed. Firstly, there were more applications for commissions in the NZDC than there were vacancies, and secondly, there were more requests from commanding officers of Territorial units for dental sections than there were sections available. The enthusiasm of the profession, and of the Territorial units, did not result in an increase in establishment. New Zealand, in common with other members of the British Commonwealth, had not as yet provided the funds for other than a peacetime army. This, however, did not deter the DDS from planning for war, and Lieutenant-Colonel Finn gave freely of his own time in preparing a basis of organisation and administration which would serve the NZDC in time of peace, and provide for its rapid expansion in time of war. His persistence was rewarded by the authorisation of various regulations from time to time dealing with:


The dental standard required and the procedure for the dental examination and charting of recruits:


For the Permanent Force.


For the Territorial Force.


For general mobilisation.


The standard of dental treatment for peace and war.


Equipment tables.


Accounting for stores.


Mobilisation regulations.


War establishments.


Dress regulations.


NZDC regulations and standing orders.


General and field notes for the examination of officers.


Prescriptions for examination for Certificates ‘A’ and ‘B’ (Dental) and for the promotion of officers, NZDC.


Instructions to dental officers, Territorial Force.


Syllabus for courses of instruction for officers, NZDC.

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A course of instruction at the Army School, Trentham, of one week's duration was held for officers of the NZDC in October 1938 and another in June 1939. Here they were instructed in general military subjects by the Chief Instructor at the school and in the organisation and work of an army dental service in war by the DDS himself.

In April 1939 three Assistant Directors of Dental Services were appointed, with the rank of major, one to the staff of each Military District headquarters.

As a result of Lieutenant-Colonel Finn's initiative and perseverance and the ready response of members of the profession, the skeleton of an army dental service was built up prior to the outbreak of war in September 1939. It was a new skeleton, for the old one had been buried after the last war, but it was ready to be clothed with the traditions of the past, so carefully preserved by the small band of enthusiasts to whom the NZDC owes a lasting debt of gratitude.