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The New Zealand Dental Services


THE transports carrying the main part of the New Zealand Division and the field dental services arrived at Taranto on 22 October 1943. The transit area was some four miles from the docks in the Tesceda valley, Alguria, and here the dental units set up their tents and made it known that they were open for business. Only urgent work could be done as, apart from the emergency haversacks carried on the transports and one surgical pannier that 1 Mobile Dental Unit had managed to squeeze into the limited shipping space allotted to it, there was no equipment or transport. Still, by instituting a roster, one dental officer became duty officer each day and the others kept themselves fit by route marches and football.

The Mobile Unit moved forward with 5 Infantry Brigade, being the last group of New Zealand troops to leave the Taranto area. Five hundred and fifty vehicles moved in fine weather to the staging area at Altamura, where the night was spent in intense cold. The towns they passed through were poor and dingy but the countryside was glorious in the cloak of autumn, with golden or deep red vines and oaks covering the hills.

The troops were now high up in the hills and it was cold and damp, with a thick Scotch mist which took fully two hours to clear to a visibility of twenty feet. Passing through Corato, Andria, Canosa and Cerignola, the unit arrived at Foggia, which was showing signs of bombing and demolition, to find that the Division had moved on, and it was then sent to join 1 Mobile CCS at San Severo. The following day, in blinding rain, an attempt was made to find 4 Armoured Brigade at Termoli, but the brigade had moved two days previously so the unit joined in a very slow convoy towards the demolished bridge over the Trigno River, now spanned by Bailey bridges. Fortunately the German Air Force no longer held superiority as some thousand vehicles, nose to tail, took an hour and a half to move five miles. Cupello was reached that night and the unit bivouacked as well as it could in unpleasant conditions.

Rear Divisional Headquarters was found to be at Furci. Next day Major McCallum saw the ADMS and made arrangements to attach sections to units in the Division and elsewhere. The Mobile page 253 Unit's headquarters remained with Rear Headquarters and attended to urgent treatment in that area. This was much as was predicted at Takrouna, it being expected that in this static type of warfare there would always be troops available for treatment and little prospect of sudden movement.

Replenishment of stores was difficult at this time as the source was No. 7 Advanced Medical Store, which had only limited supplies. Additional indents had to be placed with the dental store at Maadi and immediate emergencies met by inter-unit borrowing.

The Division remained in this area for nearly two months which marked a definite chapter in the saga of the Dental Corps. The Sangro River gave its name to this front, and to this day the word ‘Sangro’ will open the floodgates of memory among those who served there, linking them together with a bond swaged in the forge of common achievement and stamped with the hallmark of the pioneer. They had to contend with the snow, rain and mud of an Italian winter, amid widespread demolition by the retreating enemy. Sometimes they worked in buildings, but as most of these were damaged and poorly lighted by small windows, the extra protection seldom compensated for the trouble of moving the equipment in and out. Most of the work was done in tents, the dental officer standing in thick mud with rain driving in over patient, operator and equipment. Some of the experiences they recorded will give an idea of the conditions: