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The New Zealand Dental Services

Reorganisation for Close-country Warfare

Reorganisation for Close-country Warfare

The type of warfare in Italy was very different from that recently experienced by the New Zealand Division in North Africa. Instead of rapid movement with long lines of communication, there was now concentration into a comparatively small area, with only short moves having little effect on the locations of dental units. Certain non-divisional units had been disbanded and the number of men on the Lines of Communication had been decreased. On the other hand, the Division in the field had been augmented by the addition of 4 Armoured Brigade, bringing the total strength up to between fifteen and eighteen thousand. Dental officers were still allotted to the force on the basis of one to every 1000 men. The number was according to this ratio but the distribution was at fault. With the Division there were eight dental officers with 1 Mobile Unit and one with each of the three field ambulances, a total of eleven to treat 15,000 to 18,000 men. The dental officer with the CCS could not be included as he was outside the divisional organisation. At the Base, however, apart from the General Hospitals and the Convalescent Depot, there were two dental units carrying more than was required, viz., 2 Mobile Dental Unit and the Base Depot Dental Hospital.

One solution would have been to move 2 Mobile Unit up to the Division but there were difficulties associated with this. The organisation would have been uneconomical and cumbersome and the duties of the respective commanding officers of the Mobile Units might have clashed. Colonel Fuller had a better solution:


Both 2 NZ Mobile Dental Unit and NZ Base Depot Dental Hospital should be disbanded as units of the 2 NZEF.


A new unit, 2 NZ Camp Dental Hospital, with the same establishment as 1 NZ Camp Dental Hospital should be formed from the disbanded units and located, primarily, at Ad- page 257 vanced Base 2 NZEF. This hospital would operate at first with only three officers, its duties, although similar to those of 1 NZ Camp Dental Hospital, consisting principally, for a time, of work passing through the NZ Reception Depot. From time to time, if 1 NZ Mobile Dental Unit should happen to be otherwise fully engaged, Lines of Communication units away from Advanced Base would be treated by detachments from this hospital.


NZ Mobile Dental Unit should be expanded from a unit of eight officers to one of twelve, four complete sections being transferred to it from 2 NZ Mobile Dental Unit. This would mean that, with the three Field Ambulances, there would be fifteen dental officers available in the field, although not necessarily always employed in the field.

With this rearrangement the headquarters of one of the Mobile Dental Units would be dispensed with, and there was a corresponding saving in transport, dental and ordnance equipment, and personnel. As regards personnel, the dental service would lose positions for three staff-sergeants and three corporals, offset by an increase of two sergeants. This was of no great moment, especially as the ADDS intended to bring up the whole subject of rank in the Corps.

His recommendations were approved and took effect from 7 March 1944.

A further recommendation by the ADDS that the number of majors remain on a Corps basis, increasing in number from five to nine, was granted.

The ADDS also submitted a recommendation concerning other ranks in the Corps. The NZDC other rank had no prospect of attaining commissioned rank and, under existing regulations, could rise no higher than WO II. It was felt that the senior NCO in the office of the ADDS, who carried out the duties of Adjutant and Quartermaster to the dental service, if unable to be commissioned, should at least be a WO I. Similarly, the WO II with the newly constituted Mobile Unit now carried greatly increased responsibilities and should be similarly ranked. These were approved by Headquarters 2 NZEF.

The stores position at this time was not entirely satisfactory. All supplies came from British sources and it was not always possible to obtain as much as was required. Handpieces had become worn, allowing the bur to wobble and vibrate. For some reason new ones were difficult to procure and reconditioned ones were unsatisfactory. Those in use had seen four years' service and were due for replacement, so unless Army Medical Stores could supply new ones they page 258 must be procured elsewhere. A cable was sent to the liaison officer at the New Zealand High Commissioner's Office in London asking him to procure seventy-two contra-angle and twelve straight handpieces, preferably from Army Stores but, failing this, from any source. Captain Pickerill was in England undergoing a course in maxillo-facial work and it was hoped that he could bring them with him on his return to Italy. This was one of many cases which made it seem that there was a lack of appreciation of the requirements of dental stores and equipment. The three-monthly supplies to replenish the NZEF store were frequently late in coming to hand and it became difficult to comply with the monthly indents from the units and sections. For example, the indent submitted on 9 March 1944 for the period April to June was not expected to arrive before June, although being intended for use during April, May and June. The last supplies had been received in December 1943. Apart from the regular supply for a service doing a large volume of work, there was the fact to be considered that it was working under conditions which placed a strain on equipment, especially that with moving parts such as handpieces. It is small wonder that equipment was wearing out. Admittedly, Medical Stores themselves had a three to four months' time-lag between ordering and receiving their supplies but, by this stage of the war, they would have had a reasonably accurate knowledge of the amounts required by each dental service. They suggested to the ADDS that he should indent every month instead of every three months as was then the custom.1 This was an acknowledgment that they were not stocking in advance against commitments that could easily have been assessed. Their supplies came from North Africa, the United Kingdom and the Middle East. To work to so fine a margin in time of war was alarming to the NZDC, which was dependent on them for its very existence.

1 Memorandum from DDMS, AAI, to ADDS 2 NZEF, 29 April 1944.