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The New Zealand Dental Services


page 309

THIRD New Zealand Division originated in Fiji as an enlargement of 8 Brigade Group, already there when Japan entered the war. The dental service to the Division in Fiji has already been described so the story will continue from August 1942, when it was relieved by the American Forces and returned to New Zealand to be reorganised either for the defence of the homeland or for service further afield.

New Zealand's commitments in other theatres of war had already strained her limited resources and she could not immediately produce another full division, so, although the organisation was divisional, the strength was only two brigades. Actually the Division never operated at a greater strength than two brigades and, as will be seen later, even these had to be disbanded before the end of the war. There were hopes, however, at the time of organisation that somehow or sometime a full division would eventuate and the Dental Corps had to be prepared for this. There had to be a basic organisation, which could expand with the Division without upsetting the administrative arrangements, yet be adequate to give coverage without waste of staff.

The establishment was based on the ratio of one dental officer to 1000 men. Excluded from this was the ADDS, whose duties were purely administrative. Lieutenant-Colonel O. E. L. Rout was appointed ADDS in September 1942, becoming officially known as Assistant Director of Dental Services, New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Pacific (ADDS, 2 NZEF IP). The wording of his appointment is important. Administrative Instructions of 31 August 1942 stated:

The Assistant Director of Dental Services [is] to be responsible on behalf of the Director of Dental Services, Army Headquarters, Wellington to the General Officer Commanding the Third Division through the Base Commandant.


For the general administration of the New Zealand Dental Corps in accordance with the principles laid down in ‘Instructions to Dental Officers NZDC 1942’ and distribution of the NZDC personnel amongst the units of the Force to the best advantage in the interests of manpower and efficiency.

page 310

For advice to the General Officer Commanding the Third Division and Base Commandant on all dental questions affecting the dental health of the troops.


For co-ordination and consultation with the Assistant Director of Medical Services to the Third Division on all questions affecting the general health of the troops.


For the control, maintenance and issue of all dental equipment and stores from the Advanced Base Dental Store and submission of requisitions on the Director of Dental Services, Army Headquarters, Wellington as required.

Appearing over the Adjutant-General's signature, these instructions were addressed to the Headquarters of 3 Division and copies were sent, among others, to the ADMS at Army Headquarters and ADMS of the Division. They appear to leave no room for misunderstanding. The ADDS wrote to the DDS on 1 October 1942:

The truth is that ‘Division’ does not seem to have made up its mind just how we are responsible, re what and to whom, and it is all very awkward while this stage of flux and floundering disorder lasts. The General definitely has the right idea himself, according to our conversation the other day, but even up to that date had forgotten to pass on the result of your conference with him to AA & QMG and to General Staff. In the meantime they decline to give a definite answer. The ADMS says that all technical stuff is to go through him and everything else through the Base Commandant. The Base Commandant says that I've nothing to do with him and quotes our amended ‘Administrative Instructions’.

Nothing can be found of any amended instructions to throw light on the Base Commandant's remark. The letter goes on:

The ADMS interprets ‘technical stuff’ to include his decision as to where I'm to put my section, which is ‘With medical units where possible’, and a desire to have all my Circular Administrative Instructions—General Staff Instructions and Circular Memoranda handed on through him. I'm getting everything except General Staff instructions direct and I've got them all. The General Staff instructions are sent through ADMS and I've got just two out of twelve that I know of.

The ADDS's task was made difficult and unpleasant. A rigid adherence to the terms of his appointment was inviting an open breach with Force Headquarters, while an acquiescence with the absorption of his command would rob him of all initiative in the performance of a carefully calculated undertaking. As an example, the ADMS's desire to attach dental sections ‘With medical units where possible’ conflicted with the advice the ADDS had received from the DDS in the Administrative Instructions, of which the ADMS had a copy.

The permanent attachment of a dental section to a Field Ambulance or General Hospital is not indicated as the Force is at present constituted owing to the extreme shortage of specialised dental personnel and the great amount of dental treatment required in the three arms of the New Zealand Forces. At no time can NZDC officers be spared for such duties as Assistant page 311 Adjutants, Intelligence Officers or Liaison Officers with Medical Units. They can be employed more usefully in the maintenance of dental fitness on the Lines of Communication or Base Depots, but where their services are considered necessary to co-operate with Medical Officers in Maxillo-Facial Injury cases or where a medical unit is favourably situated to enable a subsection of a Mobile Dental Section to function among the troops of the line, it should be made available by the ADDS or his representative, the OC Mobile Dental Section.

Medical Headquarters in Wellington received a copy on 1 September 1942, which makes the following minute sheet the more remarkable:


Re: 3 Division, New Zealand Dental Corps.

I presume that the relationship of the ADDS, 3 Division and New Zealand Dental Sections to ADMS will be similar to that of 2 New Zealand Division, Middle East. It has not been suggested that the New Zealand Dental Corps will be directly under ‘A’ [Adjutant-General] but I am anxious that there shall be no misunderstanding.


DGMS (Army and Air) 29/10/42


Have you discussed this with DDS? I presume he agrees with arrangements in Middle East.


AG, 1/11/42


I have not discussed this with the DDS. As regards his agreement with the arrangement in the Middle East, this was laid down early in the war and so far as I am aware, there has been no deviation, but I am particularly anxious that similar conditions should hold as regards 3 Division. My reason for mentioning this was because of the DDS's memorandum in which he asked that the New Zealand Dental Corps should be completely separate from the Medical Corps under the Adjutant-General.


DGMS (Army and Air) 3/11/42

The relationship of the ADDS to the ADMS was clearly stated in the Adjutant-General's Administrative Instructions of 31 August 1942, quoted above. Inasmuch as the dental health of the troops was essential to their general health, there was no question of absence of responsibility to the ADMS, but the means by which that dental health was established was the province of the ADDS alone. In this respect it is difficult to put any other interpretation on the intention of the instructions than that the two services were to be separate. Exactly the same position existed in the Middle East. ‘Notes and Instructions relating to the Organisation and Administration page 312 of the NZDC 2 NZEF’, published in the Middle East, reads in paragraph 3:

Headquarters of the New Zealand Dental Corps is at Headquarters 2 NZEF under the administration of an Assistant Director of Dental Services. This officer, who is responsible to the Director of Medical Services for the dental health of the Expeditionary Force, is in command of the Dental Corps with the Force; it is under his direct control on all policy and technical matters and he commands all New Zealand Dental Corps personnel.

The DGMS had on more than one occasion stated that the Dental Corps should be under his command as a specialist branch of medicine. Others held different views which had been expressed in tangible form by authoritative instructions.

While all this was going on, the Division was being formed in the Northern Military District of New Zealand. The men were being treated and the dental organisation was taking shape. Until 29 September 1942, when the ADDS formally accepted responsibility for the dental health of the force, most of the work was done in the field by the Northern Military District mobile dental sections, and some in Papakura Camp at the dental hospital there.