The New Zealand Dental Services
The ADDS controlled the maintenance and issue of all stores, everything, from whatever source, being issued to him in the first place. If it had been possible to draw all stores from New Zealand, as was the case in Fiji, no difficulty would have been experienced, but arrangements had been made for the United States to provide most of those needed for general running purposes out of lend-lease. There were three sources available:
From the Director of Dental Services at Army Headquarters, Wellington.
From United States Controlled Stores. These, which included everything for denture construction, needed a special requisition and the approval of the dental surgeon of the American Command.page 317
From United States Maintenance Stores. These were a monthly maintenance schedule direct from the 21st Medical Supply.
Theoretically, there was nothing wrong with this arrangement. It mattered little to the ADDS where the supplies came from so long as he could be sure of their arrival. In practice the position was most unsatisfactory. The first maintenance supplies came from the United States depot at Nouméa on 23 February 1943, but it was impossible to find out before delivery what could and what could not be supplied. The only information was that there was a general shortage, that NZDC requirements had been ordered and six months' supply would be arriving soon, but details were unavailable. In the American services the dental stores were included with the medical and veterinary, much to the annoyance of the Service Command Dental Surgeon, who stated that, although the medical stores were well looked after, the dental ones were pushed into the background. He told Colonel Rout that he was dedicating the rest of his days after the war to try to separate the dental services from medical control.
Meanwhile the Advanced Base Dental Store satisfied all demands but could not restock with such essentials as silver alloy, silicate cements, hypodermic needles, sheet wax or plaster of paris. Indents for these and other urgent supplies had to be placed on Wellington. The future supply of vulcanite rubber from American sources also caused the ADDS some anxiety. The American Dental Service was beginning to substitute acrylic resin for vulcanite as a denture material, which meant that less rubber would be imported. The new material was eminently suitable for tropical climates and has since become the standard foundation for dentures throughout the world. At that time, however, the NZDC everywhere was using vulcanite and, however sorely tempted the ADDS may have been to change, it would have been difficult for him to alter what was an established policy of the Corps. In addition to this, there was no guarantee that he could be provided with as much tin foil as he wanted and this was essential for curing the acrylic resin. There was a substitute for tin foil, a solution of cellulose tri-acetate in chloroform, which was procurable in New Zealand, but this was as yet only in the experimental stage. With the large number of dentures in the New Zealand Force the risk was too great. Strangely enough the obstacles in the path of smooth supply, which might have been expected to have caused the ADDS acute embarrassment, proved a blessing in disguise. They sickened the ADMS of wanting to control dental stores and he was soon thankful to wash his hands of the whole situation.page 318
The organisation was fully tested in the early days in New Caledonia, or ‘Necal’ as it was called officially. Sections and sub-sections were attached to units all over the country and had to adapt themselves to a variety of conditions. Furniture and fittings had to be improvised because of a shortage of dressed timber. There was hardly a section that did not make for itself an electric polishing lathe from the battery and starter motor of some wrecked vehicle. In the surgery of the maxillo-facial injury section attached to 4 General Hospital were an ultra-modern cuspidor made from half a differential housing of a wrecked truck and an all-metal welded surgical table made from bits and pieces. In its laboratory was a petrol blowpipe made on the premises from assorted parts which proved to be more efficient than the standard gas blowpipe for the casting and soldering of metal splints, and also a bunsen burner adapted from a petrol lamp.
Urgent treatment was carried out for the French and native population, who were most appreciative. Their teeth were badly neglected. The French farmers and their families, most of them appearing to be poorly off, were on the whole friendly and, despite the language barrier, offered some home life, one of the things the men missed most. Most of the leisure hours, however, were devoted to keeping fit. Until the advent of organised sport, swimming in the rivers and occasionally at excellent surf beaches was all the exercise to be found.
On 24 February the Corps suffered its first casualty. Captain B. S. Wilkie1 was killed in a jeep accident when going from Moindah to Bourail to collect unit pay. Fortunately the sergeant with him escaped serious injury.
1 Capt B. S. Wilkie; born NZ 23 Jun 1914; dental surgeon; accidentally killed 24 Feb 1943.