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The New Zealand Dental Services

No. 1 RNZAF Mobile Dental Section, NZDC

page 356

No. 1 RNZAF Mobile Dental Section, NZDC

Headquarters No. 1 (Islands) Group, RNZAF, drew attention to the fact that the title ‘Air Mobile Dental Section, NZDC’ was not accurate and suggested substituting ‘RNZAF’ in place of the word ‘Air’. In April 1944 it was decided to adopt this suggestion and, at the same time, to redistribute the sections and sub-sections with an increased establishment.

There was to be a Headquarters Section with five sub-sections, consisting of six officers, i.e., one major and five captains, and nineteen other ranks, of which thirteen were dental clerk orderlies and six mechanics. This gave the greatest flexibility both for distribution throughout the Group and for further expansion. There was to be an Advanced Base Dental Store attached to the Headquarters Section in a similar manner to that in the dental service attached to 3 Division.

About this time it became known that the No. 1 (Islands) Group was to move its headquarters from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal. To keep in close touch with the situation it was essential that the Senior Dental Officer move too, even though the Base Depot and some squadrons were remaining at Espiritu Santo. The proposed date of the move was 1 June 1944, so on 22 May Major Cunningham left for Guadalcanal to make arrangements for building a store and office. On arrival he found everything in a turmoil as word had been received the day before that all RNZAF units west of the 159th parallel of longitude had to be withdrawn by 15 June. This meant that all units at Bougainville, the sawmill at Arundel in New Georgia and some radar units would arrive in Guadalcanal. A large camp was to be built on the site of the Casualty Clearing Station, about ten miles from the RNZAF camp, to accommodate 1300 men and the existing camp had to expect another 600. He arranged for an office and store to be built near the existing section and for one of the wards of the Casualty Clearing Station to be fitted out to accommodate sub-sections 2 and 3. Majors McCowan and Jolly of the NZDC attached to 3 Division helped him out with benches and lathes and he returned to Espiritu Santo on 27 May to ship the panniers for the new sub-section. On arriving again in Guadalcanal, this time with his section, he found that the move out of Bougainville had been postponed for three months, when the position would be reviewed.

The RNZAF in the Pacific was steadily growing in size and complexity and it was essential that the Senior Dental Officer should know enough of the functions of its several units to place his subsections to the best advantage. The original distribution of No. 1 RNZAF Mobile Dental Section as at 1 June 1944 shows the variety page 357 of units to be serviced and emphasises the necessity for careful study in the making of appointments for dental treatment.


Headquarters Section. Attached to Headquarters at Guadalcanal.

Headquarters No. 1 (Islands) Group.

Headquarters RNZAF Station, Guadalcanal.

Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron.

Bomber Servicing Units.


No. 1 Sub-section. At Guadalcanal.

Fighter Squadron.

Fighter Servicing Unit.

Flying Boat Squadron. (At Halavo Bay, Florida.)

Royal New Zealand Navy. (At Tulagi.)

Radar Squadron.

Works Squadron.


No. 2 Sub-section. At Bougainville.

RNZAF Fighter Wing.


No. 3 Sub-section. At Bougainville.

TBF Squadron.1

TBF Servicing Unit.

SBD Squadron.2

SBD Servicing Unit.

Fiji Military Forces.


No. 4 Sub-section. At Espiritu Santo.

No. 5 Sub-section. At Espiritu Santo.

Headquarters Base Depot.

Base Depot Workshops.

Bomber Squadron.

Bomber Servicing Unit.

Transit Camp.

By the end of September 1944 it was apparent that instead of withdrawing units from forward areas to Guadalcanal, the RNZAF was about to spread its tentacles over many islands, even as far as the Admiralties. Major Cunningham's letter to Colonel Finn dated 23 September 1944, on completion of six months as Officer Commanding the Mobile Dental Section, gives a picture of the situation at the time and the problems of organisation he had to face:

The first three months were rather difficult because of the uncertainty of what would be the future role of the R.N.Z.A.F in the Pacific.

Since 1 June, when the Headquarters Section moved to Guadalcanal and the establishment was increased, the work has proceeded much more smoothly although it has been difficult to plan ahead because of the lack of a definite

1 Torpedo Bomber Fighter.

2 Scout Bomber Dive.

page 358 policy for the R.N.Z.A.F. in the Pacific. This of course was due to factors over which Air Department and No. 1 Islands Group had no control.

However, the policy for the next few months is now fairly well defined and I think it is quite evident that we will need a substantial increase in our establishment.

The total number of men in the No. 1 Islands Group will, I understand, increase to 8,000 or 8,500. When I wrote on 30 August about an increase in establishment it was thought that squadrons would be established on Emirau and Green Islands. A few days later it was decided that a squadron would also be located at Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands.

Another complication has arisen at the seaplane base at Halavo, Florida Island. In the past the squadron there has been treated each six months and casualties in the meantime have been treated by the United States Dental Officer attached to the Base. I am now told that the United States squadron will be withdrawing so we will have to visit Halavo frequently in future. As 450 men are involved they are too big a unit to leave for any length of time. Halavo is half a day by ship from Guadalcanal.

The same position will occur at Los Negros. There will be about 300 to 400 men and they will have to be visited frequently, probably by the dental officer at Emirau.

Under the new organisation there will be 700 to 800 men at both Emirau and Green islands and about 400 to 500 at Bougainville.

The number at Espiritu Santo, now 1,350, will soon be increased to 1,800 by the arrival of No. 5 Flying Boat Squadron from Fiji.

As I visualise the developments in the next few months, I think our establishment should be increased to nine or ten officers and three should be posted as soon as possible…. As the size of the section grows, more and more of my time will be taken up with administrative work and I will no longer be able to spend a full day in the clinic.

As a result of Major Cunningham's recommendations a new establishment, consisting of a Headquarters Section and ten subsections, was authorised on 14 November 1944.

Assuming the number of men in the group to be about 8500 and excluding the Senior Dental Officer, the ratio worked out at one dental officer to 850 men. This was low compared with other theatres of war and with New Zealand, but units were small and scattered, sometimes into groups of no more than 400 to 700 men long distances apart. Groups of this size could not be left without a sub-section for any length of time, so it meant that more subsections were needed than if the men had all been congregated together. They had all been treated either at an Air Force station in New Zealand or at the Port Depot before embarkation and their tour of duty in the Pacific was short. Their problem was therefore one of maintenance. The combination of these factors made the task of the dental section with the Air Force in the Pacific less arduous than that of its counterpart with the Army in the same area.

In operations such as those in which the RNZAF was engaged in the Pacific, conditions changed rapidly and the Dental Corps establishment had only been in existence for about six weeks before page 359 Major Cunningham suggested that it could safely be reduced in size. The senior and one other dental officer, the administrative NCO, one mechanic and six orderlies were due for repatriation at the beginning of March 1945 in accordance with the agreed length of service in the Pacific. With the wide distribution of units, some sub-sections were responsible for from 400 to 500 men, while in other cases two or more sub-sections would be working together in the same building. In all cases reasonable facilities such as running water, electric light and power were available. The ratio of two orderlies to each officer therefore seemed excessive. As the war moved farther north, the squadrons at Espiritu Santo and Guadalcanal were no longer needed for garrison duties so could be reduced in size and split up among the operational units. Although this meant that the stations at Bougainville, Nissan Island, Emirau and Los Negros would be increased to about 1100 men each, one dental sub-section would not find such a station beyond its capabilities. It was thought by the Senior Dental Officer that the Royal New Zealand Navy would probably withdraw from the area about April 1945, releasing a dental officer, who would then be available to accompany any squadron that moved to a new location or to reinforce a station where routine examinations were falling behind schedule. His recommendation was not approved.

On 3 May 1945 Major J. C. M. Simmers1 (promoted lieutenantcolonel on 27 May) replaced Major Cunningham and held the appointment until the end of hostilities in the Pacific.

During its existence from June 1944 to October 1945 No. 1 Mobile Dental Section, RNZAF, covered a wide field, as can be seen from the following locations:

1 Lt-Col J. C. M. Simmers; Rotorua; born 4 Dec 1905; dental surgeon.

2 Commander, New Zealand Air Task Force.

Guadalcanal: Camp Waitemata
Henderson Field
West Cape
Bougainville: Camp Waitemata
Camp Rata
Camp Hinemoa
Camp Kiwi
Florida Island: Halavo Bay
Emirau Island
Los Negros Island
Espiritu Santo
Green Islands page 360
New Britain: Jacquinot Bay
Russell Islands: HMNZS Kahu

Until the end of hostilities the dental organisation continued to be a Mobile Section with varying numbers of sub-sections. On 12 October 1945 the following cable was received from the DDS:

Authority given to cancel establishment No. 1 RNZAF Mobile Dental Section with effect from 20 October 45 and to establish three self-contained dental sections as advised.

Three self-accounting sections were formed, stocked with adequate supplies for four months and stationed at Espiritu Santo, Bougainville and Jacquinot Bay. Surplus personnel and stores were then ready to return to New Zealand. Actually these sections were not required for long and on 14 November 1945 instructions were issued for them to return to New Zealand. The stores were given an air transport priority No. 3 and arrived in Auckland in mid-February 1946.