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The New Zealand Dental Services

Dental Mechanics

Dental Mechanics

The National Service Department did not recognise dental mechanics as belonging to the ‘Schedule of Important Occupations’ but it did concede that they should be subject to some direction. All those drawn in the ballots for overseas service were referred to the National Medical Committee as in the case of dentists. For those drawn in the ballots for Territorial training, postponement of calling up was dealt with by the Appeal Board on the individual merits of the case. A letter from the DDS to the Director of Mobilisation on 1 May 1941 ran:

page 34

The New Zealand Dental Corps can absorb all dental mechanics or dental technicians available through Expeditionary Force ballots and the Director of National Service has notified Appeal Boards accordingly, also suggesting that, where these ballotees are released for military service it should be conditional upon service in their technical capacity and additionally that the appeals of grade II and III mechanics should be adjourned until their medical board papers have been perused at Army Headquarters with a view to their being utilised in home service duties thereby releasing grade I mechanics for overseas.

It should be explained that the classifications ‘Dental Mechanic’ and ‘Dental Technician’ are synonymous and appear indiscriminately in memoranda quoted in the text.

There was, however, a definite need to preserve the balance between military and civilian requirements, although perhaps not to such an extent as with dentists. It was therefore decided that if the dental sub-committee was satisfied that a mechanic was a competent tradesman and essential to civil requirements, an appeal from military service would be lodged on his behalf on the grounds of public interest. This was not entirely satisfactory as it entailed much unnecessary correspondence and delay. Also, in many cases, no sooner were appeals lodged and dealt with than the DDS would require the men urgently and could not get them until the appeals had been withdrawn. A simpler scheme was therefore evolved. After the issue of the Gazette the sub-committee made inquiries into the bona fides of each mechanic drawn in the ballot. This was a necessary precaution as in a number of cases boys who could barely lay claim to the proficiency of a ‘plaster boy’ had styled themselves dental mechanics. These were useless to the NZDC and to the civilian population except as trainees. After their bona fides had been established, the mechanics continued in their civil occupation until their services were asked for by the DDS. In other words, every dental mechanic was kept in his trade either in civilian or military practice. This exemption applied also to the National Military Reserve and the Home Guard, except of course in the event of full mobilisation of the latter in the defence of New Zealand's very existence, when dentists, mechanics, Toms, Dicks and Harrys would all be in it together.

In February 1943 Mr G. Clark of the dental mechanics' union was appointed by the Minister of Health to the dental sub-committee. He attended only those meetings at which the release of dental mechanics was being discussed.

These arrangements did not fully satisfy the demands of the NZDC for trained mechanics and already attempts had been made to train its own in the mobilisation camps. As will be seen in the chapter on this subject, this was not completely successful at first, but it led to the formation of training schools under capable teachers page 35 in March 1943. The demand for mechanics from civilian life therefore decreased and actually none were brought into either the Army or the Air Force after October 1942. Eventually, on 16 February 1944 the following resolution was passed by the National Medical Committee on the advice of the DDS:

That with the dental mechanics who are gradually being released to civilian occupation from the Armed Forces, together with those already serving as apprentices and employed as journeymen mechanics, or in business on their own account, the dental profession is reasonably served by dental mechanics under present conditions.

That in view of the increasing number of dental mechanics being released from the Armed Forces, the necessity no longer exists for dental mechanics who are, or have been, called in ballots to be retained in their civilian occupations or for their work to be regarded as a protected industry.

The removal of dental mechanics from an essential industry classification restored the balance which had been disturbed by the release of mechanics from the armed forces. Those who had been drawn in ballots were then called up either for general military service or for other essential industries in equal numbers to those released from time to time by the armed forces.