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The New Zealand Dental Services

The Camp Dental Group

The Camp Dental Group

At Linton, near Palmerston North, a dispersal camp was built for troops retained for the defence of New Zealand, the design differing from that of the mobilisation camps. The men were quartered in blocks spread over about fifteen acres. Each block was therefore almost a camp in itself, being self-supporting and fully equipped, though controlled from one headquarters.

If one dental hospital had been built as in a mobilisation camp, the men would have had to travel some distance for their treatment, with the loss of valuable time. It was therefore decided to build a small dental hospital for two chairs in each block and control them from a headquarters in much the same way as was done in the Mobile Dental Section. Indeed, until these small hospitals were built, No. 5 Mobile Dental Section was located at Linton and undertook all treatment for the camp. In October 1943 the mobile dental section was disbanded and was immediately re-formed as the Camp Dental Group. The organisation was really a mobile dental section shorn of most of its transport.

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It consisted of a headquarters and six sections, but as each hospital was designed for two officers, the usual proviso regarding temporary increase in personnel applied to cover excessive demands on their services. The establishment was as follows:

  • Group Dental Officer in the rank of major.

  • Seven dental officers, captains or subalterns.

  • Administrative Warrant Officer second class.

  • Staff-sergeant as storeman.

  • Fifteen clerk orderlies, seven of them corporals.

  • Seven mechanics. A staff-sergeant at Headquarters and six sergeants.

  • An orderly as driver in charge of a 15-cwt truck.

Other than the truck, transport consisted of one bicycle.

This group did not actually function as by the time the dental hospitals were completed, the camp was not needed. It appears, however, that it was the correct organisation for the purpose. The Mobile Dental Section with all its transport and elaborate establishment was unnecessarily lavish, and the centrally situated hospital was uneconomical in time and personnel. Again it is emphasised that to keep a force dentally fit, the Dental Corps must take the initiative by providing facilities that are accessible and interfere as little as possible with the first duty of a soldier, which is to fight.

This was the basic organisation of the NZDC in New Zealand. The bare bones that had rattled in the pre-war Territorial camps were unrecognisable in the vital body that sought the troops wherever they might be. It was a Corps organisation, able to concentrate its forces quickly where the need was greatest. For example, the main mobilisation camps needed one officer and one orderly for every 200 men of 2 NZEF and one mechanic for every 400, but in Waiouru Camp, where there were men other than 2 NZEF, an officer and orderly for 500 and a mechanic for 600 was enough as there was more time available for treatment. Waiouru, however, was equipped with a dental hospital similar to those at the other camps and, should the classification of the troops in the camp change, dental reinforcements could be sent immediately. Even if this was not the case, the mobile dental sections, or the caravan group, could be used. No man in the New Zealand Forces could be long out of touch with the NZDC.

As a contrast to the ease with which emergencies were met under the completed organisation, two examples of what happened in the early days of the war are given.

On 10 January 1940 the DDS was notified by the Director of Mobilisation that the Maori Battalion would go into camp at the Show Grounds, Palmerston North, on 26 January. There were no mobile sections or caravan groups in those days, only a handful of NZDC officers and men straining hard to cope with the work of the mobilisation camps. Nevertheless, a tented camp dental hospital page 61 was set up and two officers, one mechanic and two orderlies arrived on transfer from Trentham with field dental outfits containing surgical and prosthetic equipment. By 31 January the Senior Dental Officer, Captain H. A'C. G. Fitzgerald, reported that most of the troops had been examined. Only five weeks were available to do the necessary treatment according to the information received, and a request was made for extra staff to the extent of two officers, one mechanic, two orderlies and one clerk. This could not be provided at once but gradually came to hand. By dint of very hard work and long hours, the battalion was made dentally fit by 13 March. This was a remarkable effort, reflecting the greatest credit on all concerned. The Quartermaster-General's branch and the Public Works Department provided a large marquee with duckboard flooring, rise and fall electric lights, power points, running water and drainage at very short notice. The DDS was the driving force, determined to implement his policy of sending every draft overseas dentally fit, and the officers and men of the Corps responded readily to every call made on them. The task was not made easier by the fact that many of the Maoris came from remote districts, some of them having never had any dental treatment before. In the battalion of 691 men, 2029 fillings, 1232 extractions, 416 major scalings and 160 dentures were done. The scalings alone took a long time as this type of work is always to be found among the Maoris, and is much more extensive than among the white population.

The second example occurred while the treatment of the Third Echelon troops was in progress. A group of Railway Survey, Construction and Operating companies was hurriedly mobilised and went into camp at Ngaruawahia on 24 June 1940. Although they eventually embarked with the Third Echelon, it was expected at the time that they would go at shorter notice. On 26 June the information was sent by telephone from the DDS to Headquarters, Northern Military District, and this was followed by a memorandum from the Adjutant-General:

Confirming the telephone message of the Director of Dental Services of even date would you please arrange that instructions are issued to the Principal Dental Officer, Papakura, to establish a Dental Hospital at Ngaruawahia immediately with himself in charge, leaving a skeleton staff only at Papakura to attend to any urgent dental treatment presenting.

All work on the 3rd Echelon at Papakura and Fortress Troops at Narrow Neck is to be suspended for this period and all equipment and stores necessary transferred.

Whilst the Dental Hospital is being installed the Dental Officers should be given every facility to have the respective units examined and charted on form NZ 361.

Would you also issue instructions that full co-operation is to be given by Unit Commanders to enable the Dental staff to render as many men dentally fit as possible prior to embarkation.

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Following the telephone message, the movement and the preparations for a temporary hospital at Ngaruawahia were immediately ordered by Northern Military District headquarters through the camp commandants at Papakura and Ngaruawahia. At 10 a.m. that day the PDO at Papakura, Major T. V. Anson, received the first intimation of the move. Work on the Third Echelon was immediately stopped, equipment and stores were packed and 11 officers and 23 other ranks left Papakura at 1 p.m., arriving at Ngaruawahia, a distance of 55 miles, late in the afternoon. At half past eight the following morning they were at work examining the men in chairs out in the open air while the brilliant sunshine dispelled a heavy frost. An ordnance shed was cleared of old vehicles and rapidly prepared as a dental hospital with electric light for the operators. It was bitterly cold and operators and patients were extremely uncomfortable, but after tins full of red-hot coke had been placed between the chairs work went on apace. The condition of the mouths was not as bad as that of the Maori Battalion, but there was a desperate urgency to complete the work because of the uncertainty about the time available.

Eight hundred and seventy-eight were examined, of whom 557 required treatment. One thousand four hundred and forty-four fillings, 552 extractions and 101 dentures were done and, apart from one or two cases, the work was completed by 9 July. One officer and two other ranks were left to mop up and deal with emergencies and the rest returned to Papakura on 10 July to continue with the work on the Third Echelon.

These two examples show that even when the Corps was far from adequately staffed, the organisation was developing along the right lines, forecasting the mobility of the future and refusing to be defeated by the shibboleths of the past. The fight for recognition was over; the NZDC was accepted as essential to the army organisation. The organisation attracted interest in Australia and the New Zealand Liaison Officer was asked by the Australian Senior Dental Officer to secure full particulars and details. As a result Colonel Finn went to Australia in March 1942 for general discussions on dental problems affecting the two forces.