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The New Zealand Dental Services

Internal Organisation

Internal Organisation

In a previous chapter it has been stated that the Director of Dental Services had given considerable thought before the war to the organisation of the NZDC for war purposes and had made certain recommendations to Headquarters. It is now convenient to examine his recommendations regarding organisation in more detail and to see what notice was taken of them. The analysis will show how difficult it was to carry out his obligations in the face of the uncooperative attitude of the authorities. His recommendations were:


Some administrative staff at headquarters.


A quartermaster for Dental Services to negotiate and advise in the purchase of equipment and stores, to be responsible for the issue and maintenance of the same and the establishment of an Army Dental Store in conjunction with the Ordnance Department.


Three Assistant Directors of Dental Services to rank as Lieutenant-Colonels and act as staff officers for dental services attached to each military command headquarters. Their duties would be to co-ordinate between their respective command headquarters, the Principal Dental Officers of military districts and standing camps and the Director of Dental Services and to act for the latter in their districts. The Central Military District ADDS was in addition to assist the DDS at Headquarters.


Three district Principal Dental Officers whose duties were to be:


To assist the command ADDS.


Be dental officer in charge of any dental centre situated in command headquarters area and carry out the dental duties required for the personnel of the troops in that area including the dental examination of recruits, invalid soldiers and members of the Forces as might be required by the Commandant.


Give regular oral hygiene lectures to troops and hold classes of instruction for non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the NZDC in connection with their specialist duties.

page 41

Considerable correspondence passed between the Director of Dental Services and the Director-General of Medical Services, on the one hand, and the Adjutant-General on the other, with the following result:


Administrative Staff at Headquarters

No appointments were made, not even a typist.



No appointment was made, with the result that all the stores organisation and administration, which was highly technical and could not be handled by the Ordnance Department without advice, fell on the already overburdened shoulders of the DDS himself. It was not until the war had been in progress for seven months that Major H. E. Suckling relinquished his appointment as ADDS of the Southern Military District and was appointed ADDS, Army and Air, at Army Headquarters, where he gradually took over all the stores administration. This appointment he held until 31 January 1945.


Three Assistant Directors of Dental Services

Three part-time majors only were appointed, one each to the Northern, Central and Southern districts. Each of these officers was responsible to the DDS for the dental fitness of all mobilised military personnel in his district. They supervised and controlled on behalf of the DDS all dental services required for the Army and were responsible for the checking of the dental accounts rendered by the civilian dentists treating troops.

This part-time service was to be not less than two and a half hours daily and the remuneration was £150 per annum. The duties took up much longer than two and a half hours a day, but even if this were not the case, each officer had to work at least fifteen hours a week at four shillings an hour. They were all running busy dental practices in which overhead expenses went on while they were on army duty, so that actually they were paying for the privilege of serving in the Army.

It is hardly surprising that this part of the organisation did not last and that, in the middle of 1940, the Principal Dental Officers of the three main mobilisation camps took over these duties as well as their own.

page 42

Three District Principal Dental Officers

It was found that the district mobilisation camps were close enough to their district headquarters to dispense with these appointments and allow the Principal Dental Officers of the camps to act in the dual capacity.

As soon as the mobilisation camps were ready a Principal Dental Officer was appointed to each, i.e., Papakura, Trentham and Burnham in the Northern, Central and Southern Military Districts respectively. The Principal Dental Officer was responsible through the Camp Commandant, and the District ADDS, to the DDS for:


Dental examination and condition of the troops, the class of operations performed and for all professional matters connected with his Corps.


The control of the dental centre and staff, being responsible to the Camp Commandant for the discipline of his unit.


Dental equipment and stores issued to him and the submission of requisitions for approval for all dental stores required by the unit.


Arranging regular lectures to all troops in the camp on oral hygiene, classes of instruction in specialist duties for non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the NZDC, and for grading mechanics.


Arranging special classes of instruction for dental officers in military routine and procedures.


General co-operation with the training staff in completing the dental treatment of the troops so as to interfere as little as possible with their training.


Furnishing all reports through Camp Headquarters on the dental treatment and any returns that might be required by the DDS.

Although the Principal Dental Officers were appointed as executive officers, it can be seen that their administrative duties were considerable, especially when they took over the additional duties of ADDS of the district. They therefore had little time available for the actual practice of dentistry. Nevertheless they were appointed for their professional knowledge as well as for their administrative ability and were nominally responsible for the standard of work of the dental officers and mechanics under their command.

This was the framework on which the future organisation was built:

page 43

diagram of military hierarchy

The Director-General of Medical Services has been included in this diagram to show that he, like the Director of Dental Services, was responsible to the Adjutant-General and was in no way included in the dental organisation.

Organisation below the level of the Principal Dental Officers was dependent on general army policy so it is as well to outline briefly once again what that policy was. A special force of approximately 16,000 men was to be mobilised, initially trained and sent overseas in three echelons, to be followed by various reinforcement drafts. In addition, other troops were mobilised to man the coastal defence and anti-aircraft batteries, to act as camp and headquarters staff, guards of vital points such as hydro-electric stations and reservoirs, and later for a field force.

Three main mobilisation camps had been built, one at Papakura, 18 miles south of Auckland, one at Trentham, the same distance north of Wellington, and one at Burnham in the South Island, about 16 miles south of Christchurch. In addition to this there was a canvas camp at Ngaruawahia, on the Waikato River near Hamilton, and in early 1940 the Show Grounds at Palmerston North were taken over for the training of the Maori Battalion.

Dental treatment for these different groups of troops had to be arranged according to the time available. The intention of the Corps to send every soldier overseas dentally fit meant that first priority must be given to the echelons and reinforcements. The first concentration of dental personnel must therefore be in the mobilisation camps and the size of the establishments was calculated by the DDS and submitted to Army Headquarters. The amount of work could be assessed reasonably accurately, the time available page 44 was known within predictable limits and the rate of work of the average dental officer had already been noted from previous experience. To cope with the simultaneous dental treatment of the other mobilised troops bigger establishments would be needed, but the DDS only asked for enough to carry out the urgent task of sending the overseas troops away dentally fit, relying on the intervals between the echelons to catch up with arrears in the other work until the Corps organisation could be built up to cover everything. The problem was complicated and there was a reluctance to provide what, with some justification, appeared to be a sledgehammer to kill a gnat. There was no precedent in any country where a concentrated effort to promote complete dental fitness had been attempted except in the New Zealand Forces in the latter stages of the 1914–18 War, and it appeared that the lessons of that war had been imperfectly digested. The result was that every establishment submitted was sifted through the finest financial grille and the early dental staff had to work phenomenal hours to achieve their objective.

As an example of this, establishments to begin with were cut down to nearly two-thirds of those recommended by the DDS; they were accompanied by a grudging admission of their inadequacy, as shown by the following extract from a memorandum from the Adjutant-General dated 5 March 1940:

The DDS still retains the authority to move personnel to overtake necessary work, even to the limit of adding surplus to the Camp Hospital, but at all times drawing from another authorised establishment.

This was robbing Peter to pay Paul and took no notice of the fact that more or less equal work was needed in each centre at the same time. The privilege was therefore of little use. That the memorandum was accompanied by an enclosure of outdated establishments when new ones had been authorised on 23 February was but another indication of the confusion existing at the time.

Out of the confusion, however, came reasonable establishments to cope with the echelons and reinforcements, though little relief for the DDS from his administrative problems at headquarters and an inadequacy for the amount of work throughout the country.

Dental treatment for the mobilised troops in the coastal batteries, etc., was provided in Wellington and Christchurch by the respective mobilisation camps, but in Auckland there was a special dental hospital for this purpose. At a delightful camp at Narrow Neck on the north shore of the Waitemata harbour, a building, originally used as a dental hospital in the 1914–18 War, was reconditioned and again brought into service for one dental officer, orderly and mechanic. In Dunedin, and elsewhere in the south, use had to be made of the civilian dentists.

page 45

Later, when troops became dispersed and when more dental personnel became available, the organisation expanded accordingly. Other large hospitals were built, such as that at Waiouru near the centre of the North Island. Group hospitals were established such as that at Linton, near Palmerston North, and, most important of all, mobile sections and caravans were used. By this time the importance of dental health was fully recognised and no difficulty was experienced in building up a large and efficient organisation. A study of the following diagram will explain the organisation as it existed when more troops were mobilised in New Zealand than ever before in her history.1

This organisation, although authorised, was never fully used as it was found to be impossible to staff it at a time when every man and woman was needed to defend the country against the threat of Japanese invasion. Some appointments had to be abandoned and some had to be filled by those doing other duties. For example, the depot was staffed by mobilisation camp personnel and did not function as a separate entity, although it has since become the nucleus of the suggested peacetime organisation of the Corps and is an integral part of the framework on which the Corps can be built for a future war.

Certain sections and groups of the organisation were under the direct control of the DDS and the others were divided among the three military districts. These were under the command nominally of the Officer Commanding the District Depot, but actually of the Principal Dental Officer of the mobilisation camp, who combined these two appointments.

As in the study of biology we find the most complex structures can all be reduced to a cellular fundament, so can the operative organisation of the NZDC be considered in terms of its smallest unit, the dental section. The dental section is a self-contained unit capable of carrying out all classes of dental treatment other than specialties. It was designed to operate in areas, training depots, forts and camps, other than mobilisation camps, and consisted of one officer, one or two orderlies and one mechanic. From this minimum can be built all the other organisations required, but below this the unit cannot function.

It is now possible to analyse the full organisation of the NZDC in New Zealand. Before doing this it is interesting to note that history up to a point was repeated. Although the dental treatment in this war was begun in earnest much sooner than in the 1914–18 War, it was again three years before the organisation was at its peak. In the Great War it was 1917 before the Dental Corps arrived at the stage of sending all troops overseas dentally fit, and in the page 46 page 47 Second World War it was 16 October 1942 before the full organisation was authorised. It must surely be admitted that the task is easier of accomplishment with efficient organisation, and it is hoped that the record of the work of the Corps in the two wars will bear testimony to its worth, and that the organisation in another war will be there at the beginning.

diagram of military hiearchy

1 See p. 46.