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The New Zealand Dental Services

Mobile Dental Caravan Group

Mobile Dental Caravan Group

This group must not be confused with the mobile dental sections operating in the three districts. It was a group of twelve caravan trailer sections under the direct control of the DDS. Each section consisted of four, a dental officer in the rank of captain, a sergeant mechanic, and a sergeant and private clerk orderly. The trailer was fully equipped and was drawn by a 2-ton truck fitted with a special draw bar. One of the orderlies was the driver and was in charge of the vehicles.

This group enabled the DDS to send dental reinforcements quickly to any district. The section would then come under the temporary command of the Officer Commanding the Depot. There was an allocation of these sections to each depot but this was not used in the form of rigid attachment, the former method being found more satisfactory under the fluid conditions of troop deployment existing at the time. The origin of these trailer caravans is interesting. As the troops were scattered all over the country they could not attend the established dental hospitals, nor was it possible, or page 50 politic, to establish new hospitals for them. The NZDC had to work on them where they were. Sometimes huts could be found to work in but often enough only a tent was available. With the approach of winter this was not a cheerful prospect, and the Auckland Branch of the New Zealand Dental Association, realising this, made a fine patriotic gesture. It subscribed to the building of a caravan trailer to be equipped as a dental surgery and prosthetic laboratory. After consultation with the DDS as to the design, one was built and duly presented to the New Zealand Government for the use of the NZDC. The cost, complete with all fittings such as instrument drawers, sterilising unit, sink and water supply, electric light, benches, cupboards and cabinet work, but exclusive of tyres, was £430. This price included £55 sales tax, which it was thought might have been forgone by the Government under the circumstances, but all efforts to have this done were fruitless. The movable equipment was supplied by the DDS from the Army Dental Store and the tyres were procured from army stock.

This gesture by the Auckland dentists provided the example for the provision of a number of these vehicles. The Wellington Branch of the New Zealand Dental Association followed suit, and then on 16 July 1942 authority was given by the War Cabinet for the expenditure of £4300 for ten more. Actually it was a saving of expense as the Government had already approved the provision of standard dental huts in certain camps with an establishment of 800 to 1000 men, at a cost of £450 each. Besides being cheaper in initial cost, the caravans could serve more troops.

The provision of these caravan trailers did not do away with the necessity of providing some huts but it did allow scattered units of the Army and Air Force to be treated in comparative comfort in places where it was uneconomical to erect huts. There were some limitations in the use of caravans. They could not negotiate some of the narrower bridges which still existed in parts of New Zealand, e.g., on the road round Lake Taupo. A clearance of 9 ft was necessary and every driver carried a 9 ft rope in the cab of the truck with which to take measurements. Also, after experience with the first gift trailer, it was found that the tempered masonite used in its construction was not strong enough to withstand the hard knocks sustained in travelling, e.g., in passing through frequent mobs of driven stock. The newer trailers were therefore made of 20-gauge steel for the lower half of the body, with masonite above.

That they were a success is undoubted. To quote one report from Lieutenant P. B. Sutcliffe, NZDC,1 to the DDS:

page 51

Dental caravans are absolutely necessary. There is no comparison between working in a tent and working in a caravan. In the north, where there is a lot of rain, a caravan makes it possible to carry on with good work in all weather and at all hours. The hygienic appearance of the caravan creates a good impression on officers and men alike. The whole outfit has the appearance of good dentistry, not a makeshift.

1 Capt P. B. Sutcliffe; Auckland; born USA, 15 Mar 1900; dental surgeon.