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The New Zealand Dental Services

CHAPTER 8 — Organisation of Stores and Equipment

page 83

Organisation of Stores and Equipment

AT the end of the 1914–18 War all dental stores and equipment were disposed of by tender, with the result that for several years the Defence Department held no stocks at all. This was the position when the Dental Corps was reorganised in 1934, when the Territorial camps were asking for treatment and the Corps was keen to undergo training. An approach to the Department for supplies produced a reply that made it abundantly clear that, unless the Corps could supply its own, it might as well fold up its tents and creep silently away. The Quartermaster-General was emphatic on the subject in a minute to the Under-Secretary of Defence on 17 October 1934:

The Department has no dental equipment or stores and Dental Officers will bring their own equipment to the camps they attend. The cost of any expendable stores (Drugs, filling materials and so forth) expended in the camp will be met by the Department. … As soon as the Department is in a position to do so, dental equipment will be provided as part of the war equipment necessary on mobilization. The equipment necessary for work in peacetime camps will then be provided. In view however of the extensive deficiencies that have to be made good in the war equipment of combatant units, the provision of dental equipment must be relegated to a low priority and will not be possible in the ordinary course of events for some time.

In the face of this rebuff, the DDS decided to approach the Director of the Division of Dental Hygiene of the Department of Health, who controlled the Government dental clinics for the treatment of school children by dental nurses. The Department's store only carried stocks applicable to this limited scope of treatment but had exceptional purchasing facilities in which the Corps hoped to share. The result was that enough materials were obtained to enable six dental sections to carry out urgent treatment at the Territorial camps and six metal panniers in which to pack them. The dental officers continued to provide their own instruments, but chairs were lent by private practitioners, dental trading houses and the Otago University Dental School.

In April 1935, through further efforts by the DDS, Cabinet approval was obtained for the expenditure of £140 to provide:

  • Seven travelling dental engines.

  • Seven dental students' cabinets.

  • Seven folding wooden chairs.

  • Seven spirit sterilisers with stands.

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With the exception of the chairs, which were made to order by the Public Works Department, this was all got from the Health Department.

Approval was then obtained to manufacture seven field dental surgical panniers and seven field dental prosthetic panniers. These were made at the Ordnance Workshops at Trentham to the design of the DDS, who had used the same type in the 1914–18 War with marked success. They were ready by December 1935 and were distributed early in 1936.

The pannier is a container for equipment and stock. To facilitate transport, it is of a standard size, standard weight both full and empty and has distinctive markings. The Government Dental Department used metal panniers and these were quite satisfactory where civilian transport was used and weight was a secondary consideration. In the field, however, ease of movement and identification were important so the new ones were made of 3-ply (later 5-ply) wood, covered with canvas for protection and were suitably painted and branded. The prosthetic pannier was a plain box, but the surgical one was ingeniously partitioned to hold a portable dental engine, student's cabinet, and other stores and equipment of specified quantity and weight.

The chair was carried in a canvas case along with miscellaneous articles such as a folding table, hurricane lamp, canvas basin and blankets.

Until September 1936, the necessary field equipment was gathered from many sources. Dental instruments, however, still had to be supplied by the officers themselves.

Early in 1938 the DDS drew up a Peace Equipment Table which gave full details of the contents of a surgical pannier and chair case. As yet the prosthetic pannier was not to be equipped. Dental sections were then authorised to indent to bring their outfits up to full content. This was accomplished by December.

And so, after four years of great effort, the nucleus of a dental store was built up. But this was for peace requirements and the dove of peace was rapidly moulting. Munich came and went, with none but the most ingenuous believing in its bona fides. The next step was to prepare a list of stores that would be required in the event of mobilisation for war. This was submitted to Army Headquarters by the DDS in August 1939 and became the basis of the War Equipment Table. It was too late, however, for in the meantime the Government had severely restricted imports and the supply houses, while holding reasonable stocks for everyday needs, could not place unlimited orders at will, or even any orders except under an import licence. The Assistant Directors of Dental Services each had a schedule of what was required and found out what was avail- page 85 able from the supply houses and from private practitioners by gift, loan or purchase, but this was a precarious source of supply as well as being only temporary. It was a wise move, however, as when buying began, the state of the market was thoroughly known.

Mobilisation and the First Year of War

At the outbreak of war the only stores held by the Corps were the seven peacetime outfits described above, and this was the case for over two months. Until stores came to hand, the early volunteers brought their own instruments into camp, and even supplied most of the stock from their own practices. Later this stock was refunded from army supplies.

The first big requisition, for electric units, chairs and sterilisers to the value of £2409, was placed on 7 October 1939. From the end of November 1939 supplies came to hand in growing quantities, being received at the Main Ordnance Depot at Trentham, where part of the existing medical store was set apart to accommodate them. They were distributed as follows. The dental sections at Papakura, Ngaruawahia, Palmerston North, Trentham and Burnham forwarded monthly indents through their respective camp quartermasters to the DDS. If he approved, he sent the indent to the Chief Ordnance Officer (COO) for action and despatch. The items were then vouchered from the COO to the camp quartermaster concerned. It will be seen that the DDS at that time took no part in the actual accounting and merely controlled the issue in an advisory capacity.

In February 1940 approval was given to purchase the entire stocks of a dental trading firm in Auckland. These stores, valued at about £822, formed the nucleus of a dental store for the Royal New Zealand Air Force established at Rongotai air station in April 1940. The Air Force had a different accounting system from the Army. It used the ‘Powers’ system in which each item had a reference number. This meant that a new vocabulary of dental stores had to be drawn up, divided into sections such as drugs, dressings, surgical instruments, prosthetic materials, etc. Each section was numbered and each item in the section had a serial number. Indents had to be on a special Air Force form. The channel of communication was from dental section to station equipment officer to DDS for approval, to Rongotai store for action, and back to the station equipment officer and the dental section. The accounting was done by the RNZAF central accounting section in Wellington. The actual receiving, packing and despatch was in the hands of a Dental Corps corporal.

One store for the Army and another for the Air Force, with different accounting officers and different systems, was an unwieldy page 86 organisation. The first steps towards simplification were taken in May 1940, when the DDS suggested to the Quartermaster-General that the two stores should amalgamate into one Army Base Dental Store to cater for both services. His main reasons were:


To obviate raising separate purchase requisitions and consequent competition on an already diminishing market.


To provide more favourable buying.


To promote a more equitable and convenient distribution of stores.


To enable the DDS to exercise complete control over their custody, proper use and accounting.

It is unfortunate that he did not mention the disadvantages of having different accounting systems in the two services at that time, as the anomaly might have been removed instead of existing for another three years. The Quartermaster-General and the Air Secretary agreed to the amalgamation. Premises were found in Lambton Quay, Wellington, and became the Army Base Dental Store. There was one large room and two smaller ones with a total area of 1400 square feet. The necessary shelves and other fittings were built in and everything was ready by the first week in July.

By this time Major H. E. Suckling was Assistant Director of Dental Services at headquarters, in charge of stores and equipment. He personally supervised the transfer of the stores held at Trentham to the new premises. Thus the Army Base Dental Store became an accounting unit and the DDS assumed the responsibilities of accounting officer. He also became purchasing officer and supervisor of all payments by the Treasury for dental stores.

In August the RNZAF stores at Rongotai, valued at £3777, were also transferred to the Lambton Quay premises and vouchered from the Air Department to the DDS. All stores for use of the dental sections attached to RNZAF stations were now supplied from the Army Base Dental Store and charged to the Air Force—a little trouble but worth it.

The original staff of the store consisted of a Warrant Officer second class as accountant and two storemen packers.

The Dental Corps was expanding quickly and by the end of August 1940 it was becoming increasingly difficult to get enough supplies from New Zealand sources, so indents, to the value of £4125, were placed with the New Zealand Supply Liaison Officer in Melbourne. These supplies came to hand promptly and in full, giving the new store enough to satisfy demands until the end of the financial year on 31 March 1941.

The camp dental hospitals at Papakura, Trentham and Burnham had each been provided with rock-gas installations, X-ray machines, compressed air units and nitrous oxide and oxygen anaesthetic page 87 machines, as well as dental units, chairs and cabinets, and good instruments and stocks. Unfortunately the electric motors for the dental engines to be attached to the units were unprocurable in New Zealand and those that arrived from Canada in early 1941 were unsatisfactory. Fifty motors had then to be ordered from the United Kingdom, but it was February 1942 before they arrived. In the meantime every secondhand electric engine which could be bought or borrowed was welcomed into the Corps and coaxed into service, often by prodigies of mechanical wizardry. The foot engine, scorned by the modern graduate as an emblem of obsolescence, recaptured some of its former glory and spelt the difference between failure and success.

The first year of the war was a race against time to get enough stores and equipment to make every man dentally fit before embarkation for overseas. The race was won, the task completed, and much of the credit must go to those who overcame a very real problem in producing supplies continuously in the face of a host of difficulties.

In January 1941 a dental section was attached to HMNZS Tamaki, the naval training station on Motuihi Island, Auckland, and the Navy began its association with the Army Base Dental Store.

The Second Year, 1 April 1941 to 31 March 1942

During this year the three services grew to such an extent that the problem of supply assumed great importance. Prior to 1941 the only dental stores and equipment used by the Royal New Zealand Navy were supplied by the Admiralty, but in June of that year the DDS took these over. New dental sections for the Navy were established at the Naval Base, HMNZS Philomel, in the two cruisers Achilles and Leander and in the auxiliary cruiser Monowai. These now drew supplies from the Army Base Dental Store. At the same time the first changes in unit accounting began as the ship's dental officers were made accounting officers working under the army system.

For some time the army camp quartermasters had been having difficulty in accounting for dental stores because of unfamiliarity with technical nomenclature and usage. They had been asked to take the responsibility for a large amount of expensive stock and equipment which they could not check without expert advice. They had no knowledge of what constituted a reasonable rate at which expendable material should be consumed and, without some idea of the nature of the stock, no method of judging with any certainty whether it was expendable or non-expendable. Who but a dentist for instance would know that, while the handle of a mouth mirror is obviously non-expendable stock, the mirror which screws into page 88 it is just as obviously expendable because of the ease with which it is made unserviceable by scratching? Technical stores are better and more easily handled by those who understand their uses. The main mobilisation camps and the Air Force made no change as yet, but in the case of all other dental sections the stores were vouchered direct to the dental officer, who became the accounting officer.

During this year nine mobile dental sections were established. As these consisted of a headquarters section and six sub-sections, each commanded by a dental officer, the senior dental officer became the accounting officer and distributed the stores to his sub-sections.

With the mobile sections, static sections, mobilisation camps, naval and Air Force sections to supply, it is small wonder that the resources of the store were taxed to the limit. Such equipment as dental engines, chairs, vulcanisers and sterilisers were in very short supply and the arrival of stocks from overseas was uncertain. In March 1942 an urgent appeal was made to the dentists of the country for any equipment they could spare. Out of 245 who were circularised, 150 replied offering equipment of all sorts for sale, loan or gift.

As a comparison with the previous year, 22 dental establishments besides the mobile sections were supplied, 1055 issues were made and stores to the value of £17,280 were received. Requisitions were placed overseas amounting to £19,000, made up of £18,740 from the United States of America and £250 from Australia.

The Third Year, 1 April 1942 to 31 March 1943

During this year there was continued expansion of the armed forces with more and more dental sections to supply. For instance, the twelve caravan trailers had to be equipped and stocked both surgically and prosthetically. Further Air Force stations were opened and troops were scattered over the length and breadth of the islands.

The increasing danger of enemy action made it inadvisable to have all the stores concentrated in the same building. Bulk stores were therefore established in Rutland Street, Auckland, and at Burnham Mobilisation Camp. It was not proposed to use these stores except in the case of emergency, so everything remained on charge to the DDS at Wellington. It is indicative of the healthy state of the supply position at that time that, in the busiest year experienced by the store, it was possible to hold stocks in reserve without interfering with normal distribution.

During 1942, overseas requisitions were placed to the value of £40,924, made up of £17,628 in the United Kingdom, £22,500 in Australia and £796 in India, or what was known as the Eastern Group. Stores bought in New Zealand reached the record figure of £44,783 and 1504 issues were made. The staff under the control of Lieutenant-Colonel H. E. Suckling numbered eleven.

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The Fourth Year, 1 April 1943 to 31 March 1944

This year saw the beginning of retrenchment of the armed forces as the threat of enemy action diminished. Consequently, many of the dental sections were disbanded. The effect of this on the store was an embarras de richesses. The equipment and stock held by the disbanded sections were returned to the store. At the same time the influx of stores already ordered from overseas gathered momentum and seriously taxed the accommodation available. As a last straw, stores began to arrive from the United States of America against an indent placed by the Rt. Hon. J. G. Coates when on a mission to that country in 1941. This equipment from lend-lease sources was unexpected. An attempt was made to cancel the order, but the New Zealand Joint Staff Mission replied that, as the items had already either been shipped or assigned to New Zealand, delivery must be accepted. Stores to the value of £17,440 duly arrived. To cope with this flood it was necessary to find bigger premises and a building was provided by the Government Accommodation Board in Molesworth Street, Wellington. It was conveniently situated, and was 3000 square feet as against the 1400 feet of the old store. The new store began operations on 18 September 1943.

Two important changes in the administration and distribution of the dental stores for the RNZAF took place at this time. Firstly, the station equipment officers handed over their accounting responsibilities to the dental officers, and secondly, the army system of accounting was adopted in place of the ‘Powers system’. This simplified the work of the store as well as making the interchange of officers between the Army and the Air Force easier.

In January 1944 the last accounting anomaly was removed and the Principal Dental Officers of the mobilisation camps relieved their respective quartermasters of all responsibility for dental stores and equipment. The quartermasters welcomed this move. This assumption of responsibility by the officers of the Corps made it incumbent on the stores staff to see that they were fully instructed in accounting procedure. Everything was laid down in ‘Instructions to Officers NZDC’, a copy of which was in every officer's possession, but, in addition, regular visits were made to each accounting unit by an expert from the store. There is no doubt that this was the right policy for from then on the efficiency and simplicity with which the system worked were remarkable. Stores were being handled by people familiar with their uses. Clerical duties were standardised, were quickly and easily mastered and were by no means onerous. The change did not, however, reduce the debt of gratitude the Corps owes to the quartermasters and station equipment officers who administered the supplies for so long, who bore with infinite patience the puzzled and sometimes indignant inquiries of the page 90 fledgling resenting the inflexibility of service procedure, extricated the over-confident from costly mistakes, taught those willing to learn and, having taught, retired with grace and, it is suspected, with some measure of relief.

In December 1943 the accountant of the store, WO II G. Hay, was commissioned and given the appointment of Quartermaster of the Dental Services. This was a big advance for, apart from the individual merits of the officer himself, it was a recognition of the level to which the Corps had advanced from the days so short a time ago when it was the Cinderella of the services.

In May 1943 a curious suggestion was made by the New Zealand Medical Corps that the Army Optical Service should incorporate its supplies with those of the Dental Corps, and should be administered by the dental quartermaster. The reason for the suggestion is somewhat obscure, for the dental staff knew no more about optical equipment than the general QM branch or the Medical Corps knew about the dental. The DDS wisely refused.

The organisation continued in this form until the end of the war and for two years afterwards, when the store moved to Trentham in charge of a Warrant Officer first class, with the Ordnance Department once more as accounting official. It was well stocked, in fact overstocked, from the Molesworth Street store. Some of the more perishable stock was sold through the War Assets organisation and some, such as rubber for vulcanisation, and the vulcanisers themselves, is obsolete. The nucleus though is still there and, unless the apathy of 1918 to 1939 is repeated, the NZDC of the future should not be embarrassed by short supplies.