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The New Zealand Dental Services

Training of Dental Officers

Training of Dental Officers

When the men of the Second Echelon went on final leave, a course of instruction was held at the Army School, Trentham, for as many dental officers as could be spared from treating the fortress troops and mobilisation camps' staff. The course was held from 4 to 19 April 1940 and was attended by thirty-two officers, including the seven who were to go overseas with the echelon. It was similar to the courses held in 1938 and 1939 for Territorial officers. The general training included army organisation and administration, military law, squad drill, map-reading, anti-gas training and weapon training. The technical part included lectures and discussions on the care of equipment, procedure for supplies, training of orderlies, the policy of dental treatment in the armed forces and aspects of dentistry particularly applicable to war, such as the treatment of Vincent's stomatitis and injuries to the jaws and face. The DDS and other senior dental officers gave these lectures; one of the lecturers was Lieutenant-Colonel H. P. Pickerill, CBE, NZMC (retired), whose work on maxillo-facial injuries in the 1914–18 War has already been mentioned.

As soon as time permitted the DDS issued a book of ‘Instructions to Officers NZDC’, a copy of which was given to every officer in the Corps in New Zealand. This contained all the information an page 92 officer should require in the administration and organisation of his unit, as well as certain standardisation of dental technique peculiarly applicable to the conditions of work in the armed forces. There was no attempt to influence unduly the individual officer's dental technique, but some standardisation was necessary in the matter of providing stock and equipment sufficient for all purposes everywhere in the Corps. Every officer was expected to be thoroughly conversant with the contents of the book, to keep it up-to-date with any amendments, to produce it on the demand of an inspecting officer and to keep it with him always as his ‘Standing Orders’. The first copies were distributed in 1941 but became so full of amendments that a revised edition was published in 1943 after the Corps organisation had become more stable.

It is extremely difficult in wartime to find time to train dental officers without interfering with their primary function, which is treatment of the troops. This is an added argument in favour of having a trained nucleus in peacetime ready to occupy key appointments on mobilisation for war. For example, it would be useless and dangerous to detach a sub-section from a mobile dental section in charge of a dental officer with no knowledge of map-reading, in a part of the country where all road signs had been removed. Serious attempts were made by the DDS to give each officer as much general training as possible by arranging with the staff officers at the mobilisation camps to give them drill and instruction whenever they could be spared from their dental duties, but these occasions were infrequent.

In 1941 an opportunity occurred to give the Corps some practical experience in the field. During April, May and June, field force exercises were held in each of the three military districts. According to the General Staff memorandum of 24 February, the objects of these exercises were:


To exercise commanders, staffs and leaders in functions of command and duties in the field.


To practise all ranks in field exercises in co-operation with other units, arms and services.

The NZDC took part in these exercises with both these objects as well as a third, which was to provide urgent treatment to the troops in the field. The exercises occupied fourteen days and, in each district, the number of troops involved was in the vicinity of 6000, nearly all belonging to the Territorial Force and therefore not dentally fit.

The Principal Dental Officer of each camp dental hospital group was appointed ADDS for the respective field force. Although NZDC war establishments were taken as a basis, he had to make his own appreciation after conferring with the General Staff of the field page 93 force, taking into consideration the composition of the force, the operations planned and the details of the terrain. He had to make all arrangements to provide dental service to the ‘Enemy’ and the ‘Home’ forces, and on the completion of the exercise forward a report to the DDS with recommendations and lessons learned. The exercise to be of any value to the dental officers had to be organised on a skeletal divisional scale, which made the object of providing treatment easy of achievement, but the deployment of dental forces had, to a certain extent, to rely on a conception of larger manoeuvres than actually took place. If this had not been the case there would have been little reason to move the sections or sub-sections, and the value of the exercise would have been lost. For this reason also, there was a certain amount of criticism of dental forces being farther forward than was considered wise, and this was undoubtedly true, but the front was so shallow that in actual warfare the base would have been as far forward as the dental sections would have gone and there would have been no exercise for the NZDC. As it was, by the use of imagination, the organisation had a practice run and the officers had an opportunity to learn something about movement in the field and co-operation with other units.