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Base Wallahs: Story of the units of the base organisation, NZEF IP

I — Fiji — (October 1940 - June 1942)

I
Fiji
(October 1940 - June 1942)

The origin of the Third NZ Division was the 8th Brigade Group or B Force, as it came to be known. This force left New-Zealand for service in Fiji during October and November 1940, and with it were two officers and eight other ranks of the NZ Dental Corps. Two dental sections had been formed. The first under Captain H. a'C. FitzGerald arrived in Fiji on 1 November and it is recorded in its war diary that it spent the first six weeks at the Suva Girls' Grammar School! Subsequent entries in the diary indicate, however, that this was not for the purpose of its education, for apparently the school had been evacuated by its former occupants and transformed into a temporary military hospital. The second section, under Captain R. N. Cox, arrived in Fiji three weeks later and became established at Namaka on the western side of the island, where a military camp was being formed.

In December the first section moved to temporary quarters in the main military camp at Samambula, in the vicinity of Suva. By the end of January both sections had moved into permanent dental huts, which had been constructed for them at Samambula and Namaka respectively, However, the defence scheme of Fiji necessitated these sections being potentially mobile so that they could operate in the field in the event of engagements with an enemy landing force. Thus they soon became experienced in page 114converting themselves at short notice from fully equipped static sections to field dental sections with a minimum of equipment. They actually operated in this way on many occasions in order to carry out routine dental treatment for units holding garrison positions in those parts of the island remote from the-two main camps. In accordance with the general arrangements for the relief, after six months, of the majority of the New Zealand forces in Fiji, these two dental sections returned to New Zealand in May and July 1941 and were simultaneously replaced by two more.

It was with the entry of Japan into the war in December 1941 that it became obvious that the original 8th Brigade Group in Fiji was destined to grow into a division. With the reinforcements that arrived from New Zealand in January 1942 was included a much larger contingent of the New Zealand Dental Corps than had accompanied the original force. Major H. a'C. FitzGerald returned as assistant director of dental services to the NZ Forces in Fiji, and with him five officers and 13 other ranks of the New Zealand Dental Corps.

The dental services were now organised into three main groups—one for the divisional headquarters area, one for the eastern area occupied by the Sth Brigade and one for the western area occupied by the 14th Brigade. These two latter groups were based in the now enlarged dental huts at Samambula and Namaka respectively, and from them, as required, field dental sections were detached for duty with individual units in the field. These field dental sections did excellent work under all kinds of conditions. They moved individually from one battalion to another wherever the battalions were stationed throughout the defence areas of Fiji. The personnel of these sections became experts at improvisation. The idea of adapting the standard IP tent by raising its height and building up the sides with bamboo thatch gave extra head room and ventilation, making the tent more suitable as a field dental surgery under the prevailing conditions. The dental services also provided for the native troops of the Fiji Defence Force. Many of these Fijian soldiers received the first dental treatment they had ever had, and their gratitude was evident. On one occasion a native from an outlying Fijian commando unit arrived at a field dental section for the extraction of an abscessed tooth, having walked 28 miles in bare feet and bringing with him a note from the vunewai (native medical prac-page 115titioner). Dental treatment was also carried out for the RNZAF units, and the New Zealand Naval Forces in Fiji, One field dental section actually put to sea and carried on its work aboard one of the small naval vessels operating around the coast.

In July 1942 the main body of the Pacific section of the NZEF returned to New Zealand, bringing to a close the Fijian prelude to the activities of the Third Division, by which name this force was already officially designated. All New Zealand Dental Corps personnel, together with stores and equipment, returned to New Zealand at this time, with the exception of two field dental sections which remained to provide for those elements of the New Zealand forces to be retained in Fiji, and for the Fiji Defence Force.