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Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific

IV: Ancillary Services

IV: Ancillary Services

Dental Services

Prior to the war one dental officer, Royal Navy, was borne for duty afloat in the New Zealand Squadron, the services of civilian dentists being employed extensively in New Zealand ports.

This was in conformity with the existing policy in the Royal Navy, where dental officers were carried afloat only in capital ships, aircraft carriers, and one ship of each cruiser squadron. Such provision was reasonably adequate as long as a high dental standard could be maintained on enlistment, but it had become evident before the war that lower standards would have to be accepted in New Zealand if the rapid war expansion of the Navy was to be considered.

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The Royal Australian Navy, faced with similar dental conditions, had already before the war increased its dental service to allow one dental officer to each cruiser.

It has been mentioned earlier that the immediate requirements of mobilisation were met by utilising a panel of civilian dentists, while the solitary naval dental officer was brought ashore and fully occupied in the naval base.

A serious problem soon arose in the two cruisers, employed on detached duty far from their normal base and dependent on casual dental attention in such ports as they might visit for fuel. As such visits were of short duration, only the more urgent cases could be attended to, and there was a complete lack of continuity of treatment. A report from the Leander after ten months' detached service showed that although 336 cases had been dealt with in this manner, the work was piling up and routine examinations were out of the question.

Accordingly, early in 1941, Colonel Finn,1 Director of Dental Services for all the armed forces, arranged the secondment of sufficient personnel from the Army Dental Service to permit the appointment of a dental officer and a dental mechanic to each cruiser, and in addition to provide staff for all the larger shore establishments.

Persistent efforts by the medical and dental departments were necessary before this service could be established at sea. In some ships, where accommodation was already very limited and where space was being further encroached upon by radar and other new equipment, the necessity to accommodate a dental staff was at first viewed with some disfavour, but all such opposition quickly faded when the great value of the service became apparent.

This service provided by the Army Dental Department proved thoroughly successful throughout the remainder of the war. Not only did it provide for the needs of New Zealand naval personnel, but it rendered extensive service to ships of the British Pacific Fleet. One feature in particular which excited the envy and admiration of the Royal Navy was the provision afloat of competent mechanics and equipment for prosthetic work.

Some of the dental officers were, however, not entirely happy with the dual control resulting from this system of secondment and would have preferred a separate naval dental service as in the Royal Navy, and it seemed very doubtful whether the arrangement which met the emergency requirements of the war could continue as successfully for permanent service in peacetime.

1 Col B. S. Finn, CBE, DSO, ED, m.i.d.; born Invercargill, 17 Oct 1880; dental surgeon; trooper, South African War, 1900–02; NZ Dental Corps, 1914–18 (Major, ADDS); DDS, Army HQ, 1934–49; died 23 Aug 1952.

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Nursing Service

Prior to 1941, no necessity had arisen for the employment of female nurses in the Royal New Zealand Navy. In that year, however, the completion of the new Sick Quarters at Devonport enabled the Navy to provide much more extensive treatment for its patients and provided the opportunity of establishing a training centre for male sick-berth ratings. Furthermore, as the new Sick Quarters was to be victualled as an independent establishment with female domestic and galley staff, it was obvious that the control and management of these services should be undertaken by trained women.

Initially, there was no particular necessity for the nursing staff to be members of a uniformed service. They served in a civilian capacity in the same way as many others of the Dockyard staff, seconded from the Health Department, whose Director of Nursing provided reliefs for leave periods, but they were accorded the status of officers in relation to patients and the remainder of the staff.

A new situation arose at the end of 1942 with the creation of the Women's Royal New Zealand Naval Service, whose officers and ratings were to undertake many duties in shore establishments hitherto performed by men. The existence of this uniformed body of women rendered it desirable to establish even more definitely the status and authority of the nursing sisters, and as a separate service was out of the question for a total of three, arrangements were made with the Army Medical Department to enrol them in the New Zealand Army Nursing Service and second them back to the Navy for duty. Two of the original nursing sisters accepted this arrangement and served continuously throughout the war, while the third appointment was filled in succession by other members of the NZANS on secondment.

Comprising two ward sisters, including a charge sister, for ward management and sick-berth instruction, and a sister-housekeeper for the victualling and domestic side, this small staff was of inestimable value to the naval medical service. Not only did they establish a new and improved standard in the nursing care of naval invalids, but they trained and supervised the work of successive drafts of male sick-berth ratings for sea service. From 1941 every sick-berth rating of the RNZN served in Sick Quarters, Devonport, under these sisters during his initial training and at subsequent stages of his career. Before promotion to higher rating they were examined in nursing technique by the sisters, and the high standard shown by so many of them in their work at sea and ashore is due to a great extent to the influence and example of the nursing service. Particular page 181 mention should be made of Miss McDonald,1 one of the original staff, who served as Charge Sister until the end of the war, later proceeding to Japan on promotion as Matron of 6 NZ General Hospital.

Women's Royal New Zealand Naval Service – Sick-berth Branch

With the inception of the Women's Royal New Zealand Naval Service in 1942, large numbers of young women took up naval duties in shore establishments throughout New Zealand, particularly at Auckland, Wellington, Lyttelton and Waiouru. Some continued to reside in their own homes but the majority were housed in special barracks or hostels at their place of duty. Minor illnesses were treated in the sick bays of their quarters by naval medical officers, while serious cases were transferred to civil hospitals.

As naval nursing sisters did not exist outside of Auckland, necessary provision for female assistance in the examination and care of WRNZNS personnel was effected by instituting a sick-berth branch of the organisation, similar in all respects to the male sick-berth branch of the Navy. Selection was made from applicants possessing home nursing, first-aid or voluntary aid training, and after a special course of instruction in Sick Quarters, Devonport, they were drafted as Wren SBAs for general sick-berth duties, but in particular for the care of members of their own organisation.

As far as is known, the creation of a sick-berth branch as an integral part of the WRNZNS was a feature peculiar to the New Zealand Navy. It had been noted in the United Kingdom that undesirable anomalies existed when voluntary aid personnel, still belonging to their parent bodies, served in naval establishments under conditions materially different from either the Naval Nursing Service or the Wrens. Other categories of WRNZNS personnel were to be employed in medical establishments in positions of equal or even greater responsibility, and there appeared to be no good reason why those employed on sick-berth duties should be given any different status except that which would normally accompany any promotion to higher rating which they might earn from experience and ability.

The arrangement proved most satisfactory. As members of the WRNZNS, these female sick-berth ratings conformed to the regulations and discipline of the common organisation, while their professional duties were under the direction of the medical or nursing staff, and their work in the various shore establishments earned high praise from the medical officers with whom they served.

1 Matron Miss C. McDonald, ARRC; Tapanui; born Invercargill, 21 Aug 1911; nurse; Matron 6 Gen Hosp (Japan) Jun 1946–Sep 1948.

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