The New Zealand Dental Services
When the Second Echelon left New Zealand the dental personnel were chosen with the understanding that they would join those already in the Middle East so the question of seniority was not page 147 seriously considered beyond the appointment of an officer in charge for the voyage. Seven dental officers were included in the contingent and, according to the policy of the DDS, were given definite allocations, one to a general hospital, one to 5 Field Ambulance, one to the Convalescent Depot and four to the Base Depot. Of these seven officers, only two had had any Territorial experience with the Dental Corps, one of these being on the active list and one on the retired list at the time of enlistment. Without questioning their ability as dental surgeons, it was obvious to both the DDS and the ADDS that they were inexperienced as officers and were not sufficiently qualified to organise the dental services with the contingent. The ADDS was unable to leave Egypt and the DDS was prevented, first by lack of accommodation and then by changes in plans, from sending a senior officer to take over the command.
The ADDS nominated the senior officer, Lieutenant J. R. H. Hefford, to act as his deputy and to be responsible to him through the ADMS for all arrangements. He sent by the hand of the ADMS full details of the organisation of the dental services with 2 NZEF, ‘Instructions to Dental Officers’, memoranda on policy and equipment, and suggestions calculated to produce an organisation as near to his own as possible. It was a critical decision as his new-born organisation was as yet untested and needed careful guidance to reach maturity. To entrust the tiller to the hand of the tyro conjured up visions of shipwreck with difficult and tedious salvage. His apprehension is clearly shown by an entry in the war diary of 24 May 1940:
Nominated the senior officer to act as my deputy and to be responsible through the ADMS to me for all arrangements. Have indicated that his responsibilities should be limited and that in so far as they are relevant ‘Instructions to Dental Officers 2 NZEF’ must be strictly adhered to.
His apprehension was well founded, as will be seen when the account of the dental service with the contingent is given later. At the time nothing could be done about it.