The New Zealand Dental Services
Dental Arrangements on H.M. Transports, 1st Echelon, 2 NZEF by Captain J. F. Fuller, A.D.D.S
Dental Arrangements on H.M. Transports, 1st Echelon, 2 NZEF by Captain J. F. Fuller, A.D.D.S.
The dental emergency haversacks in themselves were excellent and satisfied all demands for the purposes for which they were issued, i.e., dental treatment of an emergency nature. It is felt, however, that for a voyage of practically six weeks duration there should be facilities available for treatment of a more comprehensive and permanent nature. The main dental problem on all transports is that of broken dentures; tiled bathroom floors and similar conditions increase the number of broken dentures and with a force in which 50% of all ranks are wearing artificial dentures, the percentage of denture casualties must inevitably be high. It is considered then that in a voyage such as this, equipment should be carried sufficient to enable repairs to dentures to be carried out.
Again, there were patients presenting with toothache where extraction was the only treatment for the reason that facilities were not available to enable old amalgam fillings to be removed and a dressing inserted. In the absence of more detailed equipment there should at least be foot engines and necessary other items on transports to enable these cases to be dealt with satisfactorily.
In instances where soldiers present for treatment and will require further treatment on arrival at the overseas destination it is essential that dental officers note details of work required and number, rank, name and unit of patient. From these lists it is possible to organise a satisfactory system of calling up patients. Urgency should also be noted.
As a guide to the future the recommendations of the ADDS were of value, but with the equipment position as it was in New Zealand at that time, vulcanisers for denture repairs and foot engines were in the shortest supply. At this time nearly all dentures were made of vulcanite.
The work done on the four transports carrying dental officers was:
|Denture cases (easing or repairs or remodels required)||146|
Perversely, the largest number of dental casualties was on the two ships not carrying dental officers.
The convoy stopped at Fremantle and Colombo and arrived at Port Tewfik on 12 February 1940.
There were two camps under construction near Cairo. One was at Maadi and the other some distance away at Helwan. The ADDS arrived at Maadi on 12 February, full of enthusiasm and anxious to begin work. He was sadly disillusioned. The dental equipment ordered from the United Kingdom by Army Headquarters in Wellington, which should have been there before him, had not arrived. There was no information as to what plans had been made to provide equipment for the future, except the verbal assurance page 133 from the DDS that everything had been arranged. No provision had been made for a camp dental hospital and there was no reference to one in the finalised plan for Maadi Camp, nor for Helwan. Neither site nor accommodation had been selected for the Dental Corps, whose existence might well have been overlooked except for an ever-growing queue of men with broken dentures.
One of Captain Fuller's first calls was on Lieutenant-Colonel O'Connor, ADDS of the British Troops in Egypt (BTE), and in this he was fortunate. Colonel O'Connor lent him two complete field dental outfits and one prosthetic one, withdrawing them from his own units for the purpose.
The accommodation question was not so easily settled. On discussing the matter with the British DCRE (Deputy Commander Royal Engineers) he was told that after submitting a plan for a hospital it would be about two months before the building would be ready for occupation as the application would be at the bottom of the list of priorities. He then tried the New Zealand CRE (Commander Royal Engineers), whom he had met on the voyage, apparently approaching him at a propitious moment for it was arranged that his sappers, as an exercise, would erect the building immediately, provided timber could be supplied. With Colonel O'Connor's assistance a plan was drawn, based on a simple standard living hut, timber was forthcoming, and the ADMS (Assistant Director of Medical Services) gave his approval for camp dental hospitals to be built at Maadi and Helwan camps. Both these camps were spread over a wide area, so the dental hospitals were sited as centrally as possible in each camp. Meanwhile, urgent casualties were being treated by the dental sections attached to 4 Field Ambulance, using private equipment.
Captain E. B. Reilly, attached to New Zealand Base Depot.
Lieutenant W. McD. Ford, attached to 4 Field Ambulance.
This rigidity of allocation was in line with past policy, when it was usual for dental sections to be attached only to medical units. It was at variance with the ADDS's conception of the organisation, which was one of fluidity of movement throughout the whole force. It should be explained here that, although the ADDS was appointed on the advice of the DDS and was dependent on him for his page 134 reinforcements, he was not answerable direct to him for the conduct of his organisation. He was answerable to the General Officer Commanding the Force, who himself was responsible only to the New Zealand Government and not to Army Headquarters in Wellington.
It is possible that if the equipment had arrived on schedule from the United Kingdom, the ADDS would have been hesitant to alter the allocation of his dental officers quite so early as such a move was inviting criticism, not only from the DDS but from the ADMS, who also held conservative views. The decision, however, was forced on him as he had three officers but only one prosthetic and two surgical outfits, with patients clamouring for treatment, especially with broken and uncomfortable dentures. The obvious course was to concentrate his forces where the greatest amount of work could be done with the least interference with training programmes. The troops were concentrated in Maadi Camp under conditions similar to that in mobilisation camps in New Zealand.
He therefore set up a temporary camp dental hospital in the general Base Depot area consisting of two marquees, one surgical and one prosthetic. The two dental sections were withdrawn from 4 Field Ambulance and transferred to the Base Depot, allowing each officer to concentrate on a particular branch of his profession as well as to train his men in general and specialist duties.
This decision can be regarded as the birth of the new organisation, slightly premature by force of circumstances and consequently to be carefully nurtured. The DDS had to be told of the change so that reinforcements would feed, not poison, the infant. Official channels of communication were too slow so Captain Fuller, with the sanction of the ADMS, wrote unofficially by airmail asking that all officers in future reinforcements be sent without rigid allocation, ‘so that I can concentrate them without any movement difficulties according to units and work presenting in the respective camps.’ With the establishment of a service capable of satisfying all immediate demands of the force, there was time to examine the general position in more detail.
Accommodation had already been arranged in the shape of two camp dental hospitals, each capable of providing nine chairs. Short of supervision of the construction, which actually proved to be very necessary, this problem could be temporarily forgotten. The chief worry was over equipment. It was intended to draw supplies from England on the lines of those used by the Royal Army Dental Corps. Supplies from New Zealand were uncertain in selection and amount as the DDS was hard pressed even to provide enough for the Corps at home. The whole situation was extremely confused by lack of page 135 information as to how much had been ordered, what it consisted of, when it would arrive and what would be available in the future. Cables and letters sped to New Zealand in an attempt to find a basis for negotiation. The British panniers on loan were scrutinised with a critical eye. Medical stores were investigated and found to hold only small stocks of dental equipment, insufficient to fill panniers. The DDS was sympathetic and said he would make a move to obtain more if definite requirements could be stated. At this stage this was impossible. He also said that medical equipment for either one or two general hospitals, three field ambulances and a convalescent hospital had been ordered, and that dental equipment might be included in this, but he was not sure. Local sources of supply were meagre and required special authority from the GOC to purchase, such authority being sparingly given. There was, in fact, a general confusion, not made easier of solution by the vagueness of the ADDS's appointment, necessitating tortuous channels of communication. The best results seem to have been obtained by short-circuiting these channels, achieving the objective and apologising afterwards.
Already it was becoming apparent that the final solution to the problem was going to be a pooling of equipment from all sources and a re-issue on standard lines to an original and new design. Before reaching the smooth waters of standardisation, however, many tributaries had to be explored, all of which added their quota of interest and played their part in the simplification of a bewildering problem. Comment made at the time, when the mind was unbiassed by a knowledge of the solution, gives the only true picture and is reproduced for that reason, shorn only of tedious repetition and occasional picturesque phrases incompatible with an official history.