The New Zealand Dental Services
It was important that the organisation should be capable of expanding as the force grew, that it should not be too rigid and should be able to be conveniently serviced for supplies and designed to meet either static or mobile conditions. The nucleus can be divided into three parts:
Headquarters and Advanced Base Dental Store
This was administrative headquarters of the ADDS. He had as staff a warrant officer second class, a staff quartermaster-sergeant, two clerk orderlies, one a staff-sergeant and one who could be a corporal, a storeman packer, batman and an Army Service Corps driver to look after the 15-cwt covered truck. There was no mention in the establishment of a car for the ADDS, who presumably would draw one from the general pool, but a bicycle was provided.
Base Dental Hospital and NZDC Reinforcement Depot
As its name implies, this was a hospital capable of treating troop concentrations and of absorbing reinforcements to the Corps, either for its own use or for posting elsewhere. The original establishment was for a major in command with three captains or lieutenants; one sergeant as clerk; six orderlies, of whom one was a staff-sergeant, one a sergeant and one a corporal; four mechanics, of whom one was a staff-sergeant page break page 313 and one a sergeant; and one batman—a total staff of sixteen. Equipment was in the usual panniers, surgical, prosthetic and stores. There were four each of these and four emergency haversacks. Two Indian pattern tents provided operating and prosthetic accommodation and there was a bicycle for transport.
No. 10 Mobile Dental Section
This was capable of providing a headquarters section and six or possibly seven self-contained sub-sections for attachment to the headquarters of any unit not actually engaged in the battle area. A sub-section could be either complete with mechanic or could be used as a purely surgical unit, sending prosthetic work by motor-cycle transport to the nearest field prosthetic laboratory.
The commanding officer was a major, who had with him seven captains or lieutenants. There was a warrant officer second class as staff quartermaster-sergeant; ten orderlies, of whom one was a staff-sergeant, four sergeants and two corporals; eight mechanics, of whom one was a staff-sergeant, three sergeants and one corporal; two motor-cycle orderlies, a cook and two batmen. There were in addition fourteen ASC drivers, of whom one was a sergeant, with permission to have a corporal, lancecorporal and a driver-mechanic.
Transport consisted of one heavy car, two 30-cwt four-wheeled dual-rear covered trucks with portable laboratory fittings, eight similar vehicles without the fittings, two motorcycles and a 15-cwt water truck. They were equipped as for the Base Hospital but with enough panniers to equip each sub-section and the headquarters section. Specialists in maxillofacial injury work were included for attachment to a general hospital or other medical unit if required.
It was probable that on occasions this mobile section would be attached to large formations such as a brigade, far from the ADDS and his headquarters. On these occasions its commanding officer would assume a similar relationship to the Brigade Commander as that of the ADDS to the GOC and would not communicate direct with the ADDS except on technical matters.
There was an opportunity to test this organisation in New Zealand while the Division was training in the Waikato area for three or four months. The dental units were brought up to strength and outfitted for overseas service, ordnance and technical equipment were assembled and checked and they moved with the Division from Papakura Camp to the Waikato district. From then on they were part of 2 NZEF (IP)page 314
The force was bound for New Caledonia and all dental units embarked within a month of each other, the final and largest draft leaving New Zealand on 29 December 1942. They arrived in Nouméa harbour on New Year's Eve in a tropical mid-summer and encountered what turned out to be the beginning of a late wet season. One of the dental officers with this draft wrote:
We disembarked on New Year's Day and in a fifteen mile trip by motor transport to the staging camp at Dumbea, received our first impression of the island of New Caledonia. Predominant impressions were of intense heat, clouds of dust and almost barren hills, the only relief to the landscape being the ubiquitous Niaouli tree, which, with its characteristic outline and foliage, was to become a familiar sight during the following months. After remaining a few days at the staging camp, we travelled some ninety miles by motor transport to Bourail where Base Headquarters NZEF, IP had been established. Bourail is a small township of some five hundred very mixed inhabitants, French, Javanese, Tonkinese, Kanakas and the results of their interbreeding.
The ADDS had arrived three weeks before this and had set up headquarters and the store in a wing of L'EÁcole Communale, which was eminently satisfactory after the rooms had been cleaned, a certain amount of calcimining done and repairs carried out by the unit. Benches and bins, mostly of the large pigeonhole variety, were built out of old timber and cases.
There was a hitch in the arrival of the equipment from New Zealand. The Base Dental Stores arrived with the last draft but the unit equipment, classed as priority B, was left behind and did not arrive until 3 February. This was a serious setback. Four subsections of the Mobile Dental Section had arrived earlier with their own technical equipment but, with the dispersal of troops already evident, this was not much. In desperation, the ADDS decided to carry out the examination of base and divisional troops with emergency haversacks. The Base Dental Hospital, useless as such without equipment, was split up into sections to carry out the examinations. When the equipment arrived, they continued as separate sections, but doing full treatment, until a hospital was established at Base Reception Depot in Tene Valley, some five miles from Bourail.
The valley was surrounded by hills heavily wooded with niaouli trees and had a good stream for water supply and bathing. The first hospital was of tents sited along the top of a ridge within easy distance of the Base Training Depot, but later, when prefabricated tropical huts became available, a well appointed hospital was built on the same site. This was to treat all troops in the base area and, on the arrival of reinforcements from New Zealand, to examine and treat them before they were posted to divisional units. The treatment of the divisional troops, which were scattered the length page 315 page 316 and breadth of the island, was the responsibility of the Mobile Dental Section, working as a self-contained unit, its commanding officer being responsible to the ADDS.
Throughout the force there was a general shortage of transport and, although the Mobile Dental Section began operating with all its authorised transport, this happy state of affairs did not last long. The first to be commandeered, ‘For use where the need is more urgent’ as the GOC put it, were the eight trucks without the portable laboratory fittings. Still the work went on and transport for all essential moves was provided from the general pool. Subsections were attached to various units under the direction of the OC Mobile Dental Section. They were quartered and rationed by that unit and moved on only when all had been made dentally fit. With these units often hundreds of miles apart in New Caledonia, and later on four different islands in the Solomons, the Mobile Dental Section fully justified its name. Whenever it was attached more or less intact to Divisional Headquarters or to a brigade, it grouped itself into a miniature camp of its own. The layouts, as at Moindah, Bouloupari and later at Guadalcanal, were similar and a credit to the commanding officer, Major A. I. McCowan.1 The fivechair surgery, constructed from standard equipment and the natural resources of the country, showed considerable ingenuity in design, as also did the use of the valises in which the tents were carried and the standard waterproof sheets to make a cookhouse. In New Caledonia one discomfort for operator and patient came from hordes of rapacious mosquitoes, against whom the Medical Corps waged incessant war.