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The New Zealand Dental Services

CHAPTER 29 — The Royal New Zealand Air Force—No. 1 (Islands) Group

page 350

The Royal New Zealand Air Force—No. 1 (Islands) Group

LATE in September 1942 No. 3 General Reconnaissance Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force left Whenuapai for the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Group. From this modest beginning grew an organisation with bases from the Bismarck Archipelago, through the Solomon Islands and New Hebrides, to Fiji and Tonga.

Espiritu Santo at this time was being developed as a United States naval base, a cruiser task force, which included HMNZS Leander, being based there. The battle of Guadalcanal was over but there still remained the threat from the Japanese Navy and Air Force, and this base, with one on the island of Efate, farther south, formed important links in the chain of defence of the South Pacific. The headquarters of the United States Service Command, the 13th United States Air Force, the 1st Marine Wing and the Air Command of the South Pacific were located there, as were two United States Navy Mobile Hospitals, a United States Evacuation Hospital and, later, Station and Army General Hospitals.

The New Zealand Dental Corps was not concerned with the first five months that the New Zealand squadron was on the island as urgent dental treatment was provided by the dental hospital at the 25th United States Army Evacuation Hospital, under Major Marks as Senior Dental Officer. This state of affairs could not continue indefinitely and a dental section under the command of Captain D. T. Allan1 was flown from Whenuapai, arriving at Espiritu Santo on 15 February 1943.

No. 3 GR Squadron had established headquarters at Espiritu Santo and carried out the main servicing of aircraft there, although Guadalcanal was the operational base. Group Captain S. Wallingford,2 shortly to take over the command of the RNZAF in the Pacific, was already on the island as liaison officer with COMAIRSOPAC.3 page 351 Early in February No. 4 Repair Depot arrived but for some months was unable to work as a unit because of the delay in the arrival of heavy machinery and prefabricated hangars. The Dental Section found itself in a similar plight, as the equipment, which left New Zealand the day before it, did not arrive until the end of May. Had it not been for the emergency haversack and the good offices of the United States Dental Service, even urgent dental treatment could not have been provided. The United States transport Louis McLean, with the equipment aboard, had put in to Nouméa in New Caledonia to await further cargo before going on to Espiritu Santo. Requests that the dental equipment be taken off and sent by other transport were answered by the information that it was under 2000 tons of cargo and could not be reached. As this cargo was not unloaded for so long it must have been classified as of low priority and, as such, should not have included the dental equipment. If no faster transport was available it was a waste of trained personnel to send the section overseas when there was ample work to be done in New Zealand. As it was, from the date of arrival, 15 February 1943, to 20 March when it was possible to start building the dental hospital, Captain Allan was employed as Squadron Gas Officer and Assistant Cipher Officer, while the other ranks were used for camp duties. It seems incredible that when it was found that delay in the delivery of the equipment was inevitable, some further equipment was not sent by air freight to enable the section to function.

The original camp for the squadron was poorly situated in the jungle which, in the wet season, made conditions trying but possessed the advantage of providing natural camouflage. Later, the permanent RNZAF camp was established in a nearby coconut plantation, where everybody was accommodated in prefabricated huts.

The construction of the dental hospital was begun on 20 March 1943 by the men of the dental section under the supervision of the RNZAF Works Unit. It was a building 40 feet long by 16 feet wide by 8 feet high, having a surgery for two chairs at one end and a workroom at the other, with an orderly room between them. The entrance was into the orderly room by way of a porch, in which was a basin for oral prophylaxis. The windows were made of gauze.

After commending the efforts of the men of his section as amateur carpenters, Captain Allan wrote as follows to the DDS:

The only building supplies available at the camp were the walls of the building. It is safe to say that every other camp on the island was solicited for building supplies such as nails, timber, netting, taps, pipes, light fittings etc. For instance, the surface of the plaster bench was covered with aluminium salvaged from the petrol tank of a crashed ‘Flying Fortress’.

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The hospital was completed on 17 April 1943, two days before the arrival of No. 9 General Reconnaissance Squadron with its own dental section, whose equipment made it possible for treatment to start.

1 Maj D. T. Allan; Wanganui; born Dunedin, 7 Jan 1910; dental surgeon; Group Dental Officer, No. 1 (Islands) Group, RNZAF, 1943–44.

2 Air Cdre S. Wallingford, CB, CBE, Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Hythe, England, 12 Jul 1898; AOC No. 1 (Islands) Group, 1943–44; Air Member for Supply 1944–46; Air Member for Personnel 1948–52; retd 1953.

3 The Air Command of the South Pacific.

No. 1 (Islands) Group, RNZAF

The arrival of 9 Squadron heralded the reorganisation of the RNZAF in the Pacific and the formation of the No. 1 (Islands) Group under the command of Group Captain Wallingford. The disposition of squadrons under this organisation was to be:


At Espiritu Santo.


Headquarters No. 1 (Islands) Group.


One General Reconnaissance Squadron.


One Fighter Squadron engaged mainly in training but also providing night-fighter patrols at Espiritu Santo.


No. 4 Repair Depot.


At Suva, Fiji.

Headquarters RNZAF, Fiji, under the direction of the Islands Group.


At Lauthala Bay, Fiji.

One Flying Boat Squadron and one Flying Boat Training Flight.


At Nausori, Fiji.

One General Reconnaissance Squadron with a detached flight at Tonga.


At Guadalcanal.


One General Reconnaissance Squadron.


One Fighter Squadron.


In New Zealand.

One Fighter Squadron and one General Reconnaissance Squadron in training to relieve the respective squadrons on completion of their tour of duty.

Later reorganisation saw the disappearance of the squadron establishments of ground crew and the institution of fighter and bomber maintenance units. In turn, this led to the establishment of RNZAF stations made up of one or more squadrons together with the necessary servicing units, medical, dental, accounts, equipment and administration sections.

Air Mobile Dental Section

At the time of the formation of the No. 1 (Islands) Group, RNZAF, the dental services to the Air Force in the Pacific, with page 353 the exception of those at Fiji and Tonga, consisted of three sections. One, as already mentioned, was at Espiritu Santo with 3 General Reconnaissance Squadron. One was with 9 General Reconnaissance Squadron and one with No. 15. With the reorganisation of the RNZAF in the Pacific the three squadrons and 4 Repair Depot were amalgamated under one command. No. 9 Squadron arrived at Espiritu Santo on 19 April 1943 and No. 15 at Guadalcanal on 31 May. The Repair Depot was already on Espiritu Santo.

It therefore became apparent that the dental services should be reorganised and on 19 April 1943 Captain Allan made a recommendation to the Director of Dental Services that this should be on a Group basis. At the same time, Group Captain Wallingford asked Captain Allan to assume the duties of Group Dental Officer until matters could be finalised and the new establishment authorised.

Early in May 1943 the Director of Dental Services visited Fiji, Espiritu Santo and Guadalcanal and, as a result of his visit, decided to confirm the arrangements already made until a more permanent organisation, capable of expansion with the rapidly growing Air Force in the Pacific, could be set up. After a short visit by Captain Allan to Colonel Finn in Wellington in late July, an Air Mobile Dental Section was officially formed on 4 August 1943. Captain Allan was given the temporary rank of major and confirmed in his appointment as Group Dental Officer, responsible through Group Headquarters for the dental health of all Group personnel except those in Fiji and Tonga. He was also Officer Commanding the Mobile Dental Section and adviser to the Air Officer Commanding on dental subjects. His position was similar to that of the ADDS of 2 NZEF (IP) as described in a previous chapter.

The Air Force in Fiji had its own dental service which had been working satisfactorily since 1942, and the detached flight in Tonga was included in this service. In the original memorandum of August 1943 it was the intention of the DDS to add this service to the command of the Group Dental Officer, but written corrections added to the typewritten script make it clear that he changed his mind and decided to retain the Fiji dental services under his own control. Possibly he was influenced by the fact that in Fiji the dental service to the Air Force was so intimately bound up with those to the Army and the Navy that he feared a change in command might upset the delicate balance between the services. Fiji and Tonga, therefore, although included in the No. 1 (Islands) Group under the command of Group Captain Wallingford, were excluded from the dental services under his Group Dental Officer.

When the Air Mobile Dental Section was first formed it was divided into two:

page 354

A headquarters section consisting of two officers and eight other ranks.


No. 1 Sub-section consisting of one officer and three other ranks.

Actually this organisation was a change in name only as already Major Allan and Captain J. Hawksworth1 were on Espiritu Santo and a section under Captain H. W. Washbourn2 was operating on Guadalcanal. It did, however, give facilities for expansion within the framework of a Mobile Dental Section by the addition of subsections. Actually, until May, only one sub-section was added, but it was reasonably certain that the Air Force was going to expand and disperse and the dental organisation was ready to meet this.

All reinforcements and replacements for the Corps were sent direct to Group Headquarters in the first place. Postings for duty were then made by the Group Dental Officer. The tour of duty within the Group area for dental officers and other ranks was to be a minimum of twelve months, with the exception of the Group Dental Officer where a maximum of two years was recommended. The reason given for the longer tour of duty for the Group Dental Officer was that it was considered better to interfere as little as possible with the official relationship with the Americans, especially regarding stores.

Despite this arrangement, however, Major Allan handed over his command to Major W. M. Cunningham3 on 15 March 1944 and returned to New Zealand. His report on the activities of the Air Mobile Section, the dental condition of the men, supplies, and the health and morale of the Corps, gives a picture of the position at that time:

R.N.Z.A.F. personnel on arriving at Espiritu Santo, where the headquarters section was located, were immediately examined and, as far as possible, those going to forward areas were made ‘Dentally fit’ before leaving. The … men were more readily available for treatment at Base….

The dental condition … was, on the whole, excellent. Number 3 Squadron had been without treatment for six months before N.Z.D.C. facilities were available and on examination needed only one filling per man….

Later, when the establishment of the R.N.Z.A.F. was being increased and reinforcements and replacements were arriving frequently, a number of drafts required treatment on a scale that was higher than average. This state of affairs was soon rectified in New Zealand and then the necessity for examining drafts on arrival disappeared.

page 355

Throughout my tour of duty in the Pacific I observed that the standard of dental health was particularly high and maintenance, in my opinion, was less than that needed in New Zealand. It was anticipated that, owing to the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, there would be a relatively high incidence of gingival conditions but this was not the case. From February 43 to April 44 not one case of Vincent's Stomatitis was reported while the number of cases of simple gingivitis was very low….

The health of all ranks was excellent. During the period February to May 43 Dengue Fever was rife at Espiritu Santo…. Dysentery, sinusitis and a transitory type of Migraine were prevalent…. Malaria control units throughout all the islands were exceptionally efficient….

The morale of all N.Z.D.C. personnel was excellent and all ranks were willing and conscientious in the performance of their duties. One of the most pleasing results of my tour of duty was to note the way in which all ranks turned their hands to carpentry and constructed the dental hospitals in the areas. It is not boasting to say that all the dental hospitals were a credit to the New Zealand Dental Corps.

As at April 1944 the establishment of the Air Mobile Dental Section was as follows:


Headquarters Section at Base Depot, Espiritu Santo, consisting of two dental officers, one of whom was the Senior Dental Officer, an administrative NCO, five dental clerk orderlies and one dental mechanic.

There were approximately 1250 men stationed at the Base, representing a ratio of 625 to each officer, although the Senior Dental Officer, by reason of his administrative duties could not spend much time at the chairside. There was a monthly intake of 500 transient personnel which makes the figure 1250 an underestimate.


Sub-section 1 at Guadalcanal consisting of one dental officer, two clerk orderlies and one mechanic.

There were 1300 men to whom must be added 225 of No. 6 Flying Boat Squadron and 75 of the Royal New Zealand Navy based at Tulagi, making a total of at least 1600. At this time they only needed maintenance but it was still a large number for one dental officer.


Sub-section 2 at Bougainville was similarly staffed to that at Guadalcanal.

There were 1200 men of the RNZAF but, in addition, there was a Fiji Battalion for whom urgent treatment had to be available. Later the scope of treatment for this battalion was enlarged as described in the chapter on Fiji.

There were therefore four dental officers, or more accurately three and a half, responsible for the full treatment of 4050 men and limited treatment of over 2000 of the Fiji Military Forces, mostly natives.

1 Capt J. Hawksworth; Gisborne; born NZ 20 Dec 1908; dental surgeon.

2 Lt-Col H. W. Washbourn, OBE; Timaru; born Timaru, 8 Apr 1909; dental surgeon; ADDS (Navy, Army and Air) 1944–46.

3 Maj W. M. Cunningham; Dunedin; born Dunedin, 29 Aug 1908; dental surgeon; CO Mobile Dental Sec, No. 1 (Islands) Gp, RNZAF, 1944–45.

page 356

No. 1 RNZAF Mobile Dental Section, NZDC

Headquarters No. 1 (Islands) Group, RNZAF, drew attention to the fact that the title ‘Air Mobile Dental Section, NZDC’ was not accurate and suggested substituting ‘RNZAF’ in place of the word ‘Air’. In April 1944 it was decided to adopt this suggestion and, at the same time, to redistribute the sections and sub-sections with an increased establishment.

There was to be a Headquarters Section with five sub-sections, consisting of six officers, i.e., one major and five captains, and nineteen other ranks, of which thirteen were dental clerk orderlies and six mechanics. This gave the greatest flexibility both for distribution throughout the Group and for further expansion. There was to be an Advanced Base Dental Store attached to the Headquarters Section in a similar manner to that in the dental service attached to 3 Division.

About this time it became known that the No. 1 (Islands) Group was to move its headquarters from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal. To keep in close touch with the situation it was essential that the Senior Dental Officer move too, even though the Base Depot and some squadrons were remaining at Espiritu Santo. The proposed date of the move was 1 June 1944, so on 22 May Major Cunningham left for Guadalcanal to make arrangements for building a store and office. On arrival he found everything in a turmoil as word had been received the day before that all RNZAF units west of the 159th parallel of longitude had to be withdrawn by 15 June. This meant that all units at Bougainville, the sawmill at Arundel in New Georgia and some radar units would arrive in Guadalcanal. A large camp was to be built on the site of the Casualty Clearing Station, about ten miles from the RNZAF camp, to accommodate 1300 men and the existing camp had to expect another 600. He arranged for an office and store to be built near the existing section and for one of the wards of the Casualty Clearing Station to be fitted out to accommodate sub-sections 2 and 3. Majors McCowan and Jolly of the NZDC attached to 3 Division helped him out with benches and lathes and he returned to Espiritu Santo on 27 May to ship the panniers for the new sub-section. On arriving again in Guadalcanal, this time with his section, he found that the move out of Bougainville had been postponed for three months, when the position would be reviewed.

The RNZAF in the Pacific was steadily growing in size and complexity and it was essential that the Senior Dental Officer should know enough of the functions of its several units to place his subsections to the best advantage. The original distribution of No. 1 RNZAF Mobile Dental Section as at 1 June 1944 shows the variety page 357 of units to be serviced and emphasises the necessity for careful study in the making of appointments for dental treatment.


Headquarters Section. Attached to Headquarters at Guadalcanal.

Headquarters No. 1 (Islands) Group.

Headquarters RNZAF Station, Guadalcanal.

Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron.

Bomber Servicing Units.


No. 1 Sub-section. At Guadalcanal.

Fighter Squadron.

Fighter Servicing Unit.

Flying Boat Squadron. (At Halavo Bay, Florida.)

Royal New Zealand Navy. (At Tulagi.)

Radar Squadron.

Works Squadron.


No. 2 Sub-section. At Bougainville.

RNZAF Fighter Wing.


No. 3 Sub-section. At Bougainville.

TBF Squadron.1

TBF Servicing Unit.

SBD Squadron.2

SBD Servicing Unit.

Fiji Military Forces.


No. 4 Sub-section. At Espiritu Santo.

No. 5 Sub-section. At Espiritu Santo.

Headquarters Base Depot.

Base Depot Workshops.

Bomber Squadron.

Bomber Servicing Unit.

Transit Camp.

By the end of September 1944 it was apparent that instead of withdrawing units from forward areas to Guadalcanal, the RNZAF was about to spread its tentacles over many islands, even as far as the Admiralties. Major Cunningham's letter to Colonel Finn dated 23 September 1944, on completion of six months as Officer Commanding the Mobile Dental Section, gives a picture of the situation at the time and the problems of organisation he had to face:

The first three months were rather difficult because of the uncertainty of what would be the future role of the R.N.Z.A.F in the Pacific.

Since 1 June, when the Headquarters Section moved to Guadalcanal and the establishment was increased, the work has proceeded much more smoothly although it has been difficult to plan ahead because of the lack of a definite

1 Torpedo Bomber Fighter.

2 Scout Bomber Dive.

page 358 policy for the R.N.Z.A.F. in the Pacific. This of course was due to factors over which Air Department and No. 1 Islands Group had no control.

However, the policy for the next few months is now fairly well defined and I think it is quite evident that we will need a substantial increase in our establishment.

The total number of men in the No. 1 Islands Group will, I understand, increase to 8,000 or 8,500. When I wrote on 30 August about an increase in establishment it was thought that squadrons would be established on Emirau and Green Islands. A few days later it was decided that a squadron would also be located at Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands.

Another complication has arisen at the seaplane base at Halavo, Florida Island. In the past the squadron there has been treated each six months and casualties in the meantime have been treated by the United States Dental Officer attached to the Base. I am now told that the United States squadron will be withdrawing so we will have to visit Halavo frequently in future. As 450 men are involved they are too big a unit to leave for any length of time. Halavo is half a day by ship from Guadalcanal.

The same position will occur at Los Negros. There will be about 300 to 400 men and they will have to be visited frequently, probably by the dental officer at Emirau.

Under the new organisation there will be 700 to 800 men at both Emirau and Green islands and about 400 to 500 at Bougainville.

The number at Espiritu Santo, now 1,350, will soon be increased to 1,800 by the arrival of No. 5 Flying Boat Squadron from Fiji.

As I visualise the developments in the next few months, I think our establishment should be increased to nine or ten officers and three should be posted as soon as possible…. As the size of the section grows, more and more of my time will be taken up with administrative work and I will no longer be able to spend a full day in the clinic.

As a result of Major Cunningham's recommendations a new establishment, consisting of a Headquarters Section and ten subsections, was authorised on 14 November 1944.

Assuming the number of men in the group to be about 8500 and excluding the Senior Dental Officer, the ratio worked out at one dental officer to 850 men. This was low compared with other theatres of war and with New Zealand, but units were small and scattered, sometimes into groups of no more than 400 to 700 men long distances apart. Groups of this size could not be left without a sub-section for any length of time, so it meant that more subsections were needed than if the men had all been congregated together. They had all been treated either at an Air Force station in New Zealand or at the Port Depot before embarkation and their tour of duty in the Pacific was short. Their problem was therefore one of maintenance. The combination of these factors made the task of the dental section with the Air Force in the Pacific less arduous than that of its counterpart with the Army in the same area.

In operations such as those in which the RNZAF was engaged in the Pacific, conditions changed rapidly and the Dental Corps establishment had only been in existence for about six weeks before page 359 Major Cunningham suggested that it could safely be reduced in size. The senior and one other dental officer, the administrative NCO, one mechanic and six orderlies were due for repatriation at the beginning of March 1945 in accordance with the agreed length of service in the Pacific. With the wide distribution of units, some sub-sections were responsible for from 400 to 500 men, while in other cases two or more sub-sections would be working together in the same building. In all cases reasonable facilities such as running water, electric light and power were available. The ratio of two orderlies to each officer therefore seemed excessive. As the war moved farther north, the squadrons at Espiritu Santo and Guadalcanal were no longer needed for garrison duties so could be reduced in size and split up among the operational units. Although this meant that the stations at Bougainville, Nissan Island, Emirau and Los Negros would be increased to about 1100 men each, one dental sub-section would not find such a station beyond its capabilities. It was thought by the Senior Dental Officer that the Royal New Zealand Navy would probably withdraw from the area about April 1945, releasing a dental officer, who would then be available to accompany any squadron that moved to a new location or to reinforce a station where routine examinations were falling behind schedule. His recommendation was not approved.

On 3 May 1945 Major J. C. M. Simmers1 (promoted lieutenantcolonel on 27 May) replaced Major Cunningham and held the appointment until the end of hostilities in the Pacific.

During its existence from June 1944 to October 1945 No. 1 Mobile Dental Section, RNZAF, covered a wide field, as can be seen from the following locations:

1 Lt-Col J. C. M. Simmers; Rotorua; born 4 Dec 1905; dental surgeon.

2 Commander, New Zealand Air Task Force.

Guadalcanal: Camp Waitemata
Henderson Field
West Cape
Bougainville: Camp Waitemata
Camp Rata
Camp Hinemoa
Camp Kiwi
Florida Island: Halavo Bay
Emirau Island
Los Negros Island
Espiritu Santo
Green Islands page 360
New Britain: Jacquinot Bay
Russell Islands: HMNZS Kahu

Until the end of hostilities the dental organisation continued to be a Mobile Section with varying numbers of sub-sections. On 12 October 1945 the following cable was received from the DDS:

Authority given to cancel establishment No. 1 RNZAF Mobile Dental Section with effect from 20 October 45 and to establish three self-contained dental sections as advised.

Three self-accounting sections were formed, stocked with adequate supplies for four months and stationed at Espiritu Santo, Bougainville and Jacquinot Bay. Surplus personnel and stores were then ready to return to New Zealand. Actually these sections were not required for long and on 14 November 1945 instructions were issued for them to return to New Zealand. The stores were given an air transport priority No. 3 and arrived in Auckland in mid-February 1946.


A high standard of oral health was maintained for all men by systematic examination by units. The average airman was made ‘dentally fit’ three times during his twelve months' tour of duty: once before leaving New Zealand and twice by the Mobile Dental Section. It was very rare, therefore, to find extensive caries and few extractions were necessary. The health of the gingival tissues was good, and although there was a marked prevalence of salivary calculus, as was noted in other tropical stations, the tissues soon regained their tone when the calculus was removed. The few cases of Vincent's infection were all recent arrivals from New Zealand. Major Cunningham reported on 15 March 1945 as follows:

It is considered that the good health of the soft tissues is due in no small measure to the large quantities of citrus fruit juices and the vitamin concentrates B1 and C which the men were encouraged to take each day. All the dental officers consider that the gingival tissues are healthier here than in New Zealand and the increased amount of vitamins B1 and C must be given some of the credit.

This opinion was endorsed almost word for word by Lieutenant-Colonel Simmers in a report dated 31 July 1945.

While giving due credit to this diet, it is felt that the strongest emphasis should be placed on the necessity for constant vigilance against the mechanical irritation of salivary and seruminal calculus, the main etiological factors in periodontal disease. It is significant that in the Middle East, where the supply of citrus fruits was page 361 negligible, there were no cases of Vincent's infection. Admittedly vitamins B1 and C were available in tabloid form but there is little evidence that they were regularly taken. The Dental Corps in the Pacific can take much of the credit for the general healthy state of the gingival tissues because of its declared war against calculus in any form. This is shown by the number of scalings carried out.

From March 1944 to March 1945, 11,530 patients were treated, and of this number 2134 were scalings. From March 1945 to the end of July of that year 6641 were treated, of which 1085 were scalings—that is, about 18 per cent and 16 per cent respectively. When it is remembered that the number of denture wearers was high in the New Zealand Forces and that these men would not need this treatment, the percentage would be nearer 30.

Fillings required per man were between 0.7 and 0.9 and extractions were never above 0.06 per man. The bulk of the denture work was remodelling and repairing, although a certain number of new full and partial dentures were made. From this it can be seen that most of the work was maintenance, with oral prophylaxis demanding much of the dental officer's time. In the United Kingdom there is a scheme whereby women are given some months' training in the purely mechanical operation of tooth scaling, and after satisfying a board of examiners that they have the requisite manual dexterity, are registered as dental hygienists with the right to perform this work. During the war the dental service in the Royal Air Force used dental hygienists and it would appear that there could be a considerable saving in trained manpower if similar use were made of them in the New Zealand Dental Corps. As the law stands in New Zealand there would have to be alterations before anyone other than a fully qualified, registered dental surgeon could carry out this work. For the protection of the public it would be essential to define very clearly the exact nature of the work to be sanctioned, especially in view of a popular misconception that the construction of artificial dentures is also a purely mechanical procedure. It cannot be too strongly stated that the two operations are not analogous and that the inclusion of the dental hygienist in a strictly limited capacity bears no relation to the claims of the dental mechanic to the right to carry out work for which he has not had adequate training.

One interesting problem arose in connection with the Air Force in the war which was new to the dental profession. Under certain conditions of pressure and strain, met with in high flying and divebombing, cases of acute toothache developed. On examination it was often difficult to find any reason for this as the tooth in question appeared to be sound, although it was found that it only page 362 occurred in teeth that had been filled. It appeared, therefore, that what was, under normal conditions, a sound filling needed something else to withstand the abnormal conditions to which aircrew were subjected. In most cases if the filling was taken out and reinserted with a greater pulp protection there was no further trouble. Research by Beryl Ritchey, Balint Orban, Warren Harvey and others led to the conclusion that disturbance of circulation at high altitudes caused pain in certain vital pulps which had previously been the subject of tissue changes. In many cases a lining of Eugenol mixed with zinc oxide was sufficient to protect the pulp, and this was used in the case of most deep cavities for men who were likely to meet the abnormal conditions. For convenience of discussion the subject was called Aerodontia.

The men were quartered and rationed by the Americans and were eating food to which they were not accustomed, and which was perforce under the existing conditions lacking in full vitamin content. This may have been the cause of some of the post-extraction haemorrhages noted by Major Washbourn. That at least was his opinion, and he went so far as to adopt preoperative medication as a routine, although no mention can be found of this being done by other dental officers in the Group.

When it came to making appointments for treatment there were certain important factors to be considered. The average patient in the Air Force was not trained to the same degree of physical hardness as his counterpart in the Army and was often living under a great strain. He could be compared to the University student at examination time, a young man with taut nerves. He was therefore not the best subject for dental operations and responded best to short appointments. Some men were highly trained personnel whose time was exceptionally valuable, so it was essential that they be absent from their duties as little as possible. It was usually possible for the dental officer to make his appointments in such a way as to avoid interfering with the duties of any individual, yet still have a full book, by calling on men from the less specialised units. Fortunately unit commanders were well aware of the importance of dental health and were fully co-operative.

Stores and Equipment

Most supplies were through monthly indent on the Army Base Dental Store in Wellington. Through the excellent co-operation of Air Movements, it was possible at all times to keep these up to requirements.

Certain stores were available from the United States Medical Supplies, but too much reliance could not be put on this source as page 363 it was short in dental stocks. Any stocks bought from the Americans were issued on the lend-lease system, but since Wellington was also buying stocks under the same system and held them in fuller supply, there was little advantage to be gained except in emergency.

As many stores from Wellington were sent by air transport, certain modifications in the method of packing had to be made. In the first place, weight was a primary consideration and the wooden boxes in general use were unacceptable to the Air Force, which repacked the stores into cardboard cartons. This led to some damage from rough handling until instructions were issued that all fragile goods were to be suitably marked as such. Secondly, the reduced atmospheric pressure at high altitudes made it necessary to wire down all corks of bottles containing liquids. One package in the early days was ruined by bottles of chromic acid and absolute alcohol blowing their corks.

The same trouble was experienced in keeping certain stores and equipment as was seen in Fiji and with 3 Division. An American dental officer made a small ‘hot-box’ for his instruments and burs which proved very satisfactory. It was a simple box containing one or more electric light bulbs. By reason of the humidity, synthetic porcelain fillings were not fully satisfactory, Units of acrylic resin were of little use unless the monomer could be kept in a refrigerator to prevent it solidifying. As acrylic resin was only used by the New Zealand Dental Corps for isolated cases, this mattered little, but the Americans, who had adopted its use more fully, must have had considerable difficulty if away from their base.

Spirit lamps and primuses were used in surgeries and workrooms instead of bottled gas, which in February 1943, when the sections were equipped, was in short supply in New Zealand. It is interesting to note that while all reasonable demands for supplies were met by Wellington, the Dental Corps was not pampered and had to rely on initiative to meet exceptional circumstances. One dental officer sent the following request to Army Base Dental Store:

Matches are very scarce and a packet or two would be very useful if they could be included in the indent. Sufficient draught to keep the place cool plays havoc with the spirit lamp and a considerable number of matches are used.

The answer from Headquarters, Wellington, was ‘No. Improvise lamp shield.’

Later, when the supply of electricity was better, some electric sterilisers and water heaters were supplied. Other electrical equipment such as polishing lathes and fans followed shortly afterwards. Such things as electric lathes and fans had been considered as luxuries, but Major Cunningham on his return to New Zealand in page 364 May 1945 had a personal interview with Colonel Finn in which he was able to prove that they were definite aids to efficiency. This interview smoothed out many small difficulties in connection with stores administration in the Islands Group.

Up to this time, all unserviceable equipment had to be returned to New Zealand before it could be written off the charge of the Senior Dental Officer. Similarly, there were no local facilities for writing off missing equipment. Authority was now given for all equipment, other than glassware, which had become unserviceable through fair wear and tear, to be written off by a local Board of Survey consisting of two dental officers other than the accounting officer. It was suggested that this board meet every three months. Items of glassware broken in use were to be entered on Form 138 (an army form which was an application to write off stores) and not returned to Army Base Dental Store.

On account of the lack of air freight, supplies of workroom plaster, artificial stone and other items of a high weight-to-value ratio were procured locally under lend-lease. This countermanded an order of April 1945 that no further supplies were to be obtained from United States sources. Another item got from lend-lease sources was X-ray films. The films supplied from the Army Base Dental Store were unsuitable for the climate and the United States Medical Depots had slow X-ray films in a special tropical pack.


There were no standardised plans for the building of dental accommodation in the Islands Group with the result that there was a variety of structures. All contained the essentials but differed according to the ingenuity of section commanders. Environment and the character and availability of materials, as well as the limitations imposed by lack of experience in construction, influenced the choice of design. Most were erected by the Dental Corps men themselves, except for certain special work such as plumbing and electricity and a general expert supervision.

Rain and heat were constant companions and buildings had to be constructed with this in mind, although it was found to be impossible to shut out all the rain and keep cool as well.

Working Conditions

As has been stated earlier, the dental section with the Air Force in the Pacific was seldom confronted with the large volume of work met with in the Army. There was always plenty to do, but neither the same banking up of arrears nor the desperate urgency. Consequently there were more leisure hours and an obligation to page 365 occupy these hours to some purpose, a highly important factor in the maintenance of morale.

Books, magazines and digests were sent to the forward areas from time to time and current issues of the principal dental journals of the world were circulated among the officers. A monthly newsletter was also started to keep closer touch between Headquarters and the scattered sub-sections. Hobbies were encouraged and were numerous and varied.

Some idea of the conditions and of the general life can be gleaned from the following excerpts from narratives supplied from dental officers who were there:

Espiritu Santo:

Number 5 Flying Boat Squadron Camp is situated beside the sea at 50 to 100 feet altitude so there is a cool breeze to make living conditions pleasanter. The camp itself is in the middle of a coconut plantation and consists, for the most part, of Quonset huts. The administration is American so the food to a large extent consists of American dishes. These were enjoyed as a novelty but were not really palatable to us. Facilities are available for swimming, basket ball, volley ball and table tennis and in addition there is a good library and outdoor picture show. Launch trips are always a great delight….

At the Base depot there is a well established camp, very clean, with well-constructed buildings, good roads and all possible conveniences such as electric iron and hot and cold showers. This camp compares very favourably with those on Air Force Stations in New Zealand.

The hours of duty are 0730 to 1130 and from 1330 to 1615. This leaves two spare hours in the middle of the day for reading, relaxing in the shade of a palm or swimming. Gardening and boat building are other forms of recreation. Fresh milk is one of the things missed most.


… a beautiful spot just like a tourist's guide to the South Seas. Jungle in the background, palms, coral sand beach, coral reef with breakers on the outer edge and deep blue sea beyond.

We established the section in one end of the medical hut with the chair in the open doorway to get the best light and began work under the curious gaze of an audience of natives.

On the Saturday evening a native arrived from the Catholic Mission about twelve miles away with a note from Father LeClark … requesting my assistance with a maternity case, a delayed placenta. We went there on the Sunday and were greatly relieved on arrival to find that our services were not required.

During off hours we built a raft of oil drums and bamboo and using a viewing glass spent many hours examining the underwater life of the reef. Also, wearing goggles and armed with bows and arrows we hunted fish to the advantage of our general education but with little increase to our rations.

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Halavo Bay, Florida Island:

Halavo Bay is on the Western shore of Florida facing Guadalcanal and about 15 minutes by launch from Tulagi. It was formerly a Melanesian mission station but, with the advent of the Japanese, the natives fled inland.

We shared a Quonset Hut with the American Dental Officer. Living conditions were good and food excellent and there were pictures every night and an occasional travelling concert party. We had our own vegetable garden with plenty of tomatoes and cucumbers.

Los Negros:

The experience of erecting our own building was thoroughly enjoyed. Everything was done by the men of the section except cutting the rafters and the lighting and plumbing installations. The kit of tools was a Godsend as the Works Section could only spare one hammer and a rip saw.

The camp site was well chosen on clean coral with rapid drainage. The climate is good, the average temperature being about 85 to 90 degrees.

The study and hunting of butterflies can be followed to some extent and some beautiful specimens were obtained.

Russell Islands:

H.M.N.Z.S. ‘Kahu’, the New Zealand Naval Base on the island is attached to an American Naval Unit and the camp is situated in the midst of a coconut plantation at the head of Renard Sound. Climatic conditions are good with the Anopheles mosquito not in evidence.

Excellent swimming is obtainable at Lingatu, an American Recreation Centre on the opposite side of the island. Launch trips to neighbouring atolls interspersed with deep sea fishing for bonita or tuna help to pass our leisure hours.


The section is well known for its interest in queer insects of which there are great numbers, especially butterflies of all colours.

The climate is one of the best in the area, the temperature remaining much the same all the year round, i.e., 90 degrees in the daytime and 72 at night. The soil is sandy so the rain which is daily and often heavy soon drains away. Very few fruits grow on this part of the island.


The ship steamed into Hamburg Bay, Emirau Island, situated in the St. Matthias Group…. The island is small, some 7 miles by 4 at its widest part. It is the island where the survivors of the sinking of the ‘Rangitane’ were landed.

The heat is intense, particularly with the glare off the coral strip and shoreline but against this, the rains and storms bring welcome relief from the incessant dust and cloudless skies.

The camp site was cleared out of the dense jungle. Timber as we understand the word does not exist but there are many young saplings which are invaluable for our type of tropical building.

Green Island:

The camp, abandoned two months previously by the Americans, was a dilapidated affair of broken down buildings and rotting tents, the whole page 367 place overgrown with rank weeds, vines and creepers. Snakes abounded and the small barking toads made sleep almost impossible. Scores of pigs wandered about as if they owned the place. However these were only first impressions. As the weather improved and the mud hardened, the weeds were cleared, the tents made habitable and the pigs driven away, more or less, and we found we had a camp as good as any on the island.

The following figures give details of the treatment afforded by the Air Mobile Dental Section and No. 1 RNZAF Mobile Dental Section from 4 August 1943 to 20 October 1945, when hostilities were over:

Patients presenting 23,495
Patients rendered dentally fit 13,614
Extractions with local anaesthetic 1,601
Extractions with general anaesthetic 32
Amalgam fillings or inlays 16,345
Synthetic fillings 2,492
Root fillings 32
Scalings 3,958
Full upper dentures 229
Full lower dentures 101
Partial upper dentures 273
Partial lower dentures 93
Dentures remodelled 1,377
Dentures repaired 1,487

Knowing that the RNZAF was to be demobilised, every attempt was made to make all personnel dentally fit as late as possible in their tour of duty. To assist this an extra officer and orderly were transferred to Jacquinot Bay, where the work was behindhand owing to the protracted changeover from Nissan Island earlier in 1945.

In conclusion, it would appear that the Mobile Dental Section with its headquarters section, advanced base dental store and subsections was the best organisation to service a scattered force such as No. 1 (Islands) Group. It is also clearly shown that without individual initiative, no amount of organising would provide a satisfactory dental service under conditions such as existed in the Pacific. Judging by the amount of construction done by the officers and men of the Corps, a good kit of tools is an essential part of equipment. Transport is not so important, as in many cases there are no roads. The specially converted truck can seldom be used in the Pacific and in many cases was dismantled by the sections themselves so that its equipment could be moved into buildings. When trucks are needed, there is a strong argument in favour of the use of standard types which can be easily fitted with specialised equipment and just as easily dismantled. A certain number of trucks could page 368 then be allotted to the Dental Corps, but not necessarily used by it unless conditions warranted it. It is not economical for any unit to keep to itself transport that cannot be fully employed and which in bad climatic conditions tends to deteriorate rapidly. One dental tender was released by the Senior Dental Officer in November 1944 at the request of the Chief Supply Officer, but the Senior Dental Officer made it clear at the time that he had no intention of parting with any others. It is difficult to see how any of his transport could have been fully employed on dental business. The fear that transport released to the common pool would not be available if required under different circumstances should not influence a decision that should only be based on a co-operative attitude for the efficiency of the whole force. It should not be difficult for a Senior Dental Officer to justify demands for transport, specialised or otherwise. His Commanding Officer is usually in a better position to assess the priorities of the units of his force.

The remarks of Lieutenant-Colonel Simmers on 26 October 1945 make a fitting ending to this chapter:

I wish to record my appreciation of the service rendered by all ranks. At all times their general conduct has been very good. They have worked consistently well under trying conditions and the results of their efforts have been evident in the dental service rendered to the R.N.Z.A.F. and in the number of excellent sections which were constructed by their own efforts and initiative.