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The New Zealand Dental Services

Dental Orderlies

Dental Orderlies

In selecting non-technical staff for the Corps, the policy was to look for keen men of a reasonable standard of education and personal cleanliness, fit to work in a hospital team. The choice was limited by the needs of the combatant units, for whereas dentists and mechanics naturally gravitated towards the Dental Corps whatever their medical grading, untrained men who were medically Grade I could not often be spared for a non-combatant unit such as the NZDC. There were, however, many men graded II for slight abnormalities sufficient to disqualify them for service in a combatant unit who were of a sufficient standard of physical fitness to make them valuable members of the NZDC. It was perhaps not fully appreciated at first to what extent the NZDC would be employed and the high standard of fitness required of those serving in a field ambulance or a mobile dental unit, but it was realised that there must be Grade I men to accompany the NZDC overseas. The result during the first ten months of the war, when all the men were voluntary enlistments, was that Grade II men welcomed the opportunity to serve with the NZDC but Grade I men were difficult to get, as the choice of orderlies for service overseas was limited by the large amount of work the NZDC had to do in New Zealand.

There were certain key men who should not be called nontechnical. Men with a knowledge of dental stock, such as employees of supply houses, were the natural choice for NCOs in charge of stores, but these were hard to get as they could ill be spared from page 36 their civilian occupations. Most of the stores NCOs were trained in the Corps after serving as dental orderlies. Men with the capacity for leadership were needed as administrative NCOs. Again, these mostly proved their worth as dental orderlies and rose in rank and authority according to merit, as there were very few men who had had experience in the Territorial Dental Corps from whom to chose.

The general selection of orderlies in the early part of the war was excellent and to those who served in New Zealand and overseas in the NZDC can be attributed much of the success of the Corps in the war. There were difficulties at a later date when the Dental Corps, in common with other non-combatant units, had to absorb its share of pacifists and objectors, but the constitution of the Corps was then sufficiently strong to do this without serious indigestion.

The obvious course of employing women in the camp dental hospitals to release men for service overseas and in the mobile units in the field was delayed by prejudice from the more conservative of the military authorities, and it was nearly eighteen months after the declaration of war before serious consideration was given to this prolific source. Before this no facilities existed for women in camp except for nursing sisters, and even the welcome invasions by concert parties arrived under strong duennal escort. Appropriately it was the youngest service which made the first move to use women as dental orderlies, as selection of suitable girls to join the Women's Auxiliary Air Force began in July 1941. The type sought was those who were ‘bright and quick in the uptake but not necessarily with previous dental experience’. Added incentive was given by arranging classes of instruction by dental officers to qualify them to sit for trade tests which gave extra status and, of course, extra pay. Later the Navy and the Army used girls of the Women's Royal New Zealand Naval Service and the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. There is no doubt about the success of the women as dental orderlies, and some were even trained as dental mechanics in the NZDC training schools. Some adjustment of existing establishments was necessary as it was not considered right to ask for the same amount of work from the women as was expected from the men. The proportion was fixed at three women to replace two men.