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The New Zealand Dental Services

Mobile Dental Sections in New Zealand

Mobile Dental Sections in New Zealand

The original method of carrying out dental treatment for the Territorial Force in New Zealand was by attaching a dental section to each field ambulance. With the troops scattered all over the country and with the amount of work to be done, this was impracticable and some method had to be devised to provide a more extensive and elastic organisation. It was quite impossible for the troops to attend the existing dental hospitals and equally impossible to provide enough new hospitals to cover the vast area over which they were spread. The answer was obvious. If the troops could not come to the NZDC, the NZDC must go to the troops and, like the snail, take its house with it. The Mobile Field Dental Section therefore became an important part of the NZDC organisation. At the same time, the necessity for attaching a dental section to the field ambulance disappeared under the conditions existing in New Zealand in early 1942, although, as will be seen in later chapters, this method of attachment had other uses.

On 8 January 1942 authority was given to form nine Mobile Field Dental Sections, three to be attached to each military district. They were to be fully equipped and given two months' supplies and were to be staffed from the three mobilisation camp dental hospitals. Then, on 26 March, a further war establishment enlarged on this and provided for six sub-sections to be attached to each section. The sections were numbered from 1 to 9 and the sub-sections from 1 to 6. There were three in each military district. In referring to any sub-section, the number of the parent section was shown first, followed by the number of the sub-section, e.g., 5/6 was the sixth sub-section of No. 5 Mobile Field Dental Section operating in the Central District command. The normal attachment of a mobile section was to a brigade group or Area and sub-sections were detached for duty with the units comprising the group or area.

The sub-section became attached to a unit and was rationed, quartered and paid by that unit. The sub-sections were fully equipped and capable of carrying out all classes of treatment.

The general organisation of the section was elastic enough to allow the officer in charge wide scope for variation in the employment of his men. For instance, by omitting the prosthetic pannier and substituting an orderly for the mechanic, a sub-section could be sent out as a surgical unit and the prosthetic cases could be sent by motor-cycle transport to the Field Prosthetic Laboratory for pro- page 57 cessing. During hostilities a sub-section could be attached to a medical unit if required, or all the sub-sections could be withdrawn to Lines of Communication or the Base and reattached when conditions were more suitable for dental work. The basis of allocation in the Territorial Force was one dental officer to 800 men. This took into consideration that the existing dental hospitals were able to do some of the work when suitably situated.

With the attachment of the mobile dental section to a brigade group or Area, the officer commanding the section became responsible to the DDS for the dental health of the troops and acted as adviser to the Brigade or Area Commander on dental matters. All movements or arrangements for treatment were made through the headquarters of the formation to which he was attached, but he could communicate direct with the DDS on technical subjects. He was expected to co-operate closely with the Senior Medical Officer in matters affecting the general health of the troops. In other words, he was to the officer commanding the formation what the DDS was to the GOC.

The personnel of a mobile dental section numbered 43. There were 8 officers, 1 warrant officer, 2 staff-sergeants, 6 sergeants, and 13 rank and file of the NZDC, and 1 sergeant and 12 rank and file of the Army Service Corps attached to drive and service the vehicles. These were divided into a headquarters section and six sub-sections.

Headquarters Section consisted of:

Officer Commanding Major
Dental Officer Captain or Subaltern
Staff Quartermaster-Sergeant Warrant Officer Second Class
Three orderlies Staff-Sergeant, Corporal and Private
Two mechanics Staff-Sergeant and Corporal
Two clerks Corporal and Private
Two motor-cycle orderlies Privates
Army Service Corps (7) Sergeant, Corporal and five Privates.

Each of the six sub-sections consisted of:

Dental Officer Captain or Subaltern
Orderly Sergeant
Mechanic Sergeant, Corporal or Lance-Corporal
Army Service Corps (1) Private.

There were thirteen motor vehicles allotted to each section. Each sub-section had a 30-cwt truck to carry personnel and equipment.

At headquarters there were:

One covered 3-ton truck fitted as a prosthetic laboratory.
One covered 3-ton truck for ordnance equipment and stores.
One 15-cwt truck as a water tank.
One 30-cwt truck.
One heavy motor car.
Two motor-cycles.
page 58

The prosthetic laboratory on the 3-ton truck was fitted with benches so fixed that they could be easily removed and re-erected in a hut, building or tent. Water was in an 8-gallon tank. Lighting was by two six-volt batteries with two in reserve. There were windows for natural lighting. The canopy of the truck was raised to give a minimum clearance of 5 ft 9 in. Access was from the back by steps and the whole truck could be locked up when not in use. Bottled gas1 was used for the Bunsen burners and vulcanisers, and foot-treadle lathes and foot engines were used in the absence of electric power.

The equipment for the section was carried in panniers. Each subsection had a surgical, prosthetic and stores pannier, an emergency haversack, canvas chair case and two Indian pattern tents, one for operating and one for prosthetics. A tarpaulin 18 feet by 12 feet was also included. Sub-sections did not carry bottled gas but worked with primuses. The headquarters section, however, had a pannier for bottled gas and two each of the surgical, prosthetic and stores panniers, two haversacks, three tents and two tarpaulins. With this equipment the section and sub-sections could work under all conditions and were independent of building accommodation, although huts or houses were always used if available in preference to tents. The tent is difficult to camouflage and is easily visible from the air so was an unwelcome addition to a fighting unit. At one time it was thought that a ‘Hubbard hut’, named after the designer, would solve the problem but they proved to be unsatisfactory, being too low in the stud, unable to be kept open in wet weather and too difficult to keep clean in fine weather. Their only use was as sleeping accommodation.

Ten pistols, £455 or £38 inch, with 180 rounds and thirteen £303 rifles with 1300 rounds were issued to each section. The dental officers carried pistols, but the rifles were issued to the Army Service Corps drivers as the Dental Corps was non-combatant and carried the same certificates of identity required by the Geneva Convention as did the Medical Corps, nursing service and chaplains. On the other hand it did not use the Red Cross on its vehicles, buildings, panniers, etc., except when working with a medical unit. In this respect the following correspondence is interesting:

1 A natural rock gas from California, bottled in cylinders.