The New Zealand Dental Services
Mobilisation and the First Year of War
Mobilisation and the First Year of War
At the outbreak of war the only stores held by the Corps were the seven peacetime outfits described above, and this was the case for over two months. Until stores came to hand, the early volunteers brought their own instruments into camp, and even supplied most of the stock from their own practices. Later this stock was refunded from army supplies.
The first big requisition, for electric units, chairs and sterilisers to the value of £2409, was placed on 7 October 1939. From the end of November 1939 supplies came to hand in growing quantities, being received at the Main Ordnance Depot at Trentham, where part of the existing medical store was set apart to accommodate them. They were distributed as follows. The dental sections at Papakura, Ngaruawahia, Palmerston North, Trentham and Burnham forwarded monthly indents through their respective camp quartermasters to the DDS. If he approved, he sent the indent to the Chief Ordnance Officer (COO) for action and despatch. The items were then vouchered from the COO to the camp quartermaster concerned. It will be seen that the DDS at that time took no part in the actual accounting and merely controlled the issue in an advisory capacity.
In February 1940 approval was given to purchase the entire stocks of a dental trading firm in Auckland. These stores, valued at about £822, formed the nucleus of a dental store for the Royal New Zealand Air Force established at Rongotai air station in April 1940. The Air Force had a different accounting system from the Army. It used the ‘Powers’ system in which each item had a reference number. This meant that a new vocabulary of dental stores had to be drawn up, divided into sections such as drugs, dressings, surgical instruments, prosthetic materials, etc. Each section was numbered and each item in the section had a serial number. Indents had to be on a special Air Force form. The channel of communication was from dental section to station equipment officer to DDS for approval, to Rongotai store for action, and back to the station equipment officer and the dental section. The accounting was done by the RNZAF central accounting section in Wellington. The actual receiving, packing and despatch was in the hands of a Dental Corps corporal.
One store for the Army and another for the Air Force, with different accounting officers and different systems, was an unwieldy page 86 organisation. The first steps towards simplification were taken in May 1940, when the DDS suggested to the Quartermaster-General that the two stores should amalgamate into one Army Base Dental Store to cater for both services. His main reasons were:
To obviate raising separate purchase requisitions and consequent competition on an already diminishing market.
To provide more favourable buying.
To promote a more equitable and convenient distribution of stores.
To enable the DDS to exercise complete control over their custody, proper use and accounting.
It is unfortunate that he did not mention the disadvantages of having different accounting systems in the two services at that time, as the anomaly might have been removed instead of existing for another three years. The Quartermaster-General and the Air Secretary agreed to the amalgamation. Premises were found in Lambton Quay, Wellington, and became the Army Base Dental Store. There was one large room and two smaller ones with a total area of 1400 square feet. The necessary shelves and other fittings were built in and everything was ready by the first week in July.
By this time Major H. E. Suckling was Assistant Director of Dental Services at headquarters, in charge of stores and equipment. He personally supervised the transfer of the stores held at Trentham to the new premises. Thus the Army Base Dental Store became an accounting unit and the DDS assumed the responsibilities of accounting officer. He also became purchasing officer and supervisor of all payments by the Treasury for dental stores.
In August the RNZAF stores at Rongotai, valued at £3777, were also transferred to the Lambton Quay premises and vouchered from the Air Department to the DDS. All stores for use of the dental sections attached to RNZAF stations were now supplied from the Army Base Dental Store and charged to the Air Force—a little trouble but worth it.
The original staff of the store consisted of a Warrant Officer second class as accountant and two storemen packers.
The Dental Corps was expanding quickly and by the end of August 1940 it was becoming increasingly difficult to get enough supplies from New Zealand sources, so indents, to the value of £4125, were placed with the New Zealand Supply Liaison Officer in Melbourne. These supplies came to hand promptly and in full, giving the new store enough to satisfy demands until the end of the financial year on 31 March 1941.
The camp dental hospitals at Papakura, Trentham and Burnham had each been provided with rock-gas installations, X-ray machines, compressed air units and nitrous oxide and oxygen anaesthetic page 87 machines, as well as dental units, chairs and cabinets, and good instruments and stocks. Unfortunately the electric motors for the dental engines to be attached to the units were unprocurable in New Zealand and those that arrived from Canada in early 1941 were unsatisfactory. Fifty motors had then to be ordered from the United Kingdom, but it was February 1942 before they arrived. In the meantime every secondhand electric engine which could be bought or borrowed was welcomed into the Corps and coaxed into service, often by prodigies of mechanical wizardry. The foot engine, scorned by the modern graduate as an emblem of obsolescence, recaptured some of its former glory and spelt the difference between failure and success.
The first year of the war was a race against time to get enough stores and equipment to make every man dentally fit before embarkation for overseas. The race was won, the task completed, and much of the credit must go to those who overcame a very real problem in producing supplies continuously in the face of a host of difficulties.