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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Outbreak of War—Changes in Army Medical Administration

Outbreak of War—Changes in Army Medical Administration

As already mentioned, the Director of Medical Services on 31 March 1939 produced a comprehensive medical appreciation of the problems associated with mobilisation for either home-defence or expeditionary forces. This appreciation was an important and valuable basis for the rapid expansion of medical services for the military forces consequent upon the outbreak of war.

When Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, an immediate move was made to place the New Zealand Medical Corps on a war footing, although it was some three weeks before administrative arrangements could be made properly effective. The Director of Medical Services (Army) and Principal Medical Officer RNZAF, Colonel Bowerbank, became the Director-General of Medical Services (Army and Air) and took up a full-time appointment, while the ADMS Central Military District, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson,1 became Assistant Director of Medical Services at Army Headquarters, also on a full-time basis, and a Staff Officer and Quartermaster was appointed. Miss Willis was appointed Matron-in-Chief (Army and Air) on a part-time basis which continued until April 1941, when she became a full-time officer. (It is difficult to understand why the Matron-in-Chief was not appointed a full-time officer and given adequate assistance at the beginning of the war. There must have been ample work to keep her fully occupied.) A civilian staff of four was called in to assist with the rush of organisation.

In each of the military districts, Northern, Central, and Southern, an Assistant Director of Medical Services was employed on a half-time basis.

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Shortly after the outbreak of war the Director of Public Hygiene, Department of Health, Dr T. R. Ritchie, was appointed part-time Director of Hygiene on the staff of the DGMS with the rank of major, while the Medical Officers of Health at Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin were appointed part-time Assistant Directors of Hygiene. The growth of camps, with increased needs for supervision in hygiene and sanitation, proved that a part-time appointment alone was insufficient. This resulted in the additional appointment in November 1940 of the Principal Sanitary Inspector, Department of Health, Captain J. H. Cowdrey, as full-time Deputy Director of Hygiene, under the DGMS. Thus a measure of liaison was achieved and any tendency to dual control by the Health Department and Army on health matters in camps was eliminated. The new appointment was analogous to the position of ADMS (Sanitary) on the staff of the DGMS in the First World War. In each mobilisation camp a health inspector seconded from the Health Department worked under the senior medical officer of the camp.

For some years before the outbreak of the war the Director of Dental Services was directly under the Adjutant-General, but in March 1939 the dental service was again placed under the direction of the DGMS, as in the First World War, and in accordance with military organisation in Great Britain, Australia, and South Africa. At a conference on 25 and 27 March 1939, it was unanimously agreed that the DDS would administer the Dental Corps without interference from the DGMS or ADsMS Districts, but that all changes of policy or matters of importance concerning the dental treatment of troops in New Zealand would be submitted to the DGMS or to the Adjutant-General through the DGMS. The DDS, however, was never heartily in agreement with the policy of the Dental Corps being under the control of the DGMS, and at times referred policy matters direct to the Adjutant-General. This led to repeated friction and misunderstanding between the DDS and DGMS, but the efficiency of the Dental Corps fortunately was unaffected.

1 Brig I. S. Wilson, OBE, MC and bar, ED, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Dunedin, 13 Jul 1883; physician; 1914–18: medical officer BEF Fd Amb, RMO 1 Bn Scots Guards, Guards Fd Amb; wounded, Somme, 1916; ADMS Central Military District 1935–39; ADMS Army HQ, Sep 1939–Feb 1944; acting DGMS Army HQ, Feb-Jul 1944; CO 2 Gen Hosp Oct 1944–Jul 1945.