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Medical Services in New Zealand and The Pacific

I: Administration of Medical Services

page 203

I: Administration of Medical Services

THE Royal New Zealand Air Force was not an independent organisation until 1 April 1937 when it was officially separated from the Army and when its regular strength was 21 officers and 156 airmen. On 15 July 1937 Colonel Bowerbank,1 who was Director of Medical Services, Army, was appointed Principal Medical Officer to the Air Department on a part-time basis. His duties were to advise on all medical matters relating to the RNZAF and civil aviation, and he was responsible to the Air Board for the organisation, administration, supervision and efficiency of the medical services. He was also responsible for checking the health of civil pilots and issuing medical certificates.

In 1937 medical officers were appointed to Hobsonville and Wigram on part-time service, and one medical orderly was posted to each of these stations. The first full-time medical officer was appointed to Wigram in 1938.

Outbreak of War

On the outbreak of war it was decided that the air medical service should remain linked with the Army, and Colonel Bowerbank became Director-General of Medical Services, Army and Air, and Lieutenant-Colonel B. S. Finn Director of Dental Services, Army and Air. An Assistant Director of Medical Services (Air) was appointed, at first on a part-time basis, but on a full-time basis from 11 December 1939. In the early years of the war medical officers attached to the Air Force remained in the Army Medical Corps, and there were fewer than twenty medical officers required for the fourteen air stations.

1 Maj-Gen Sir Fred T. Bowerbank, KBE, ED, m.i.d., Order of Orange-Nassau (Netherlands); Wellington; born Penrith, England, 30 Apr 1880; physician; 1 NZEF 1915–19; i/c medical division 1 Gen Hosp, England; President, Travelling Medical Board, France; DMS Army and PMO Air, 1934–39; Director-General of Medical Services (Army and Air), Sep 1939–Mar 1947.

page 204

The entry of Japan into the war brought about a sudden expansion of both the Army and the Air Force. The strength of the RNZAF in New Zealand was built up from 10,000 at the end of 1941 to a peak of 30,000 in September 1943. Besides the growth in numbers, there was increased complexity in problems of administration, especially when squadrons began to move to the Pacific. The Air Board pressed for a separate medical service, which was eventually established in May 1943, although the Air Medical Service still remained under the general direction of the DGMS (Army and Air) so as to avoid any wasteful duplication of medical services when the strain on civilian medical manpower was so great. The DGMS (Army and Air) was to be consulted on all appointments above the rank of squadron-leader and on all major matters of medical policy. There was to be equal pay for the medical officers of the two services, but the Air Department avoided this as it involved a reduction in its officers' rates of pay.

There was a tendency for the DMS (Air), Group Captain Chisholm,1 to achieve a greater independence than was arranged and than the DGMS (Army and Air) was prepared to concede, especially in view of his intimate knowledge of the RNZAF since its inception. These difficulties were ironed out, details of administration more clearly defined, and regular weekly conferences and monthly reports arranged. Co-operation thereafter continued fairly smoothly until the end of the war, although where the Air Force was still continuing to share the facilities of some of the Army medical services, such as convalescent depots, differences of opinion arose as regards administration. The DMS (Air) was responsible to the Air Board, through the Air Member for Personnel, for the administration of the RNZAF Medical Services. The size of the service was relatively small, and the duties of most medical officers corresponded largely to those of regimental medical officers in the Army, although aviation medicine had its specialised aspects. From March 1943 Army medical officers who had been seconded to the RNZAF were commissioned in the latter force, as were all later recruitments of medical officers.

The responsibilities of the medical services peculiar to aviation medicine were stated to include: (a) Selection of aircrew recruits, both by physical and psychological examination; (b) Training of aircrew in the physiology of flight, with special reference to the use of oxygen at altitude and effects of acceleration; and (c) Care of flying personnel during their training and active operations, where they meet physical and psychological stresses not seen in ground forces.

1 Gp Capt F. R. Chisholm, OBE; Auckland; born Christchurch, 1 Dec 1904; medical practitioner; ADMS (Air) Sep 1939–May 1943; DMS May 1943–Sep 1945.

page 205

Throughout the war years the question of ultimate independence from the Army was stressed by the Air Force medical directorate, but it was generally agreed to remain under the control of Major-General Bowerbank as long as he was DGMS.1

1 From 1947 the Medical Directors of the Army, Air Force and Navy discussed matters on an equal footing in the Services Medical Committee, and in September 1949 the appointment of the DGMS was restricted to the Army only and the Air Force medical service became independent.