Nga rangatira, e kui mā, e koro mā e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, warm greetings to you all.
I specifically acknowledge: Lt Gen Tim Keating, Chief of the Defence Force; Col Andrew Gray, Director of Health; Lt Col Trish Leabourne, Defence Dental Services; and the two RNZDC Guests of Honour Alan Cull and Graham Alexander - tēnā koutou katoa.
Being amongst dentists is perplexing for some – not so for me I would hasten to add. In fact this is the second day in a row that I’ve been in the company of dentists. Yesterday, I was at my dentist, one of your former colleagues, Tiff Logan.
Today though, I want to thank you for inviting me here to open and celebrate this 100th anniversary, a notable milestone for the Royal New Zealand Dental Corps.
The formation of the New Zealand Dental Corps, as it was then, was a ground-breaking move for the health and well-being of New Zealand soldiers. In some ways, it could be said that it changed the face of the New Zealand Army at that time.
The first Director of the New Zealand Dental Corps, Lt Col T.A Hunter wrote in his 1923 book “The War Effort in New Zealand”,1 that large numbers of otherwise fit recruits were being turned away due to dental defects. The formation of the Corps allowed these men to be treated and passed as dentally fit.
The numbers were daunting. Around 2,000 men were being sent overseas every month. The number of extractions and fillings that needed to be done was at times jaw-dropping! One reinforcement had over 13,500 teeth requiring treatment - at an average of nearly 7 teeth per man – 1900 men needed to be treated. It was a mammoth job, but as Hunter said, the aim was “to send away every member of the Expeditionary Force with an efficient set of teeth”. This they did, as well as providing support on the front lines and in medical units to make sure the efficient teeth stayed that way.
From its beginning, our Dental Corps has provided support to others as well as to our own troops. In 1915, the word was soon out amongst British senior officers at Gallipoli about the services the New Zealand dentists provided. During World War 2, internees and prisoners of war were treated. More recently Defence Force dentists have supported local populations in theatres of operation – as in Bamyan Afghanistan. And latterly, the Royal New Zealand Dental Corps has been active in humanitarian aid and disaster relief efforts; and civic aid tasks, including forensic dental identification.
Military Dentistry has always been valuable. However, the capability has not always received due recognition. On occasion, it has been viewed as an easy target when economies have needed to be made. The case being “Of course you can buy dental services from civilian dentists”. The reality is that on operations, teeth and soldiers prove that wrong.
We have been and will be commemorating centenaries associated with the First World War. Many of these are solemn occasions as we remember those who served and the price that was paid for that service. Amongst the sad stories, are stories of optimism and service. Military dentistry has stories of milestones in the development of our modern-day Defence Force, and of dedicated service for the benefit of others in both wartime and peace.
Today we recognise the achievements and advances of the Royal New Zealand Dental Corps since 1915. It’s a chance for its current and former members to reminisce, to celebrate and to look forward to the future.
I wish you all the best for your centenary celebrations and for your future in our Armed Services.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa.