This new exhibit at the National Army Museum in Chelsea is taking a look at those who were facially wounded on the battlefields of Europe during the First World War, and the heroic plastic surgeons who took care of them and, in meantime, advanced the science of medicine.
From the press statement:
Unseen photography and footage of Britain’s faceless war wounded will be displayed alongside contemporary uniform sculptures tracing their surgery, rehabilitation and recovery, at a groundbreaking new exhibition opening on 10 November at the National Army Museum.
Faces of Battle charts the stories of the men whose faces were blown away in battle in the First World War, and the pioneering medics who fought to enable them to face life again. The conflict saw injuries inflicted on a scale and intensity unseen before. Trenches dug to protect the bodies of soldiers from powerful new weapons could not protect their heads – exposed to sniper fire over the parapets, or to the shrapnel and artillery hailing down on them from across No Mans Land.
Surgeon Harold Gillies, posted to France in 1915, quickly realised that the number and severity of facial casualties would be vast, and successfully argued for the establishment of a special ward – ultimately, a specialist hospital – for the treatment of the facially wounded. At the start of the Battle of the Somme, he prepared his team for 200 casualties. Two thousand arrived.
Gillies’ work was revolutionary, and yet is little remembered. Most field surgeons, faced with blasted faces, simply stitched together the edges of wounds to stop infection. As wounds healed and scar tissue contracted, the skin of men’s faces would become twisted and not only disfiguring, but disabling. Men returned from the horrors of the front terrified to face their loved ones. Gillies’ technique used bones and cartilage to reconstruct faces, and pioneered the extraordinary ‘tubed pedical’ method of skin grafting, in the days before skin grafts were possible. Multiple surgeries were required and the patients were kept in hospital for years at a time.
Wikipedia entry on Harold Gillies …
Press release: FACES OF BATTLE Untold stories of suffering, heroism and hope (.PDF)
National Army Museum : Galleries and Exhibitions …
BBC: In pictures: Faces of Battle …