The Face of War – pioneers of plastic surgery in WW1

Originally posted 2017-04-26 13:26:20. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Author Alan Fidler

The first world war was the first conflict when the technological advances of the previous years changed the means of conflict with the crude weapons of the period of Waterloo and the colonial bushfire wars of the European empire builders in Africa and Asia.
Now, in the second decade of the 20th century the reality of the scale of the refined and massively expanded power of artillary and the munitions, that guns could project over thousands of yards. This was to reduce the infantry facing relentless bombardment into passive and important bystanders,as their enemy threw steel and gas at them. This ended many lives and transformed others for the rest of their lives.
This experience sometimes took away in whole or in part the aspect of human existence ie the face. Which more than any other presents us to the world and gives expression to our nature and emotions.
The techniques of plastic surgery and facial reconstruction are taken for granted today but then were just in their infancy.
In 1914-18 there was an avalanche of serious and near fatal disfiguring injuries for which surgical intervention would ensure survival of the casualties but leave them to ‘face’ the world with horrifying damage.Many hid away from the world even from family and friends.
Crude prosthetic devices made of copper and steel were fashioned to hide the loss of eyes, noses and cheeks, with clever makeup and paint. However, for some people the injury was so extensive that the surgical techniques and prostheses of the day could not recreate any resemblance of a facial appearance that would allow a man to move about in society without evoking horror and revulsion. Pioneering techniques were developed at the Sidcup hospital in Kent by a group of dentists and facial surgeons seeking to restore a face to a man.


  1. I think many find such disfigurement is a fear-reaction response, which scares people who become self conscious about their reaction and therefore avoid meeting such a person with disfigurement.

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