A piece of history is now available online. An ancestry website based in the United Kingdom has published pictures of about 2,500 World War I soldiers that received plastic surgery during the war. These surgeries, which were performed by Dr. Harold Gillies, were some of the world’s first reconstructive surgeries in the world. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the pictures provide a rare glimpse into the history of the profession.
FindMyPast.co.uk, the site that published the pictures, says, “Dr Gillies is renowned for developing the first skin grafting and plastic surgery techniques to treat WWI soldiers left wounded with severe facial disfigurements.” More than 11,000 operations were performed between 1917 and 1925 at The Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup, Kent.
“These records are an important source of information for historians, the medical world and those interested in learning about the reality and aftermath of World War I,” FindMyPast.co.uk’s Debra Chatfield said in a news release. “The medical world owes a great deal to Dr Gillies, as do those who were treated by him in the early twentieth century and anyone who has ever received plastic surgery treatment since then. Without his pioneering developments in this field, plastic surgery might not be as advanced as it is today.”
Now, if a solider is wounded in battle, a plastic surgeon has more options. Better technology and years of science have grounded the profession. A surgeon can show a solider before and after pictures before going under the knife, which is common for any kind of cosmetic surgery. Digital pictures and computer software can show how plastic surgery will alter an appearance. While the advances of modern science have certainly benefited cosmetic surgery patients, surgeons say these techniques all started when Dr. Gilles tried to help wounded men in the early 1900s.
“[He developed] innovative procedures to help reconstruct the faces of badly injured soldiers and airmen, whose facial injuries were caused by bullet wounds and flying shrapnel and needed extensive bone, muscle and skin grafting to restore their appearance,” Dr. Sam Alberti, Director of Museums & Archives at the Royal College of Surgeons, said in a news release. “Most notably, Gillies introduced the tubed pedicle which used the patients’ own tissue to aid reconstructive surgery and reduce the chance of rejection. The files associated with his work are an unparalleled resource for the study of this important branch of medicine and family history.”
Gilles died in 1960 after dedicating much of his life to plastic surgery. The pictures of his work are available on FindMyPast.co.uk. The files, which can be searched by last name, also include brief information about the solider and the work performed by Gilles.