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BMJ. 2007 November 10; 335(7627): 956.
PMCID: PMC2072005

Lest we forget

Faces of Battle documents some of the injuries sustained by young soldiers in the First World War who, although their bodies were protected by the trenches, sustained head injuries caused by sniper fire and shrapnel.

The photographs come from the medical records of men who were treated at the specialist Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup, Kent, by surgeon Harold Gillies, the pioneer of the “tubed pedicle” skin graft. He joined flaps of skin from the upper part of the patient's body to the jaw to reconstruct soft tissue. The skin flaps naturally rolled together to form a tube, preventing infection of the underlying tissue. As the tissue joined to the facial area, and new blood vessels grew, the flaps were cut.

Mr Gillies, who was posted to France in 1915, realised that specialist facilities were needed to help these men, whose noses had been blown away, brains were left hanging from open skulls, and faces were disfigured. Unlike other surgeons, who merely stitched up wounds but left scars that horrified the men and their families, Mr Gillies used bones and cartilage to reconstruct the soldiers' faces.

Andrew Bamji, curator of the exhibition, believes that it is important for such images to be seen. “We must understand what facial injuries are in war. You can't understand war until you understand the injuries that are done,” he said.

Further reading

The exhibition runs from 10 November to April 2008 at the National Army Medical Museum, Chelsea, London. Tel 020 7730 0717 or go to .www.national-army-museum.ac.uk


Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group