Faces from the Front

Harold Gillies, The Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup and the origins of modern plastic surgery

Andrew Bamji

Explores the genesis of plastic surgery developed by Harold Gillies during the First World War.
Date Published :
March 2022
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Illustration :
61 color ills, 232 b/w ills, 2 tables
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781911512660
Pages : 240
Dimensions : 9.75 X 6.75 inches
Stock Status : Available
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781915113023
Pages : 236
Dimensions : 9.75 X 6.75 inches
Stock Status : Available


Faces from the Front examines the British response to the huge number of soldiers who incurred facial injuries during the First World War. These injuries were produced within a short time span, but (for the first time in a major conflict) did not necessarily lead to death due to developments in anesthesia and improvements in the treatment of infection and blood loss. Casualties were evacuated back to England, where surgeons had an opportunity to develop their skills on a large patient caseload. Harold Gillies, an ambitious young surgeon, developed a new branch of surgery: plastic surgery of the face. In 1915, Gillies set up a dedicated ward for patients with facial injuries at the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot, Hampshire. Following the Battle of the Somme and the escalation in the number of casualties with facial injuries, steps were taken to establish a new hospital entirely focused on the treatment of facial injuries at Sidcup in South-East London. The Queen’s Hospital treated more than 5,000 patients between its opening in August 1917 and the mid-1920s; its work was mainly funded by charitable donations. The book uncovers the history of this hospital by analyzing a wide range of sources – including numerous photographs and paintings – which detail the experiences of patients and staff.

A team of surgeons and other specialized staff were brought together at Sidcup who, like the hospital’s patients, came from Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US. The book argues that the development and refinement of new surgical techniques was helped by a multidisciplinary approach. Detailed patient records - combined with notes, photographs and paintings - were used to evaluate the efficacy of experimental procedures and to educate new surgeons. Treatment often involved multiple operations and took place over long periods of time, and considerable thought was given to the recovery and rehabilitation of patients. The Queen’s Hospital had two important legacies: first, it played a pivotal role in the development of modern medical practice by paving the way for a new surgical specialty – plastic surgery – and by showcasing the benefits of specialist hospitals and multi-disciplinary services; second, the reconstruction of damaged faces had a major impact on the patients themselves. Drawing on a unique collection of personal and family accounts of the post-war lives of patients treated at Sidcup, the author explores surgical and aesthetic outcomes and the emotional impact of facial reconstruction.

About The Author

Andrew Bamji studied Medicine in London and worked as a consultant physician in rheumatology and rehabilitation at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup from 1983 to 2011. As consultant archivist of the hospital from 1989 onwards, Bamji acquired the case files of the British and New Zealand Sections who worked at Sidcup during the First World War. These 2,500 files are some of the only surviving clinical records from this conflict and include surgical notes, diagrams, x-rays and watercolours. These records fuelled Bamji’s interest in the history of plastic surgery and the work of the Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup. His publications include 'Facial surgery: The patients’ experience’ in Hugh Cecil and Peter H. Liddle, Facing Armageddon: The First World War Experienced (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 1996) and ‘Facial surgery, rehabilitation and the impact of medical specialisation’ in Peter H. Liddle (ed.), The Widening War: The Central Years of the Great War (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2016). Bamji has lectured to medical and lay audiences in the United Kingdom, the United States, France and New Zealand, and his research has informed many television programmes and exhibitions - including at the Royal College of Surgeons, the National Army Museum and the Tate Gallery.


“ … The pioneering work of Harold Gillies is legendary, and this magnificent book showcases his work and dedication in a quite remarkable and extraordinary way.”

- Books Monthly

"This is a book that at one makes the reader despair and wonder. Despair that man can produce such violence and with such devastating resultant damage to fellow man; wonder at the dedication and technical skill of the medical experts who tackled that damage, and of the fortitude and courage of the wounded. It is a book that I found wholly inspiring.”

- Long Long Trail

"This fascinating and important book deserves a wide audience."

- Stand To!

“This book is absolutely engrossing and has made full and good use of the resources to which it has access……..highly recommended”

- SOFNAM Autumn 2018

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