One surgeon’s battle to mend the Disfigured Soldiers of World War l
Allen Lane, 2022
Hardback 336pp. RRP: $45.00
Reviewer: Mike O’Brien, May 2023
Harold Gillies should be viewed by soldiers worldwide as a hero. But who has heard the name? What were his heroic deeds?
Wounds are the inevitable product of wars and facial disfigurement is one of the worser effects. Dr Gillies was a New Zealander, surgically educated in the UK. He joined the Army Medical Corps at the outbreak of the First World War and inevitably encountered many soldiers with horrid facial wounding. His natural curiosity caused him to work with a dentist, who under medical supervision, had worked towards ways of remediating jaw wounds. One result was that Gillies became a pioneer of the art and science of plastic surgery. Perhaps the most important result was the repair, partial though it sometimes was, of the psychological injury that accompanied these dreadful wounds.
This is not a surgical text, but it is a fascinating account of the success of a pioneer. An interesting sideline is that some of his success could be attributed to the Medical Corps tradition of valuing skill above rank and seniority.
Gillies continued his work in the Second World War with similar success. His techniques remain in use. Never was a knighthood more deserved.
An engaging and almost necessary read!
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.