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Change Me: Facial Injuries in the First World War

Paddy Hartley describes how an interest in the treatment of facial injuries in the First World War led him to develop a new form of sculpture.

On July 14th, 1916, 2nd Lieutenant Lumley of the Royal Flying Corps graduated from Central Flying School Upavon. He was twenty-five years old. The aircraft he piloted that summer day on his inaugural graduate flight crashed on Salisbury Plain. The Crash Cards tell us simply that his plane suffered mechanical failure. Lumley survived. His leather flying gear protected his head and torso but his face was burned beyond recognition.

The severity of Lumley’s burns qualified him for transfer to the facial injuries unit at Queen Mary’s Hospital Sidcup under the care of Surgeon Sir Harold Gillies. Eighteen months after his accident, Lumley underwent one of Gillies’ most ambitious surgeries. What remained of Henry’s face was removed and replaced with a large skin graft from his chest. The surgery appeared to be a success, but less than a month after surgery, Lumley’s body rejected the graft, and he died of heart failure on March 11th, 1918.

Henry was one of a surprisingly small number of men who died as a result of the facial reconstructive surgery performed by Gillies and his surgical team. The majority of the more than 5,000 men injured in the First World War who passed through  Gillies’ hands regained function and degrees of aesthetic resemblance to their selves prior to injury on the battlefields of Europe.

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