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Author Topic: Sir Harold Gillies, Plastic Surgery, and Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup Kent  (Read 1214 times)

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Harold Delf Gillies was born in New Zealand in 1882 and studied medicine at Cambridge University. He qualified as a surgeon in 1908 specializing in ear, nose and throat surgery. When the First World War broke out Gillies was sent to France by the Red Cross. In 1915 he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps. While in France he assisted the French-American dentist Auguste Valadier and met the French surgeon Hippolythe Morestin. This led to him becoming interested in reconstructive facial surgery.

On returning to the UK he persuaded Sir Arbuthnot Lane, the British Army's chief surgeon, to set up a facial injury unit at the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot.
As the number of casualties increased Gillies was charged with setting up and directing a specialist facility at Frognal House at Sidcup in Kent (as then).
This opened in June 1917, known first as Queen's Hospital then as Queen Mary's Hospital.
At the new hospital Gillies and his team, which included surgeons from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA as well as artists, dentists, photographers, radiologists, rehabilitation supervisors and technicians, pioneered many new techniques in maxillofacial surgery and anaesthetics.
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was the tube pedicle skin grafting technique. A flap of skin from a uninjured part of the body was cut away but left partly attached. It was then taken across to the injured area where it was sewn in place to allow new tissue to form.

By 1925, when the hospital closed to facial injury patients and Gillies went into private practice, the unit had performed 11,572 operations on over 5,000 patients.
For his work Gillies received the CBE and was knighted in 1930. On the outbreak of World War Two four plastic surgery hospitals were set up with Gillies based at Basingstoke operating mainly on army and civilian casualties. His cousin, Archibald McIndoe, was in charge of the unit at East Grinstead, treating RAF casualties, the well known Guinea Pig Club.
After the war Gillies returned to private practice. Sir Harold Gillies died in 1960.

The IWM has a number of photos of patients at the hospital with serious facial injuries @

The medical procedures involved are described and illustrated in H D Gillies book Plastic Surgery of the Face based on selected cases of war injuries of the face including burns, published in 1920. Available as a free E-Book @

For much more on the hospital and Sir Harold Gillies see

Three paintings by J Hodgson Lobley.

The Queen's Hospital for Facial Injuries, Frognal, Sidcup : the operating theatre. IWM
(Art.IWM ART 3659)
IWM Non Commercial Licence

The Queen's Hospital for Facial Injuries, Frognal, Sidcup : the dental mechanic's class.
IWM (Art.IWM ART 3757)
IWM Non Commercial Licence

The Queen's Hospital for Facial Injuries, Frognal, Sidcup: The toy-makers' shop. IWM
(Art.IWM ART 3756)
IWM Non Commercial Licence
Occupational Therapy was an integral part of the rehabilitation treatment; men required things to do to fill the long days and weeks between operations, and were also trained for life outside. Toys made at Sidcup were advertised by the London "Evening Standard" and were judged to be of very fine quality.

Off topic. For the Guinea Pig Club in WW2 I can recommend The Reconstruction of Warriors. Archibald McIndoe, the Royal Air Force and the Guinea Pig Club by E R Mayhew 2004.

Lower two photos from the Australian War Memorial collection.
Top: Queen Mary escorted by an unidentified officer, Sister Edith Horton (far right) and another unidentified nurse visiting a patient with a heavily bandaged face at Sidcup.
Lower: Outdoor group portrait of a group of patients with nursing sisters at Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup.
Hometown Blues Syd Arthur


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