Harold Gillies & Archibald McIndoe

Plastic surgery

Plastic surgery - Harold Gillies & Archibald McIndoe

For over 5,000 allied soldiers in the fields of France, Belgium and other battlegrounds during WW1, luck was not on their side. Facial injuries - usually gunshot wounds - were all too common, and it fell to a young NZ-born surgeon to come up with a way to cope with these often horrific injuries.

Harold Delf Gillies (b. 1882, d. 1960) was born in Dunedin and spent his youth in New Zealand. Son of an MP, Gillies was also quite a sportsman, winning prizes for rowing and in later life representing England in golf. Gillies moved to the UK to study at Cambridge University, and after graduating, Gillies studied surgery in a London hospital. He became known as a talented ear, nose and throat surgeon with a lot of promise. When WW1 broke out, he joined the Red Cross and saw many young men needing facial surgery. He began to think about better ways to help these guys, some of them horribly disfigured.

Ironically, he cited one of his earliest influences as a German book he was given which had some pictures in it of how the Germans were thinking about this area of medicine. He proposed to the British Army that they create a unit for this 'plastic surgery' work (the phrase 'plastic' coming from the Greek word plastikos, which means to mould or model) and in 1916 was ordered by the War Office to head up this new unit as a surgeon in the Royal Army Medical Corps. It was here that he saw the opportunity for a number of different ways to treat facial injuries. Working with dentists, other surgeons and a tragically unceasing stream of patients, he pioneered techniques for facial reconstruction.