The ugly face of war

JILLIAN ALLISON-AITKEN
Last updated 13:10 11/03/2014

BOOK REVIEW: Reconstructing Faces: The Art and Wartime Surgery of Gillies, Pickerill, McIndoe and Mowlem
By Murray C Meikle (Otago University Press, RRP $60)

While the horrors of war are something we would all rather avoid, sometimes it is through those horrors that great things emerge.

During World War I, surgeons had a new challenge: That so many of the soldiers who survived being injured were left with devastating facial problems. They would survive to go home to their families but would be forced to carry the constant reminders of war on their faces.

Four New Zealand surgeons pioneered facial reconstruction surgery techniques during both World War I and II, helping to revolutionise the business of plastic surgery and facial trauma.

The methods they developed were ground-breaking in treating soldiers, pilots and civilians who had been disfigured by bombs, shrapnel and burns.

Sir Harold Gillies, Sir Archibald McIndoe, Rainsford Mowlem and Henry Pickerill - all of whom have ties to Dunedin - formed the core of a team that included dentists, general surgeons, artists, photographers, nurses, orderlies and anaesthetists dedicated to solving the problem of how to deal with the life-changing injuries of war.

This book covers the more academic side of things fairly well but is still very readable for the layman. Packed with photographs and diagrams, it is a fascinating look at a group of pioneers who changed medicine, and the lives of their patients, forever.

The story of what this group of dedicated professionals achieved and how they achieved it is nothing short of remarkable.

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