Faces of Battle
November 3, 2007 11:01 AM   Subscribe

As Armistice Day approaches an exhibition reveals a hidden side to the horror of World War I. It contains previously unseen images of British servicemen who suffered terrible facial injuries in the conflict. The exhibition also tells the story of one surgeon - Harold Gillies – who through his efforts to help them became known as the father of modern plastic surgery. WARNING: Some of the following images are of a very graphic nature.
posted by infini (8 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you've ever seen the movie "The Battle of Britain", you'll remember a character named "Squadron Leader Tom Evans" whose face had been burned.

That wasn't makeup. That really is his face. His name is Bill Foxley, and he was one of Gillies' patients.

Foxley wasn't a fighter pilot. He was part of the crew of a bomber which got shot up and crashed in England. Foxley got out of the bomber safely, but one of his crewmates was trapped inside, so Foxley went back into the burning wreck to help him. In doing so, Foxley lost his face, several of his fingers, and his right eye.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:22 AM on November 3, 2007

(Foxley is WWII, of course. But his pain was just as real.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:23 AM on November 3, 2007

Previously seen images.
posted by brautigan at 11:36 AM on November 3, 2007

German Luftwaffe fighter ace Johannes Steinhoff (1913-1994) flew the entire war and suffered severe burns during an ME-262 crash in 1945. He survived to become a postwar general officer and NATO commander.

From a magazine interview shortly before he died:
Steinhoff: I only bailed out once. I never trusted the parachutes. I always landed my damaged planes, hoping not to get bounced on the way down when I lost power. I was wounded only once lightly, but never seriously until my crash.

WWII: Tell us about that near-fatal crash.
Steinhoff: Many writers have covered that, but hardly anyone ever asked me about it, except for Raymond Toliver, so here is the true story. I was taking off in formation on April 18, 1945, for my 900th mission. Galland was leading the flight, which included Gerhard Barkhorn, [Klaus] Neumann, [Eduard] Schallmoser, [Ernst] Fahrmann and myself. We were to fly formation and engage an American bomber formation. Our airfield had suffered some damage over the last several days due to Allied bombing and strafing attacks, and as my jet was picking up speed, the left undercarriage struck a poorly patched crater. I lost the wheel, and the plane jumped perhaps a meter into the air, so I tried to raise the remaining right wheel. I was too low to abort takeoff, and my speed had not increased enough to facilitate takeoff. I knew as I came toward the end of the runway that I was going to crash. The 262 hit with a great thump, then a fire broke out in the cockpit as it skidded to a stop. I tried to unfasten my belts when an explosion rocked the plane, and I felt an intense heat. My 24 R4M rockets had exploded, and the fuel was burning me alive. I remember popping the canopy and jumping out, flames all around me, and I fell down and began to roll. The explosions continued, and the concussion was deafening, knocking the down as I tried to get up and run away. I cannot describe the pain.

WWII: After you escaped from the plane, you were taken to the hospital?
Steinhoff: Yes, sure. They thought I would die. Even the surgeons had no idea that I would survive, but I tricked them.

WWII: For years afterward you continued to have surgery to correct the damage. Could you tell us about that?
Steinhoff: In 1969 a British doctor, a plastic surgeon, made new eyelids for me from the skin on my forearm. From the time of the crash until this time I could not close my eyes, so I wore dark glasses to protect them. I had dozens of surgeries over the years, and I recently had a heart bypass, as you know, which delayed our interview. I am now full of spare parts, you could say.
Imagine being able to close your eyes again after 24 years.
posted by cenoxo at 1:46 PM on November 3, 2007

Here's a novel, Maisie Dobbs, (a mystery) that involves World War One soldiers with facial disfigurement. (Not that you'd ever guess it from the book's official plot summary. The casual reader is not likely to pick up a mystery, knowing that one of the world's most depressing subjects lurks inside.)
posted by Faze at 1:56 PM on November 3, 2007

I know people have been murdering each other by the millions for the entire 20th Century (Pol Pot, Holocaust, Stalin, etc.).

But for whatever reason, the First World War as a whole is the most cruel, senseless, atrocious, insane event I can even imagine. Just thinking of Passchendaele makes me feel ill.

These pictures really blew me away.
posted by facetious at 3:22 PM on November 3, 2007

I agree with facetious that the First World War was somehow most horrific of modern times. My home island of Lewis suffered greatly, and the repercussions of The Great War are still felt keenly today.

Historically, the islands contributed proportionally the largest number of men, larger than any part of the UK. Scotland itself is grossly over-represented when compared to other parts of the country in recent wars and it was no different during the First World War. Out of a total population of 30,000 in the Isle of Lewis, more than 6,000 men had voluntarily joined up. 1,000 of those never returned. This contribution has never met with the recognition it deserved and certainly not in the immediate aftermath of the war. Hundreds of men returned to Lewis, expecting the government to fulfil its promise of allocating them land to raise families, build houses and grow crops. A promise that was not met and ultimately leading to civil unrest and mass emigration. On average 1 out of every 7 men in the island joined up, irrespective of unit; the district of Uig for example contributed 1 out of every 3 men, 30%. No family escaped loss. Those that did survive the slaughter in Europe still failed to make it home to their loved ones. The Iolaire disaster of 1918 saw the lucky ones die within meters of their home shore and there awaiting families.

A lighter and interesting note was that a great many Lewisman were employed as grenadiers: those men tasked with the bombing of trenches and positions using grenades of various types. Bombing parties grew in number and frequency as the war progressed and formed a major component of any infantry attack by the war's close (although US forces used them less, chiefly on account of supply shortages).

The reason for their popularity in this role? Young boys on the island played and took stonethrowing games very seriously and the ceramics on telegraph poles were the target of choice for showing off our mischevious prowess with a pebble. As a result the island men were reknowned for their ability to throw long and unfailingly acurate grenades.

It baffles me that people then felt such strong a tie to Queen and Country that they's sign up in such numbers and with such enthusiasm. At least from 1939 their was a cause to believe in but in 1914? Poor brave bastards.
posted by brautigan at 10:00 PM on November 3, 2007

(Ach, excuse the grammar and typos.)
posted by brautigan at 10:05 PM on November 3, 2007

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