In 1916, young ENT surgeon Harold Gillies set up Britain’s first plastic surgery unit, where he practised the ‘strange new art’ of facial reconstruction for those who had suffered severe injuries and burns.
Gillies was given the go-ahead, and by January 1916 was setting up Britain’s first plastic surgery unit at the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot. Gillies toured base hospitals in France to seek suitable patients to be sent to his unit. He returned expecting about 200 patients – but the opening of the unit coincided with the opening of the Somme offensive in 1916, and more than 2,000 patients with facial injuries were sent to Aldershot. Treatment was also needed for sailors and airmen suffering from facial burns.