Sir Harold Delf Gillies was a London-based otolaryngologist. His pioneering work in facial repairs and reconstructive medical advances during world war one earned him the moniker, “the father of plastic surgery”
Born in New Zealand, Gillies came to the UK and studied medicine at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps upon the outbreak of World War 1 and was posted to France. There, he observed some developing work in jaw repair as a medical minder, and later took an interest in facial reconstruction after meeting the surgeon Hippolyte Morestin in Paris.
So enthusiastic was Gillies about the medical advances he’d witnessed abroad that upon his return to England, he persuaded the army’s chief surgeon to set up a facial injury ward at the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot. This was swiftly usurped by an entirely new hospital dedicated to facial repairs at Sidcup, and in 1917, The Queen’s Hospital opened, providing over 1000 beds for wounded soldiers.
Over the course of World War 1, Harold Gillies and his colleagues performed over 11,000 operations on over 5000 men at The Queen’s Hospital. Harold’s innovative surgical techniques saw an unprecedented improvement in prospects for soldiers with facial injuries.
Harold Gillies was knighted in June 1930 for his services during the war. During World War II he acted as a consultant to the Ministry of Health, co-ordinating plastic surgery units across Great Britain. He continued working until his death in 1960.