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Harold Delf Gillies (1882-1960)

Harold Gillies was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1882. He studied medicine at Cambridge University and qualified as a surgeon in the UK. He went to France to serve in the First World War, where he met an American-French dentist called Charles Auguste Valadier. Gillies became enthusiastic about Valadier’s efforts to replace missing jaws resulting from gunshot wounds.

During the First World War plastic surgery was used to repair soldiers’ faces. Harold Gillies is famous now for his early work on plastic surgery, but his work during the First World War went largely unnoticed. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1915 and went to France, where he became interested in plastic surgery of the face. He focused on aesthetics, trying to make patients similar to how they looked before their injury.

Gillies opened a hospital at Aldershot and after the Battle of the Somme in 1916 treated two thousand cases of jaw and facial mutilation. In 1917 the hospital moved to the Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup, Kent, where Gillies continued his work with civilians after the war. He did not achieve recognition for his work until he went to Copenhagen in 1924 to treat a number of Danish naval officers and men who had been severely burned in an accident. Gillies was a major influence on his cousin, Archibald McIndoe, who advanced plastic surgery techniques still further during the Second World War.


Related links

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W F Bynum and H Bynum (eds), Dictionary of Medical Biography (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2007)

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2005)