The Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup - a plastic surgery revolution

PUBLISHED: 11:10 24 February 2014 | UPDATED: 11:10 24 February 2014

Nurses with patients of Queen Mary's Hospital

Nurses with patients of Queen Mary's Hospital


Historians estimate the number of soldiers killed on both sides at the Battle of the Somme may have totalled one million.

Dr Harold Gillies knew immediately that major surgical advancements would have to be made to cope with hundreds of thousands of wounded soldiers.

Dr Gillies – widely considered the father of plastic surgery – approached the British Army to highlight the pressing need for a facial injury ward to help casualties.

The Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot was dismissed as too small a base by the New Zealand-born surgeon.

So, in June 1917 – seven months after the guns fell silent at Somme – The Queen’s Hospital, equipped with 1,000 beds, was set up in Frognal Avenue, Sidcup.

During the next seven years, 11,000 operations were performed by Dr Gillies and a team of forward-thinking surgeons from around the world.

About 5,000 patients were treated – many of whom received surgery to the face.

Dr Andrew Bamji, of Rye, Sussex, a former rheumatologist, maintained the archives from Gillies’ pioneering era when he worked as a consultant at what became Queen Mary’s Hospital in the 1980s.

Speaking of the time in which Dr Gillies worked, Dr Bamji said: “There were some texts that told you how to do some [facial] operations.

“But when you took the operation further it did not always work.”

Dr Gillies worked tirelessly alongside colleagues from Australia, New Zealand and Canada, making rapid strides in facial surgery.

“Harold Gillies was the best of the lot,” said Dr Bamji.

“He was the originator, he was the instigator. He invented many of the techniques.”

One of the methods developed was the “tubed pedicle” when a flap of skin is moved from one part of the body to another. It is a method still used today to treat burns victims.

One of the first beneficiaries of this method was able seaman Willie Vicarage, who had suffered severe facial wounds at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

Dr Bamji reveals research shows Dr Gillies was keen to involve his patients in the decision-making before surgery took place.

“Gillies always included the patients,” said Dr Bamji.

“He showed them a gallery before surgery and they could decide which pattern they would like for nose operations.

“He was also a pioneer in rehabilitation.”

Dr Bamji, who had a successful career as a rheumatologist at Queen Mary’s, discovered many of the patients still struggled to talk about their experience.

“Quite a lot of the patients did not talk about their injuries afterwards but they did quite well for themselves.

“There were a few who stayed at Queen Mary’s Hospital to work.”

Dr Bamji set up a website to commemorate Dr Gillies’ work, which he says has led to “40 to 50 emails” from people looking to discover more about relatives who passed through Queen Mary’s.

Dr Gillies was knighted for his work in the Queen’s birthday honours list in 1930 and acted as a consultant during the Second World War, setting up plastic surgery units across the country.

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