Sunday 27 October 2013

Substance with a great deal of Style

The Art and Wartime Surgery of Gillies, Pickerill, McIndoe and Mowlem
Murray C. Meikle
Otago University Press, 2013

I was very fortunate to be sent a copy of this book recently, and it's a real joy in every respect. The first thing you notice is that it's beautiful, which seems an increasingly rare blessing in books these days. Printed on heavy semi-gloss paper it has the feel, in some ways, of a coffee-table volume which, though lovely to look at is a bit lightweight inside. On the contrary, in this case the inside couldn't be better.

Researched to a pitch that leaves the reader breathless, it traces the lives and work of four men, Harold Gillies, Archibald McIndoe, Henry Pickerill and Arthur Mowlem, all four with roots in New Zealand, and in particlar the town of Dunedin and the University of Otago. It outlines the work of surgeons in the Great War on the Western Front and at Aldershot, Wandsworth and Queen's Hospital, Sidcup. It continues with the development of Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead during the inter-war years, the 'Guinea Pig Club' of the Second World War, the work at Hill End House, St. Albans and post-war at Rooksdown House, Basingstoke. Throughout it's crammed with images of people and places, both colour and black and white - a combination of historical photos and portraits, fine art and facial reconstruction, which illustrate the text in an instructional and dramatic manner. The numerous appendices cover not only the usual references but also biographies of the book's lesser players, a list of all 642 members of the Guinea Pig Club and the names of all medical staff who held appointments at Queen's Hospital, Sidcup up to 1929.

In addition, the end cover also contains a DVD which has a series of films of plastic surgery produced in 1945 and converted from 16mm film. It adds up to a meticulously researched and beautifully produced book which will become a definitive account of facial reconstruction through two world wars and more than five decades.


  1. It's on my Christmas list. I didn't even know this book existed. I have a download of Gillies's Plastic Surgery of the Face (courtesy Internet Archive), have interacted with the Gillies archivist at the Queen Mary Hospital Sidcup, and have also worked to a degree on the data of men treated by Gillies. He has my enormous admiration but the pain behind some of those surgeries must have been almost unimagineable.

  2. I've had the book for a couple of months, but quite honestly it was almost too overwhelming to write about before! Some of the chapters are written in collaboration with others, including Andrew Bamji - I'm sure you'll find it worthwhile.