I started a WW1 board on Pinterest and one series of pictures that kept turning up were pictures of the badly wounded, especially face wounds. These were soldiers who were horribly disfigured by the shells, bullets and debris that struck them in the trenches. Pinterest is sort of a collector with algorithms. I started a board where I could store pics of WW1 tanks, guns and trenches for some posts here and then when the algorithm figured out that I was looking for pics of WW1, pictures of soldiers showed, many of them on their way to the war. Some of the things in this post are going to be ugly and gruesome. There’s no real way to color it over and I’m not even going to try. History should be looked and read as it was, not as we would like it to be.
This video from the Great War has some points about life during the war.
I’ve been playing around with Pinterest lately, collecting pics for blog posts and engineering and hobby stuff, most of which will appear here eventually. I also collected pictures of WW1 artillery for a post on the revolution that happened in artillery designs right before the war. Along with those pictures I found pictures like these, of the young men before they went to war.
These men did not make it back, having lost their lives in the mess that was the Western Front that consumed so many. They marched out looking like this.
They didn’t come back that way. I’m old enough to have met some WW1 vets and my great uncle Roscoe was a vet, though I’m not sure that we ever met and we certainly never talked about WW1. One thing that has struck me about war is that it never leaves you even after it’s been over for a long time. Especially the Great War.
Wounds start as fairly mild and the typical wounds that the people in charge of militaries had been dealing with for centuries, the wounds as a result of bullets and near misses. That would change.
Along with loss of limbs.
Which required large numbers of traditional prosthetic limbs.
The other nasties like phosgene and chlorine had their own special ways of injuring the troops in the trenches and flamethrowers added getting burned to the mix. The worst though, was heavy artillery. Shells from large guns tend to be supersonic and burst in the air. So the first shells would hit troops that didn’t know that they were coming. when they did explode they spread steel shell casing and high pressure gas in a large area, digging up the earth. So they created large areas filled with shell fragments, rocks and dirt all flying around with high energy that hit everything in it’s path indiscriminately. With consequences to the troops that can be imagined.
The most horrifying wounds though are to the face. Heretofore most of the wounded in previous wars were struck in the body or limbs, not the face. The trench warfare of WW1 changed that. In the trenches the most exposed and likely to be hit was the head and face, simply because the rest of the body was inside the trench. The shells also tended to land outside the trench and fire debris into the trench over the parapet. So the head, face and shoulders are most likely to get injured. In previous wars these wounds would be fatal but improved medical care meant that wounded were surviving wounds that in previous wars would have killed them. So by 1915 thousands of men were being dumped into military hospitals in dire need of reconstructive surgery.
The efforts of the surgeons was remarkably successful as the pictures below show.
Here is a French video about their efforts in Plastic surgery during and after WW1.
And another one.
Apparently there is an exhibit somewhere in France.
Even the best efforts of the surgeons was all too frequently not enough. In that case masks and prosthetics were called for and people stepped up to make masks and appliances so that the veterans did not have to face the social ostracisation that goes with being too different.
Not that the masks were a perfect solution
The surgery techniques used in plastic surgery got a huge boost due to the war. Like many things, the stress of war creates advancement in technologies and skills. The cost though, is far higher than the return. So when you see an article like this in a newspaper about a celebrity or celebrity wannabe changing themselves with plastic surgery like this one below, remember the suffering veterans and dedicated surgeons and hospitals that did all the effort to reduce the suffering and return the veterans to some sense of normalcy.
Here’s my WW1 Pinterest board with more pics about the war.
Update: The Great War guys liked this post when I sent it to them.