100 Years Ago: Making Over Disfigured Faces

The Intelligencer May 11, 1916 (page 6)

“Making Over Disfigured Faces. Lieut. Derwent Wood, A.R.A., is developing one of the oddest occupations that has sprung out of the war. He is manufacturing new faces for those that have been destroyed or horribly disfigured by shell-fire, and men who have seen some of his handiwork declare that it is wonderful.

It is said that such wounds as have been inflicted in this war have never been known before. They are the result of high explosives, for the most part, though expanding bullets have left their own dreadful impression upon many soldiers. In other wars men wounded as have been those treated by Lieut. Wood died from their injuries. Thanks to the improvement of medical art, these wounds though horrible, are frequently not fatal. They are such, however, as would prevent those receiving them from ever appearing in public again. To build them new faces is the task of Lieut. Wood.

One of the earliest cases he treated was that of Driver Ferguson, a member of the Canadian Field Artillery, who was wounded at Ypres. A piece of shell carried away his right eye and ‘the surrounding structures.’ In the ordinary course of events there would have been nothing to attach an artificial eye to, and the disfigurement was so appalling …  that he never could have resumed his old trade. After passing through the hands of Lieut. Wood, Ferguson shows no sign of his injury, even under close inspection. He appears to have two good eyes, and the contour of the injured side of his face is exactly as it was before he received his injury.

To prove that he is no longer an unsightly object it is sufficient to mention the fact that he is about to be married. But perhaps this is no proof at all. The real proof is that he will be able to go about among his fellow-men and not be conscious of their horrified stares. …

Derwent Wood was one of the most distinguished of the younger generation of British sculptors when the war broke out; and like many thousands of other artists, he heard the call of duty and enlisted in the Army Medical Corps as a private. Appalled by the number of men with terrible facial wounds that he encountered in the hospital, he begged leave to see if he could do anything for them. …

The complete cost of one of his plates is $25, which is cheap, since an artificial leg costs from $200 to $250. The Government, of course, bears the entire expense, and, apart from motives of humanity and gratitude, it might well act from motives of economy, since a wounded soldier that is unable to resume his ordinary occupation is much more expensive to the nation than one who becomes self-supporting.”