Faces from the Front – 100 years of QMH

Faces from the front

Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup, will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a special exhibition and open day on Saturday 9 September 2017.

Originally opened as the Queen’s Hospital, it was designed and built to treat military casualties with facial injuries. Over 5000 patients were treated between 1917 and 1925 in more than 1000 acute and convalescent beds. 

Surgeons from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand worked with dentists, anaesthetists, radiologists, dental technicians and artists to develop a brand new specialty – plastic surgery – in a way unparalleled in Europe. In Sidcup, this pioneering treatment combined surgery and rehabilitation, with consideration of how patients would look and psychological support.

Andrew Bamji, a retired consultant from Queen Mary’s, spent many years researching the First World War history of the hospital, aided by his discovery of many case files from the New Zealand and British sections.  His archive website brought him into contact with many relatives of past patients.  His book, Faces from the Front, published this month by Helion Press, describes the fascinating story of the surgical work and lays to rest some public misconceptions about the origins of modern plastic surgery.

Faces from the front book cover

"Many people believe that facial surgery, particularly for burns, began at East Grinstead under Archibald McIndoe with the “Guinea Pigs” of the Royal Air Force” said Dr Bamji.  “but Harold Gillies at Sidcup was the true pioneer, with nearly 70 burns patients treated there."

Dr Bamji argues that the overall war experience had more of a psychological impact than injury.  His view is supported by family accounts. The positive outcomes for many Sidcup patients reflected the support given to injured men.  

"At Sidcup the patient was almost a part of the team; the huge numbers of patients at Sidcup enabled new patients to be encouraged by those who had gone before.  Patients were given sets of photographs to take away, perhaps to remind them how bad things might have been without surgery."

The hospital is holding an Open Day on Saturday 9th September 2017 from 10.30am to 3.30pm to celebrate the anniversary and official re-launch of Queen Mary’s as a community hospital, with tours of the hospital’s new, state-of-the-art facilities, a historical exhibition, traditional fete style activities, live music and children’s entertainment.

Dr Bamji will be signing copies of his book for those wishing to learn more.  He is also speaking at the Rye Arts Festival on September 26th, and at the National Archives, Kew the following day.

Andy Trotter, Chair of Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust said: "We’re all really looking forward to this special occasion in the hospital’s history and are very pleased that Dr Bamji is able to join us to help bring to life the hospital’s rich past and the truly outstanding work of Harold Gillies."

Published on 18th August 2017