Men who were facially disfigured in the First World War could get their own memorial if a campaign led by a Master’s Student from Goldsmiths, University of London is successful.
Ellie Grigsby, who is studying the MA in History at Goldsmiths, was inspired to launch the campaign after finding that, despite 12% of wounded men from the Great War suffering facial injuries, the plight of facially-disfigured men barely features in museums or popular culture.
Her plan is for a memorial to be located at Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup, which opened 100 years ago (as ‘The Queen's Hospital’) specifically to treat severe facial injuries, where an estimated 11,000 operations were performed to ‘give men their faces back’.
But the memorial will not go ahead without public donations so Ellie has set up a Just Giving page where people can contribute towards the cost.
Ellie Grigsby said: “With so many World War One centenaries this year we are in danger of forgetting those men who suffered life-changing facial disfigurements: although many were treated successfully, recovering their lives at The Queen's Hospital, there were thousands of cases where men just couldn't be 'fixed’.
“These were men whose horrific injuries meant their wives couldn’t bear to look at them and whose children didn’t recognise them and were often petrified of them. Mirrors were banned from many hospital wards for fear of the shock when patients saw their own damaged faces.
“Many men chose to live for periods of time in convalescent homes to escape the glares, looks of pity, and name calling. Arguably, facially-mutilated men felt overwhelming pressure from the rest of society to wear facial prosthetics such as tin masks; to shield society from the reality of what war can do to a face.”
Queen Mary's Hospital is a fitting site for the memorial as it was here that pioneering operations gave artificial faces to thousands of disfigured servicemen. Sadly, thousands more who could not be treated suffered depression, became alcoholics, or died by suicide. Even around the hospital the horrifically disfigured were designated blue benches to sit on, a warning for people to avoid them, as a way of not affronting local patients or discharged men.
Ellie Grigsby said: “In the past those suffering facial disfigurements have been overlooked because people find the topic uncomfortable or upsetting. But this discomfort is nothing compared to the suffering of men who had to cope with both terrible injuries and being excluded from society: this memorial will help to ensure that they are not forgotten.”
After a successful fundraising campaign the memorial will be unveiled at Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup in 2019.