Amid the horrors of World War I, a corps of artists brought hope to soldiers disfigured in the trenches
By Caroline Alexander writing for Smithsonian.
Wounded tommies facetiously called it “The Tin Noses Shop.” Located within the 3rd London General Hospital, its proper name was the “Masks for Facial Disfigurement Department”; either way, it represented one of the many acts of desperate improvisation borne of the Great War, which had overwhelmed all conventional strategies for dealing with trauma to body, mind and soul. On every front—political, economic, technological, social, spiritual—World War I was changing Europe forever, while claiming the lives of 8 million of her fighting men and wounding 21 million more.
The large-caliber guns of artillery warfare with their power to atomize bodies into unrecoverable fragments and the mangling, deadly fallout of shrapnel had made clear, at the war’s outset, that mankind’s military technology wildly outpaced its medical: “Every fracture in this war is a huge open wound,” one American doctor reported, “with a not merely broken but shattered bone at the bottom of it.” The very nature of trench warfare, moreover, proved diabolically conducive to facial injuries: “[T]he…soldiers failed to understand the menace of the machine gun,” recalled Dr. Fred Albee, an American surgeon working in France. “They seemed to think they could pop their heads up over a trench and move quickly enough to dodge the hail of bullets.”
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