We know that the bullying of children with unusual appearances is all too common

1914-1918 War - facial wounds, and responses to altered appearance

Trench warfare and mechanised warfare made soldiers vulnerable as never before to wounds to the face and head.

Huge numbers of wounded soldiers were arriving at military field hospitals for emergency treatment. As medical teams learnt how to keep more seriously wounded soldiers alive for longer, more and more were sent to military hospitals back in Britain. Among the wounded were many soldiers with very severe facial injuries. In Britain these new kinds of facial wounds led to important advances in medical treatment, including the development of plastic surgery and facial reconstruction techniques, involving sequenced surgeries that enabled skin and other tissue from elsewhere on a wounded soldier’s body to be used to repair and to some extent restore the wounded face. As their treatment progressed, these soldiers also undertook activities including reading, writing and vocational skills training to ensure they would be able to work when they returned home.

How did their families, their employers and their local communities respond?

The centenary years of the First World War have seen the creation of new educational resources which you can use to enable your students to explore responses, then and now, to people with facial injuries. Here you will find links to other interesting and useful resources as well as new Changing Faces resources.

As these resources show, many soldiers who sustained facial wounds in the First World War, and in other conflicts, benefited from advances in plastic surgery and could make a good recovery with an altered appearance. When they returned to their family, their community, and their employment, other people’s responses to their altered appearance made all the difference.

Learning about facial injuries and their treatment in the First World War will increase your students’ familiarity with unusual faces and enable them to reflect upon their response to anyone who has a condition, injury or mark that affects the way they look. Learning about other people’s responses to these soldiers’ altered appearance will provide your students with opportunities to discuss and evaluate contemporary responses to people with unusual faces.

A growing body of contemporary fiction has tried to capture the human experience of the soldiers who were facially injured. Some, like Marc Dugain’s La Chambre des Officiers which is also a fine film, and Adref o Uffern (Home from Hell) by Garffild Lloyd Lewis, have drawn from personal accounts of survivors. Others like Pat Barker’s Life Class trilogy, The Crimson Portrait by Jody Shields and Louisa Young’s My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You are fictional but very well-researched narratives.

Among books aimed at younger readers, facial wounds, their treatment, or the impact of altered appearance on all those involved do not feature, so far, although other aspects of wounding and the medical response are covered. e.g. see: What are the best first world war books for children?  and Top Ten/Children’s and Young Adult Books Set During WWI.

Never Such Innocence provides a substantial on-line resource for exploring WW1 more widely, with small new section on facial injuries and the medical treatments that were developed in response, and the varying social responses in Britain, in France and in Germany. Within the main resource, go to pages 78-79 for an outline of Dr Harold Gillies’ work in Britain and the French response to soldiers with facial injuries.

This resource supports an annual competition which invites pupils to use art and poetry explore their responses to the material.

Lesson Idea: Ordinary life – unordinary face
This lesson draws upon the life of a French mathematician, Dr Gaston Julia, which is outlined at p 79 of the Never Such Innocence resource.

This lesson will help students to move away from the common but erroneous idea that someone with a facial injury cannot have any kind of a nice life, to the unexpected truth that many people with facial injuries go on to live full and happy lives.

This was the case for many facially injured soldiers in the Great War. Gaston Julia is unusual only because he was a high-profile mathematician, so more is known about him and there are photographs too. He was born in Algeria, sustained a serious facial injury during WW1, did important mathematical research at the University of Paris, had a good family life too. His son Marc went on to become an important research chemist.

Starter: Invite your students to read and think about the item about Gaston Julia. Ask them to imagine that they work* or study at the University of Paris where Gaston Julia teaches mathematics and does his mathematical research. Or they can imagine that they are a member of Gaston’s wider family – that Gaston is their Uncle, say. (For this, it may be useful to think about other features of life in the 1920s and 1930s – there are several websites offering numerous historic and atmospheric photographs that you can choose from to get your students into the era.)

* There are all kinds of jobs at universities: office workers, gardeners, cleaners, canteen staff and librarians as well as teachers and researchers across every field of study,.

Discussion: What is it like to have a colleague or an uncle who has a severe facial injury from the war?

Activity: It is an ordinary day in the 1920s or 1930s and you are a colleague or relative of Gaston Julia. Write a diary entry or a letter to a friend describing something that you did today with Dr Julia or with your Uncle Gaston.

The 1914faces2014 research project developed teaching resources for your GCSE and PSHE students. Use these resources to bring specific curriculum content to life, or for extension activities.

This teaching resource provides an extensive range of unusual starting points, information and images, links and discussion questions that will enable your students to explore and develop their ideas about unusual faces. The lesson ideas and PowerPoint collections will help your students explore developments in facial surgery in World War 1, and responses to wartime facial injuries across the ensuing century.

Lesson idea: Writing for good
This draws upon:
A – the PowerPoint slides about Sir Harold Gillies and his work in the 1914FACES2014 resource at (i) WWI facial surgery – educational resources.
B – the Changing Faces Media Guidelines.
Use this lesson to teach students the importance of other people’s responses to disfigurement and the importance of the language they use when writing or talking about people with facial injuries.

Starter: Invite your students to imagine being pupils in the 1920s at a local school in the town of Sidcup near Sir Harold Gillies’ new hospital for facially injured soldiers (who were still being treated long after the war had ended).

Discussion: On your way home from school, you encounter a man who has a very unusual face, which is being gradually reconstructed in stages, using plastic surgery techniques. What do you feel? What do you think? What do you do? How do you think the soldier would feel upon encountering a pupil or a small group of pupils near the local school?

Activity: You are a journalist on the local paper serving the town of Sidcup where Harold Gillies opened his new hospital for soldiers with facial injuries in 1917. Sir Harold asks you to write an article about the hospital and its work. Gillies wants you to guide the local people to respond in a positive way, if and when they meet one of his soldier-patients (who might walk into town for a change of scene). Use the Changing Faces media guidelines to guide your choice of words and phrases, write your newspaper story so that it will support both your readers and the soldiers. (Remember: Soldiers in the hospital could well read your paper.)

Your comments and feedback is important

If you use either of these lessons with your class, please let us know how you get on. It is especially helpful if you tell us what worked well and anything that did not work well or that you did in a different way that did work well. Feedback from teachers (and students!) helps us to make our resources as good as they can be. Please email your comments and feedback to janef@changingfaces.org.uk. Thank you.