ANZAC Surgeons Remembered at Medical Conference
- July 22, 2015

The First World War was a challenge to most surgeons. More destructive weapons resulted in devastating injuries and trench warfare meant the head was more exposed than the rest of the body so that soldiers’ faces were often shattered or burnt with many left completely disfigured.

Three New Zealand surgeons, Harold Gillies, Henry Pickerill and Archibald McIndoe were the pioneers of early plastic surgery and the role they played in rebuilding the faces of injured soldiers was remembered recently at a Perth medical conference.

In a keynote lecture at the conference, Otago University's Associate Professor Darryl Tong described the development of facial reconstruction surgery and New Zealand’s extraordinary contribution to the field.

Rhinoplasty, skin grafts, and facial reconstructions have been practised for centuries. However, it was New Zealander Harold Gillies who standardised these techniques and established the principles of ‘plastic surgery’ which were adopted by surgeons from every part of the world.

For Gillies, plastic surgery not only involved restoring function but also making the person look normal and sometimes more beautiful than before.

Henry Pickerill, the first Dean of the Dental School at the University of Otago was another leading pioneer in plastic surgery and was a contemporary of Gillies during the First World War. The trend continued into World War Two, when fellow New Zealander Archie McIndoe and his patients who formed the Guinea Pig Club, became famous.

Associate Professor Tong, who is also a lieutenant Colonel in the Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps and the consultant maxillofacial surgeon for the NZ Defence Force said that many of the surgical principles pioneered by these surgeons still apply, enabling the surgeons of today to provide more efficient treatment to their patients.