Mutilated WWI soldiers given hope by a Wandsworth hospital

A patient at 3rd London General Hospital examines a plaster cast of his own face. This would be used to create a mask to cover his facial injuries, which can be clearly seen. (IWM)

A patient at 3rd London General Hospital examines a plaster cast of his own face. This would be used to create a mask to cover his facial injuries, which can be clearly seen. (IWM)

First published in News
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Wandsworth Guardian: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Reporter

The mechanisation of warfare during the First World War physically mutilated humans on a scale never seen before and it was in a small corner of Wandsworth where deformed men received some hope.

The Masks for Facial Disfigurement Department, or the Tin Noses Shop, as it became known among servicemen, was created during the war at the 3rd London General Hospital, near Wandsworth Common.

Wandsworth Guardian:

A selection of some of the items used to disguise facial injury, during the early development of plastic surgery (IWM)

An estimated 60,500 British soldiers suffered head or eye injuries and those bearing physical deformities had to live with their scars for the rest of their lives.

The idea was mooted in 1915 by sculptor Francis Derwent Wood after he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1914, too old for military service at the age of 41.

Wandsworth Guardian:

Captain Derwent Wood RA of the RAMC holds an artist's palette as he adds the finishing touches to a patient's new facial plate

He had worked the wards of the 3rd London General, which was originally a home and school for orphans before being requisitioned for the war effort, and a year in March 2016 his idea came to fruition and medics started restructuring soldiers’ faces using other parts of their body or plaster moulds to make masks.

Each mask took up to a month to create and were crafted from metal and painted to match the injured soldier's skin tone. Soon the department became known as the Tin Nose Shop.

Interviewed for Lancet in 1917, Derwent Wood said: "My work begins where the work of the surgeon is complete... The patient acquires his old self-respect, self-assurance, self-reliance.. take once more pride in his personal appearance. His presence is no longer a source of melancholy to himself nor the sadness of his relatives and friends."

Wandsworth Guardian:

The former hospital 

A temporary platform and station were built to the hospital's west side, which backs on to one of the main lines into Clapham Junction. A field behind the hospital, now a cricket oval, became an overflow area with rows of marquees acting as temporary wards.

The building is now known as the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building and is used as flats, studios a drama school and restaurant.

Derwent Wood's work inspired another similar hospital to open in Paris, serving more disfigured servicemen. When the Wandsworth ward wound down, having run from 1917 to 1919, After the war Derwent Smith was commissioned to create memorials to the men who never returned, including the Boy David, a memorial to the Machine Gun Corps at Hyde Park Corner.

Derwent Wood died in 1926 at the age of 55. His grave can be found at St Michael's Church, Amberley Village, in West Sussex.

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