History & BAPRAS Archives

British plastic surgery was born during the First World War. The brutal nature of trench warfare caused terrible head and facial injuries among soldiers on both sides of the conflict, with bullets and explosive shells causing mutilation on an unprecedented scale.

Up until this point, there were surgeons who performed reconstructive and grafting procedures alongside more general surgery, but none who specialised in these areas. It was Major Harold Gillies, serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps in France, who saw the value of a dedicated reconstructive surgical discipline, and who helped to establish a centre devoted to facial repair at the Queen Mary's Hospital in Sidcup, Kent. Here, with a team of surgeons, nurses and specialist staff, Gillies pioneered many plastic surgery techniques. Widely considered to be the ‘father of plastic surgery', Gillies was knighted for his services in 1930.

By the 1930s there were four plastic surgeons practising in England. They were Gillies, Kilner, McIndoe and Mowlem, who became known as ‘The Great Four'. At the outbreak of the Second World War several units were set up to treat civilian and forces patients in need of reconstructive plastic surgery, with team of surgeons working both at home and abroad.

The idea of an Association for plastic surgery was put forward in 1944 by Sir Harold GIllies, with the aim to direct the development, uphold the standards and safeguard the interests of the burgeoning specialty, an ethos which BAPRAS continues on with today

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