Harold Gillies

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Sir Harold Delf Gillies (17 June 1882 - 10 September 1960) was a New Zealand-born, and later London based, otolaryngologist who is widely considered as the father of plastic surgery.

Personal life

Gillies was born in Dunedin, New Zealand. He studied medicine at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University, where despite a stiff elbow (sustained sliding down the banisters at home as a child) he was a rowing blue.

Gillies married Kathleen Margaret Jackson on 9 November 1911, in London. They had four children. His youngest son Michael Thomas Gillies followed his father into medicine.

In addition to his career as a surgeon, he was also a champion golfer and inveterate practical joker. For many years his home was at 71 Frognal, in the heart of London's Hampstead village. A blue plaque on the front of that house now commemorates his life and work.


World War I

Following the outbreak of World War I he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. Initially posted to Wimereux, near Boulogne, he acted as medical minder to a French-American dentist, Valadier, who was not allowed to operate unsupervised but was attempting to develop jaw repair work. Gillies became enthusiastic about the work and on his return to England persuaded the army's chief surgeon, William Arbuthnot-Lane, that a facial injury ward should be established at the Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot.

This rapidly proved inadequate and a new hospital devoted to facial repairs was developed at Sidcup. The Queen's Hospital opened in June 1917 and with its convalescent units provided over 1,000 beds. There Gillies and his colleagues developed many techniques of plastic surgery; more than 11,000 operations were performed on over 5,000 men (mostly soldiers with facial injuries, usually from gunshot wounds). The hospital, later to become Queen Mary's Hospital, was at Frognal House (the birthplace and property of Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney after whom Sydney, Australia was named).

For his war services Gillies was knighted in the Birthday Honours list of June 1930. William Arbuthnot-Lane commented, "Better late than never".

Private practice

Between the wars Gillies developed a substantial private practice with Rainsford Mowlem, including many famous patients, and travelled extensively, lecturing, teaching and promoting the most advanced techniques worldwide.

In 1930 Gillies invited his cousin, Archibald McIndoe to join the practice, and also suggested he apply for a post at St Bartholomew's Hospital. This was the point at which McIndoe became committed to plastic surgery, in which he too became pre-eminent.

World War II

During World War II Gillies acted as a consultant to the Ministry of Health, the RAF and the Admiralty. He organised plastic surgery units in various parts of Britain. His own work continued at Rooksdown House, part of the Park Prewett Hospital, Basingstoke. During this period, and after the war, he trained many doctors from Commonwealth nations in plastic surgery.

Pioneering sex reassignment surgery

In 1946, he and a colleague carried out one of the first sex reassignment surgery from female to male on Michael Dillon.[1] In 1951 he and colleagues carried out one of first modern sex reassignment surgery from male to female using a flap technique on Roberta Cowell,[1] which became the standard for 40 years.

Selected publications

  • Gillies HD. Plastic Surgery of the Face. Henry Frowde. 1920, 1983. ISBN 0906923085
  • Gillies HD, Ralph Millard The Principles and Art of Plastic Surgery. Butterworth. 1958.



  1. 1.0 1.1 Mary Roach (18 March 2007). Girls Will Be Boys. New York Times. Retrieved on 25 March 2007.

Further reading

  • Pound R. Gillies: Surgeon Extraordinary. Michael Joseph. 1964.
  • Kennedy, Pagan. "'The First Man-Made Man' (first chapter)", New York Times, 18 March 2007. Retrieved on 25 March 2007. 
  • Harold Delf Gillies, plastic surgeon (1882-1960). WW2 People's War Archive. BBC. Retrieved on 25 March 2007.
  • Gillies, Harold Delf (1882-1960). Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved on 25 March 2007.
  • Slevin, Tom. ‘The Wound and the First World War: ‘Cartesian’ Surgeries to Embodied Being in Psychoanalysis, Electrification and Skin Grafting’ in Body and Society (Volume 14, No.2 2008) pp.39-61.

External links


*Some information provided in whole or in part by http://en.wikipedia.org/