The Men with Broken Faces

«Gueules Cassées» of the First World War

by Marjorie Gehrhardt (Author)
©2015 Monographs XIV, 310 Pages


Facially wounded servicemen were perhaps the ultimate victims of the First World War. They became walking reminders of the conflict and their experiences reveal the impact of the war not only on the combatants but also on European societies at large. This book explores for the first time the individual and collective significance of facially disfigured First World War combatants in France, Germany and Great Britain. The analysis undertaken in this book uncovers how the wounded perceived and presented themselves and how they were perceived and represented by others. Artistic and literary representations are considered, along with initiatives carried out by hospitals, the government and the combatants’ fellow countrymen. With an interdisciplinary and comparative approach, this study illuminates our understanding of how the combatant and the onlooker made sense of the experience and the memory of the war.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Preface
  • Introduction: Gueules Cassées: The Face of War
  • Part I: The Soldiers’ Journey: From the Front to Civilian Life
  • Chapter 1: Hospitals as Transitional Spaces
  • Chapter 2: Facing the World: Economic and Social Reintegration
  • Chapter 3: Shaping a Collective Identity
  • Part II: Artistic and Literary Representations
  • Chapter 4: The Faces of War: Visual Representations of Facially Injured Soldiers
  • Chapter 5: Describing the ‘Unspeakable’? Gueules Cassées in Literature
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Figure 1: Patient Mascard during his treatment at the Val-de-Grâce hospital © Musée du Service de Santé des Armées au Val-de-Grâce, Paris.

Figure 2: Patient Mascard at the end of his treatment © Musée du Service de Santé des Armées au Val-de-Grâce, Paris.

Figure 3: Series of wax models of Mascard © Musée du Service de Santé des Armées au Val-de-Grâce, Paris.

Figure 4: Portrait of Yves Picot, reproduced courtesy of Association des Gueules Cassées.

Figure 5: Jean Carlu, La Dette poster (1931?) © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2014. Digital image, Historia de la Grande Guerre, Péronne.

Figure 6: Front page of Bulletin 27, November 1931. Reproduced courtesy of Association des Gueules Cassées.

Figure 7: Horace Nicholls, ‘Repairing war’s ravages: renovating facial injuries. A British soldier wounded between the eyes by a piece of time-fuse, which lodged at the back of his cheek. It was extracted by massage without injury to the cheek’ © Imperial War Museum (IWM), London (Q30449).

Figure 8: Horace Nicholls, ‘Repairing war’s ravages: renovating facial injuries. The patient after a plate was fixed for the spectacles to cover the wound. The sculptor was Captain Derwent Wood, RA, 3rd London General Hospital’ © IWM (Q30450). ← vii | viii →

Figure 9: Horace Nicholls, ‘Applying first coat of plaster for the purpose of taking the mould of the patient’s face, who has been blinded in one eye. The patch is to restore that side of the face which has been disfigured’ © IWM (Q30452).

Figure 10: Horace Nicholls, ‘The patient examining the mould of his own face’ © IWM (Q30455).

Figure 11: Horace Nicholls, ‘Painting the plate’ © IWM (Q30457).

Figure 12: Horace Nicholls, ‘Repairing war’s ravages: renovating facial injuries. Various plates and attachments in different stages of completion’ © IWM (Q30460).

Figure 13: Case 37 in Harold Gillies, Plastic Surgery of the Face (London: Frowde, 1920).

Figure 14: Ernst Friedrich, Krieg dem Kriege!, pp. 226–227.

Figure 15: Henry Tonks, Portrait of a wounded serviceman © Royal College of Surgeons of England, London.

Figure 16: Raphaël Freida, unidentified soldier © Musée du Service de Santé des Armées au Val-de-Grâce, Paris.

Figure 17: Henry Tonks, Portrait of Private Harold Burbridge, 1917 © Royal College of Surgeons of England, London.

Figure 18: Henry Tonks, Portrait of Private Harold Burbridge, 1918 © Royal College of Surgeons of England, London.

Figure 19: Raphaël Freida, Portrait of a wounded soldier © Musée du Service de Santé des Armées au Val-de-Grâce, Paris.

Figure 20: Raphaël Freida, Portrait of a wounded soldier © Musée du Service de Santé des Armées au Val-de-Grâce, Paris. ← viii | ix →

Figure 21: John Hodgson Lobley, The commercial class © IWM (ART 3767).

Figure 22: John Hodgson Lobley, The carpenters’ shop © IWM (ART 3728).

Figure 23: Jean Galtier-Boissière, Défilé des Mutilés. Reproduced courtesy of the Bibliothèque de Documentation Contemporaine Internationale, Paris.

Figure 24: Otto Dix, Transplantation (1924) © DACS 2014. Digital image, Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne.

Figure 25: Otto Dix, Die Skatspieler (1920) © DACS 2014. Digital image, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie. Erworben durch den Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie.

Figure 26: Otto Dix, Kriegskrüppel © DACS 2014. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.

Figure 27: George Grosz, ‘Etappe Gent!’, Das Gesicht der herrschenden Klasse © Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, NJ/DACS, 2014. Digital image, The International Dada Archives, University of Iowa Libraries.

Figure 28: Max Beckmann, Der Nachhauseweg (1919) © DACS 2014. Digital image, The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Figure 29: Otto Dix, Dirne und Kriegsverletzter: Zwei Opfer des Kapitalismus (1923) © DACS 2014. Digital image, LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur (Westfälisches Landesmuseum), Münster.

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Gueules cassées, ‘broken faces’: this is how facially disfigured veterans came to be known in France after the First World War. While the work of their surgeons such as Harold Gillies and Jacques Joseph still influences surgical practices today, historians have largely overlooked the destinies of the many combatants who suffered from these wounds. This book delves into the experiences and representations of such First World War combatants who suffered injuries to their faces. The subject matter may not seem easy at first; indeed, not only is the sight of facial disfigurement challenging, but the idea itself confronts the researcher or reader with their own fears of ‘losing face’, both literally and metaphorically. Unlike the dark, often over-simplified portrayal of people with disfigurement still found in popular culture today – see, for example, the character played by Jack Huston in Boardwalk Empire, a TV series set during the Prohibition era – the analysis of facially wounded soldiers and disfigured veterans reveals a multitude of complex reactions to what is both a very personal and an extremely public mutilation. Beyond the specific cases of ‘men with broken faces’, then, this study sheds new light on the effects of the First World War in different European countries and questions what we remember about, and how we remember, the conflict.

The Men with Broken Faces: Gueules Cassées of the First World War finds its origins in a conversation about the terms used in different countries to refer to First World War disfigured veterans. The observation of linguistic differences sparked my interest in the destinies and perceptions of gueules cassées, literally the ‘broken mugs’, as they came to be known in France. For starting this stimulating exchange I want to thank Professor Ulrike Zitzlsperger, who went on to become my PhD supervisor, mentor, colleague, proof-reader and unfailing supporter. Without her help and encouragement this book would not have been written, let alone published, and the example she sets in her teaching, research and supervision is one I can only hope to emulate in my own career.

While writing this book I was privileged enough to come into contact with individuals whose close relatives suffered from facial injury in the Great ← xi | xii → War, and with organizations supporting people with facial disfigurement in France and Great Britain. Their testimonies have reinforced my conviction of the relevance of this book in today’s society. Indeed, looking at how combatants – who were more often than not civilians-in-uniform – coped with their wounds one hundred years ago provides a ‘safe’ approach to the topic of the reintegration of people with facial difference today. Through uncovering the diverse destinies of the ‘men with broken faces’ it has been my aim to challenge conventional depictions of soldiers and veterans as monolithic figures, be they heroic embodiments of patriotism or examples of ultimate victimhood.

The structure adopted in this book allows for the exploration of the implications of facial injuries from the point of view of the wounded, and of the onlooker. The introductory section stresses the transgressive dimension of facial wounds as well as interrogating the status of disfigured veterans as walking reminders of the war. The second section follows the soldiers’ journey from the moment of their injury, to their treatment, and their return to civilian life (for those of them who survived). The focus here is not on medical aspects but on how the wounded and the people around them coped with disfigurement. Relationships amongst the wounded and between the patients and the medical staff, their relatives and society at large, are examined. Questions concerning the perceptions of and responses to disfigurement are central in this part of the book. In contrast, the third section explores images of facially wounded combatants in visual arts and literature; these representations suggest variations in the ways in which different societies perceived gueules cassées. Several other publications on this topic preceded the current volume in which I have explored related aspects that are here only mentioned in passing.1 ← xii | xiii →

The present book is the fruit of five years of doctoral and post-doctoral research at the University of Exeter, supported by the University and the EU INTERREG IVa-funded project 1914FACES2014, as well as small grants from the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France and from EdmissionUK. Thanks to this generous support I was able to carry out research in archive repositories in Great Britain and abroad, and to meet people whose expertise and, on occasion, personal connection with disfigured veterans, helped me better understand the impact of facial wounds on combatants and their loved ones.

Thanks are also due to Professor David Houston Jones for his patient and careful reading of my chapters, and for being such a great project lead when working together on the FACES project. The fruitful collaboration with my colleagues and friends Cristina Burke-Trees and Suzanne Steele in the course of 1914FACES2014 would not have been possible without David’s inspiring leadership. I am also indebted to Professor David Midgley and Professor Katharine Hodgson for their careful reading of an earlier version of this book and for the stimulating conversation they engaged in during my PhD viva. Their helpful comments and their kindness gave me the confidence to submit a proposal for this book. I am grateful to Professor Midgley and the team at Peter Lang for believing in this book and in me; their help throughout the publication process has been invaluable. Many other people have generously shared ideas and resources with me; these include Andrew Bamji, Suzannah Biernoff, Sophie Delaporte, Bernard Devauchelle and the team at the Institut Faire Faces, the Association des Gueules Cassées, the Musée du Val-de-Grâce, the Royal College of Surgeons, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz, BAPRAS and many other institutions who have kindly given me permission to use their images in this book. Thanks are also due to Louise Adams, whose friendship and proof-reading skills have been a great help. Finally, friends and family in Exeter and France have faithfully stood by me and provided an endless supply of joy, prayer and much-needed relaxation time. I simply want to thank them, and David in particular, for their love and friendship.

1 Marjorie Gehrhardt, ‘Gueules Cassées: The Men Behind the Masks’, Journal of War and Culture Studies, Special Issue on Veterans’ Identities, 6 (2013), 267–81; ‘Walking Reminders of the War: The Case of Facially Disfigured Veterans’, in Jozef Niznik, ed., Twentieth Century Wars in European Memory (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013), pp. 103–15; ‘World War One Gueules Cassées and the Ambiguity of Violence’, in Ulrike Zitzlsperger, ed., Gender, Violence and Agency (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), pp. 151–63.

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Gueules Cassées: The Face of War


XIV, 310
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (November)
Great War First world war societies
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2015. XIV, 310 pp., 12 coloured ill., 19 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Marjorie Gehrhardt (Author)

Marjorie Gehrhardt is Lecturer in French Studies in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading. She completed her PhD in French Studies at the University of Exeter in 2014 and subsequently worked as a researcher on the EU-funded project 1914FACES2014. Her research focuses on war and its representations in twentieth-century Western Europe, with a particular interest in the reintegration of veterans and the role of charities in wartime.


Title: The Men with Broken Faces
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