Returned New Zealand soldiers

This hook provides images of soldiers wounded during the war. As a result of their injuries, many New Zealand soldiers needed an artificial limb, and others needed reconstructive surgery to rebuild their faces. New Zealanders Sir Harold Gillies and Sir Archibald McIndoe played a key role in developing facial reconstructive techniques.

Postcard with photograph of New Zealand soldier amputees, about 1914–18.

Postcard with photograph of New Zealand soldier amputees, about 1914–18.

Context

Of the countries of the British Empire, New Zealand suffered the highest percentage of military-aged men killed in action: one-fifth of those who left for war did not return. Many of those who survived came home with horrific physical and psychological wounds that they carried for the rest of their lives. Although these injuries were seldom reported on, these wounds challenged existing narratives about the “glory of war”.

As a result of their war injuries, around 1,000 New Zealand soldiers needed an artificial limb. Other soldiers needed reconstructive surgery to rebuild their faces after they had been blown apart by shellfire. New Zealander Sir Harold Gillies played a key role in developing facial reconstructive techniques that led to the branch of medicine known as plastic surgery.

Possible discussion questions

  • What feelings does the photo of injured soldiers evoke in you? Why?
  • Why do you think that the extent of the suffering endured by injured soldiers after the war was not widely reported? What would have been lost or gained by reporting on the impacts of war on these men and their families?
  • Many of the wounds that soldiers carried after the war were psychological rather than physical. How might the impacts of such wounds compare with those of physical wounds?
  • Many soldiers and their families didn’t want to talk about the impact the war had on them. What are the potential benefits and costs of doing this?
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