Henry Ralph Lumley

Henry Ralph Lumley

Henry Ralph Lumley (died 11th March 1918,) was a World War I pilot and burn victim whose case became crucial to the future development of facial reconstruction and plastic surgery.

Early life

Henry Ralph Lumley was the son of Robert and Florence Lumley, he had a sister called Molly. After school he became an employee of the Eastern Telegraph Company. At the outbreak of war he did not take part in officer training and, as a result, had to work hard to attain a place in the RFC.


Henry attended the Central Flying School where, on the day of his graduation the aircraft he was flying crashed and burst into flames. Lumley was horrifically burned losing his lips, eyebrows and most of the skin of his face.


After recovering sufficiently for movement, Lumley was transferred to Sidcup on 22nd September 1917 for reconstructive surgery. The surgical team, led by Harold Gillies, decided to reconstruct Henry's entire face using a huge skin graft from his chest. The scar tissue would be removed from the face, and then the graft would be stitched into place. Tubed pedicles would be employed to provide further available skin. A similar, albeit less drastic procedure had already been successfully carried out on a sailor, William Vicarage, who had received severe cordite burns at the Battle of Jutland.

The operation was carried out in stages, the first on 24th October 1917, outlined the area for the chest graft and created the tubed pedicles at the neck. The second, more major operation occurred on 15th February 1918. This was the major graft. The scar tissue was excised from the face, effectively removing all traces of Henry's 'old' face, and the graft was stitched into place.

Unfortunately, due to the size of the graft and Henry's already weakened state the chest skin began to reject and Henry died of Heart Failure on March 11th 1918, just 24 days after the second stage of the operation.


After Henry's death Gillies quickly realised that he had tried too much too quickly, and that large facial grafts were hazardous. As a result he began using smaller staged grafts to create the overall result instead of a single larger graft.

The Lessons learned from the failure of Henry Ralph Lumley's surgery would go on to help thousands of people suffering with extreme facial burns.

External links

* http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/spl/hi/picture_gallery/07/magazine_faces_of_battle/print.stm
* [http://www.we-make-money-not-art.com/archives/009628.php Interview with Paddy Hartley - we make money not art ] at www.we-make-money-not-art.com
* [http://www.projectfacade.com/index.php?/case/C81/ Project facade ] at www.projectfacade.com
* [http://www.national-army-museum.ac.uk/pages/facesOfBattle.shtml National Army Museum : Faces of Battle ] at www.national-army-museum.ac.uk

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