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World War 1 French Wounded Soldier
A Mask to Hide the Horror

The Wounded of World War 1

The number of soldiers killed on both sides during the Great War, often for the sake of only a few feet of ground, is staggering. But the number of soldiers who were wounded is even higher. Many of these survivors suffered irreversible, disfiguring injuries. They lost limbs, or endured lifelong pain from burns and poison gas. Others had parts of their faces blown away.

Despite the fact that plastic surgery made great strides during World War 1, as surgeons learned new techniques to repair broken bodies, many soldiers were injured beyond repair. There were so many whose faces were hideously deformed by bullets or blasts that they had to wear masks in order to go out in public.

Here a French veteran of the Great War is being fitted with a mask at a shop specializing in prosthetic faces. The mask is oddly cheerful and dapper, in contrast to the sad war weary eyes of the soldier. The fact that there was a need for shops specializing in the sale of masks to hide hideous war wounds speaks to the horror of how many men literally lost their faces as a result of the conflict. The result made them monsters, so that they had to forever hide what was left behind a mask. It seems like a fate worse than death.


Updated June 9, 2021