Given its crushing trench nature and use of large-caliber artillery, World War One saw some of the most devastating wounds suffered by soldiers in the history of warfare. Before the days of sophisticated reconstructive and plastic surgery, physicians were tasked with covering the scars, gaping holes and gashes streaked across the faces of thousands of veterans. Convening art with science in pursuit of the greater good, surgeons and sculptors worked together to create masks to conceal these devastating, identity-consuming histories from the veteran and the public, allowing veterans to lead something of a normal life following their return home.
Each mask, which was custom-designed and made of either rubber or metal, bore the face of the affected man’s pre-war portrait. And while the remaining black and white photos don’t necessarily convey the masks’ sculpting or painting accuracy, veteran thank-you letters to the mask-makers provide all the proof you need. Said one, “Thanks to you, I will have a home…The woman I love no longer finds me repulsive, as she had a right to do.”
Read more about it at the Smithsonian.