Aylesbury artist creates statue of pioneering First World War plastic surgeon

Artist Julia Beer with her statue of Sir Harold Gillies
Artist Julia Beer with her statue of Sir Harold Gillies

A bronze statue by Aylesbury artist and sculptor, Julia Beer, of First World War pioneering plastic surgeon, Sir Harold Gilles, has been unveiled in Basingstoke.

The Peace Garden in the War Memorial Park in Basingstoke is home to the bust erected to commemorate International Peace Day and to pay tribute to the groundbreaking work Sir Harold, began during the First World War to treat very badly maimed soldiers, many with horrific facial injuries.

Often unable to see, hear, speak, eat or drink, they struggled to re-assimilate back into civilian life. Mr Gillies is credited with developing new, untried techniques to treat the physical and mental injuries created by the new technology used in the First World War, such as unprecedented heavy artillery and the first known use of chemical warfare.

Artist Julia Beer said of the work:

"I have a personal affinity with Sir Harold and his work as my own mother worked with burned and damaged soldiers suffering from the devastating effects of war at Rooksdown House, the unit set up in Basingstoke by Sir Harold for this purpose. It was there that she met my father, who was a patient. I felt honoured and emotional when I was asked to produce this bust, having grown up listening to my parents’ recollections and stories of these brave and extraordinary men and am very aware that if it wasn’t for Sir Harold, I wouldn’t be here today.

I was very touched to hear from Sir Harold’s great-grandson Tom Gillies, who had come with his family from New Zealand, that I have captured ‘a strong resemblance’ of this remarkable man.”

Sir Harold Gillies' statue sits, like the man himself, discreetly and modestly, in a circular paved space with a central spherical feature and seating for relaxation and contemplation surrounded by newly-planted trees, foliage and flowers, in the corner of the park close to the aviary.

The Mayor of Basingstoke, MP Maria Miller, the Bishop of Basingstoke, the Right Reverend Canon David Williams, borough councillors and representatives from local community groups were among the guests who attended the unveiling ceremony.