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February 1, 2011
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WWI Other Beauty: Learning to Fly by Rono22 WWI Other Beauty: Learning to Fly by Rono22
I do understand most of you would be disturbed by this particular portrait. This was a real man so was his tragedy. I believe this poor soul's story should be told- especially now when some of us don't know whether they'd like to have rhinoplasty or maybe liposuction.
Surgery was once a life-saving issue- not a whim.

Henry Ralph Lumley's wish was to became a pilot. It must had been his passion since the Royal Flying Corps was still quite dangerous part of the English army back in the day. Although he did not attended the officer training at the beginning of the Great War he was granted a place in the RFC. That happy chap in the background is Henry- wearing his RFC uniform, probably few months before his graduation from the Central Flying School.
The happiest day of his life appeared to be the beginning of the nightmare- 2nd Lieutenant Lumley "met with an accident" on his graduation day- his plane crashed on Salisbury Plain. His machine caught fire and completely burnt down.
This poor, impossible to recognise, human-like featured shadow of a man looking somewhere beyond capability of an average man's eye is Henry- few months after his graduation. Still wearing his RFC uniform, his only pride and probably also an indicator of who he was.
His face was burnt beyond recognition. He lost some of his fingers. His hands, arms and legs were burnt.
His appearance was ghastly- his disfigured features was now a web of scars and shiny red epithelium.
His left eye was burnt, right was practically blind. His lips were turned outward as an effect of ectropion, limited only by scars.
Henry was only 25 years old.

Sir Harold Gillies tried to gave this man a new chance, a new face. He planned to raise half of the skin from Henry's chest and put it on his face after the removal of the scar tissue. Henry was an impatient patient, he was completely depressed when he heard he should wait one more year until his wounds would heal to a certain point. Gillies tried to persuade him to wait- Henry wasn't able to do that.
The surgery started. It began well- but few hours after an unbelievable procedure it was clear Henry's body would not sustain the turmoil of the surgery.
The skin grafts were infected. Majority have sloughed.
For more than 15 months this man lived from one dose of morphine in the evening to one dose of stimuli in the morning.
But the pain of the surgery was too much to bare.
Henry died of a hearth failure on 11th March 1918, few days before his 26th birthday.

"One could have wished that this brave fellow
had had a happier death."
Harold Gillies, "Plastic surgery of the face"


While I was reading this particular man's story I was crying my eyes out. It never happened to me before. But as I started this portrait I somehow befriended with him- Henry has became just like an old forgotten friend. His appearance became somehow familiar and comforting somewhere in the middle of my work. But at the beginning I had to take regular breaks.

It's not a "beautiful" portrait of a "beautiful" man and I am well aware of that. I won't put any mature contents nor write any CAUTION: GRAPHIC CONTENT- people like Henry were walking, are walking and will be walking this Earth- disfigured, lost, at the edge of their sanity, rejected, being scary, hideous and unwanted in a "normal" society. And while it is normal and medically true we feel fear when we see disfigured body due to its uncanniness, I believe it is important to at leas try to fight this instinct. It's very hard; I believe there's not a single person perfectly comfortable with disfigurement but at least trying to understand it is a good way to go.

Now, I'd like you to take a look at Henry and just think for a moment- what makes us "us"?
I know most of you won't even read this story and would glare at this portrait thinking "That's really gross".
But maybe some of you will find something in it or understand something about yourself.
I can only wish we could learn to fly.

All information based on Project Facade, the Gillies Archives, digging in Google and in Harold Gillies, "Plastic surgery of the face"

Surreal and yet amazing documentary on Henry's case:…

Short silent movie of the Red Cross workers helping "Men with broken faces":…

Part of "History of Surgery" (BBCFour) mentioning Henry:…

Other portraits from the series:
W.O. Walter Yeo case pt1:…
W.O. Walter Yeo…
AB William Vicarage:…
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rubyrouge649 Featured By Owner May 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This is really moving. I couldn't bring myself to feel disgust towards this man's appearance because his story is too sad. :cries:

I'm glad you didn't put a filter on this and made me really look at Henry. It's much more powerful that way.
TTALeapMonster Featured By Owner May 4, 2013  Hobbyist Artist
This is amazing. I'm crying right now! All I see is a good person, a human being.
Rono22 Featured By Owner May 17, 2013
Thank you for your comment!
TTALeapMonster Featured By Owner May 18, 2013  Hobbyist Artist
Your welcome ^^ Once again, your art and passion is heartwarming!
qbark Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2013  Student General Artist
Your portraits of Henry are all outstanding. I found out about him while researching WWI for a school project. his story brought me to tears as well. Thank you for paying tribute to the losses of a man not many have heard about
Fell-Atio Featured By Owner Nov 30, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Lean to fly, they said.
It'll be fun, they said.
BadRomance194 Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2012
At first I was taken aback, but I was intrigued and kept reading on. The shock went away, and all I just felt was sadness. He really was quite handsome before the accident, don't you think? You did such an amazing job capturing this and I just have to say great job.
HarleyQuinn2011 Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2011  Hobbyist Photographer
Absolutely fantastic and a point well made x
my boyfriend has NF and has had to have surgery to remove the tumours from his nerves, people stare at him bcoz of his scars and facial deformity and it makes me sick when they turn and stare or make rude comments about him.
i see him for who he really is;
a loving, funny, exseptionally kind human being with an amazing body ;) and a smile that could melt the heart!!!
Rono22 Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2011
Thank you for your comment! It seems to me you are both exceptionally brave people who try to live peacefully respecting others- but it's hard to be humane when others turn around and sneer at you. I wish you two all the best, you are very special in the best sense on this word. Take care! :)
HarleyQuinn2011 Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2011  Hobbyist Photographer
to the soldiers who risked their lives fighting for their countries.
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