For the past 12 months, Paddy has been working as Artist in Residence in the College of Humanities at Exeter University. Invited by Professor David Houston Jones to produce new work for the 1914FACES2014 project, Paddy decided to focus on retelling the story of Plymouth Sailor Walter Ernest O'Neil Yeo who sustained terrible facial burns in the Battle of Jutland, the most significant naval engagement of WW1 and subsequently underwent pioneering facial surgery at the hand of surgical pioneer Sir Harold Gillies. Paddy has been researching Walter's story since the development of uniform works as part of Project Facade, but Walter's case posed many interesting questions and notions relating to facial function vs facial aesthetic.
Gillies was developing his pioneering facial surgery in response to the increasingly horrific and life changing facial injuries the servicemen were sustaining. As wound management and patient stabilisation improved in the field hospitals, so servicemen survived increasingly serious injuries. An ironic if somewhat twisted consequence of healthcare innovations. Walter's injury specifically affected his eyes. Despite the excellent treatment he received prior to being passed into Gillies care, the scar tissue on Walter's eyelids effectively turned his eyelids inside out. If the patient cannot blink, he cannot clean his eyes and is at risk of infection and blindness and Gillies primary concern was to restore function, after which aesthetics would be considered to try to get the patient as close to his original appearance prior to his injury.
Gillies freely admitted that in preparing to remove the scar tissue from Walter's face, the flap of skin taken from Walter's chest used to replace this scar tissue became infected when Gillies attempted to stretch the mid portion of the graft to accommodate the bridge of the nose. The unfortunate effect was that the skin graft thickened and gave the impression of a 'floating' mask over the eyes. Despite these failings, a good degree of function was restored to Walter's eyelids.
‘On occasions where I have provided images of Walter before and after his surgery to local newspapers in my search for his family, there have been a number of occasions where the publishers have credited the images incorrectly or placed them in the incorrect order, assuming the post operative image is in fact the condition of Walter's face before his surgery. Its easy to say that Walter looked worse after his surgery than before but there are a couple of factors that need to be considered. Restoring function to Walter's eyelids was the primary goal of the surgery and in this regard, Gillies was successful. The black and white photography does not however convey the heavy scar tissue on Walters face described by Gillies as thin, white and waxy, not to mention the angry red inner surface of Walters eyelids exposed by the contraction of scar tissue where eyelids remained’.
Paddy Hartley 2015
Designing the Work
In researching and designing the new work, Paddy’s starting point was Walter’s medical record held by Gillies Archives and now in the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons England. From this point, additional information was gathered from the National Archives Kew, newspaper appeals and respondents, Walter’s extended family and Sheila Yeo from The Yeo Society. A key piece of information contributed by Walter’s Nephew George, was that Walter was a keen crossword compiler for national newspapers. By combining the crossword puzzle format with the naval signalling flags used by the Navy from 1913 and throughout WW1, Paddy managed to devise an artwork which required the viewers active participation in solving the puzzle to understand the story the puzzle conveys. Signalling flags are used to communicate from ship to ship or ship to shore over a distance and was an entirely appropriate metaphor for telling a story over a ‘distance of time, from the past’ so to speak.
Each flag in the crossword is unique in the set and are made from original salvaged and vintage naval signalling flags which have previously been used aboard ship. Each flag is constructed with subtle differences and are grouped by theme, context, construction method and fabric treatment to enrich the content of the piece. Wherever possible, details from the original flags from which these new flags were created have been included. Holes, hems, tears and dye run are all retained.
Flags relating to battle and burns are burned, scorched and tattered. Designs are created by layering fabric and burning through the top layer to reveal the underlying colour.
Flags relating Walter’s eyelid contraction are designed with raw reverse edges and hems turned forwards and outwards, wrong sides facing front.
Flags relating to surgery and surgeon are formed by turning flaps of fabric from the rear of the flag to the front, referencing the method Gillies used turning skin graft flaps from a healthy part of the body to the injury site. In addition, the white fabric used in these flags is stained with the red dye from other flags washed with the white
Flags relating to negative experiences and death are bound with black edging.
Combinations of these details occur where words and phrases intersect.
Over the course of the WW1-100 Centenary Paddy will continue adding new words to the crossword to expand on Walter’s story with a view to presenting the work on a Royal Naval vessel in the years ahead.
Breaking the Code
‘Crossword’ features in ‘Faces of Conflict’ at Royal Albert Memorial Museum Exeter until 5th April 2015 Curated by Cristina Burke-Trees and the RAMM curatorial team. Visitors to the gallery have the opportunity to complete the crossword using in-gallery resources. If you aren't able to make it to the exhibition, you can still complete the crossword by downloading the images below. Simply click and drag the images to your desktop to print or alternatively, ctrl click on each image and save to your desktop prior to printing. Use the flag key, questions, crossword matrix and image of the installation to complete the puzzle. The questions are designed to be as informative as the answers themselves. Consider completing the puzzle with a young member of your family. It is designed to introduce difficult and graphic subject matter in a way which young people are able to absorb and understand a unique period in military, social and surgical history and the challenges faced by people who live with a life changing facial difference.
1. Walter’s operating surgeon and founder of the Frognal Centre for Plastic Surgery.
7. Walter’s age when his father perished at sea.
10. The medical term used to describe the contraction of burns inflicted scar tissue, turning Walter’s eyelids inside out.
12. Date and battle in which Walter sustained his injuries. The day everything changed.
13. The German SS which disabled the vessel aboard which Walter served.
14. The tubing of healthy skin, to transport grafts from Walter’s chest to face.
2. Walter’s profession at the Western Hotel, 1923.
3. HMS that sank with Walter’s Father Francis aboard.
4. She became Walter’s wife in 1914.
5. HMS to which Walter was assigned on the 1st April 1915.
6. How Walter’s nephew remembers his Uncle. As a - - - - - - - - - man.
8. The year of Walter’s passing.
9. Walter’s extensive facial burns were caused by exploding - - - - - - -.
11. Walter’s Step-Grandfather Henry Benlow, Head Naval Instructor in - - - - - - -.