Our wartime history

King’s College Hospital, Orpington Hospital and Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup played vital roles during World War One. All three were military hospitals, taking in wounded soldiers straight from the trains returning from the frontline. They also helped to pioneer treatments and techniques which are still in use today, such as plastic surgery and physiotherapy.

King’s College Hospital

King's College Hospital at Denmark Hill was requisitioned during WWI and became the Fourth London General Military Hospital.

It helped to pioneer techniques such as plastic surgery, physiotherapy and rehabilitation. Among the techniques used during WWI were radiography, UV ray treatment, massage, open air treatments for patients with lung injuries and the Carrel-Dakin treatment – the periodic flooding of infected wounds with an antiseptic solution.

Over the next three years, the hospital treated more than 75,000 soldiers. By 1917, it had 369 beds for officers and 1,625 for other ranks. Huts and tents were also put up in nearby Ruskin Park to house 656 extra beds, and these were often used for soldiers with lung injuries and tuberculosis.

Orpington Hospital

Orpington Hospital began life in February 1916 as the Ontario Military Hospital. It was built and run by the Government of Ontario in Canada and mainly cared for Canadian and UK soldiers plus a small number from Australia and New Zealand. It was one of the best equipped war hospitals in England and was staffed mainly by Canadian doctors and nurses.

Throughout the war, the Ontario Military Hospital provided a wide range of treatments. Surgery was an important activity and between February 1916 and January 1919, it performed 3,392 operations. It also had a plastic surgery department, which made models of facial and other surgical cases. Duplicates of the more important models were sent to Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup (see below).

By January 1919, there had been 30,294 admissions. Of these, only 184 died. Many are buried in the ‘Canadian Corner’ of the churchyard at All Saints Church, Orpington.

Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup

By 1915, it was clear that a specialist unit for patients with serious facial injuries was needed. This unit was set up in the grounds of Frognal House in Sidcup, and was opened in 1917. With 300 beds, it was completed in just five months.

The hospital cared not only for British troops but also soldiers from across the Empire who served in France and Belgium.
Queen Mary’s Hospital became a well-known centre for facial plastic surgery and facial and jaw reconstruction during the war. It was here that Sir Harold Gillies, considered to be the father of plastic surgery, pioneered techniques such as skin grafts. He also inspired many surgeons from all over the world, and surgeons and dentists from the US were attached to the hospital for specialist training not available anywhere else.

The hospital continued to care for patients will facial injuries after the war ended, and by June 1921 it had carried out 11,752 reconstructive procedures.