One hundred years ago today, Britain declared war on Germany, thereby entering World War I. The day before, Germany had declared war on France. Before long, the world's nations would be pitted against each other in a grueling conflict that would eventually take the lives of more than nine million soldiers.
The iconic trenches of World War I were themselves an "unforeseen enemy," though. The unceasing machine-gun fire led to a fate that was, at the time, almost as bad as death. Western front soldiers who popped their heads above their trenches would come back down with a nose, jaw, or even an entire face missing.
When these so-called mutilés returned home, surgeons were met with the overwhelming task of treating scores of men who were barely recognizable to themselves or their families, at a time when the most advanced cosmetic procedure was repairing a cleft lip.
It didn't help that the prevailing sentiment a century ago was that losing part of one's face meant, in a way, a change of identity. In the U.K., "very severe facial disfigurement" was one of the few injuries for which a soldier received the full pension—the thinking being that it compromised one's "sense of self and social existence," as the historian Suzannah Biernoff explains. Newspapers at the time said the veterans "are almost condemned to isolation unless surgery can repair the damage."