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‘An uglier duckling than before’: The case of Reginald Evans and the domestic reintegration of facially-wounded veterans

The Men, Women and Care Project Team, University of Leeds

I am a PhD student at the University of Leeds, and a member of the Men, Women and Care project, which examines the influence of gender on experiences of care in post-war society. This research builds on my Masters by Research thesis, which examined the social and psychological impact of facial injuries during and after the First World War. My current research compares the ways in which facially-wounded and war-neurotic ex-servicemen were cared for in interwar Britain, focusing on how normative concepts of gender shaped care provision, compensation and stigma, and the ways in which families and institutions supported veterans.

This paper examines the experiences of Britain’s facially-wounded veterans on their return to civilian life, focusing on reintegration into the domestic and social spheres of British society. The facial injuries produced by the First World War were unprecedented in their numbers and severity, and have commonly been assumed, both in contemporary and modern society, to have been largely debilitating in terms of employability and inter-personal relationships. Much of the existing literature focuses on visual and literary representations of disfigurement, and whilst Marjorie Gehrhardt has briefly addressed the relationship between facial injury, civilians and the family, this subject has not been examined in detail.  Using the personal papers of Reginald Evans, who received a severe bullet wound to the jaw, this paper investigates the reality of representations of disfigurement as debilitating, and explores the effects of facial wounds on men’s return to civilian life. Evans’s experience of being wounded, and the effects of his injuries on his romantic and family relationships is documented in extensive correspondences with his mother. As these letters, amongst other sources, show, facial injuries could alter the dynamics within intimate relationships, limit employment possibilities and provoke unwanted social responses, which could make it difficult for men to resume their pre-war civilian lives. However, this paper challenges representations of facial wounds as ultimately and inevitably debilitating and demonstrates that they were not always entirely restricting. Indeed, many facially-wounded veterans were able to find a place for themselves within the domestic and socio-economic spheres of post-war British society.