Under the heading "WAS IN 'PALS' BATTALION", the Accrington Observer & Times of 21st December 1957 reported the death at the age of sixty-two of Herbert Scholes of 19 Oak Street, Accrington. Known locally as "Bicycle Bert", Herbert had kept a cycle shop in Oak Street since 1942. A member of Accrington Motor Cycle Club, he had enjoyed a reputation some twenty years previously as a grasstrack and rough track rider. The report noted that Bert had served with the Accrington Pals in the 1914-18 war, and had been wounded on the Somme. No mention was made of the fact that his recovery from the horrific facial wounds that he had suffered on the Somme was aided by the pioneering work on plastic surgery done by Harold Gillies and his team.
Herbert Scholes was born on 7th January 18951 at Poulton-le-Fylde, the fourth child of William and Ellen Scholes. In the early years of the new century, the family moved to Accrington where, in 1911, Bert was working as a drawer in a coal mine.2 Five days after recruitment of the Accrington Pals began, Bert enlisted into the battalion's "A" Company on 15th September 1914. It is not known if he took part in the fateful attack of 1st July 1916 but he was with the battalion when it returned to the Somme on 15th October. Although his medical records state that he was wounded on 21st October 1916, it seems more likely that the incident took place ten days later when the battalion took over front line trenches opposite Serre from the 15th Bn., West Yorks. Regt. (Leeds Pals).3 From the description of his wounds, we can guess that a flying splinter from a shell burst scythed through his upper jaw.
After hospitalization in Edinburgh, Bert was transferred on 4th January 1917 for plastic surgery to the Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot where he came under the care of Captain Harold Gillies FRCS and his team. Over the following eighteen months, Bert would undergo six operations in a gradual process to reconstruct his face.4 Following a procedure to open up the left nasal cavity on 26th March, a major operation performed on 18th June by Captain John Aymard aimed to reconstruct the upper lip and restore the right wing of the nose from flaps of skin excised from the cheek.
Above left: Bert Scholes, date unknown; above right: explanatory sketches made by Henry Tonks of the operation of 18th June 1917. Images courtesy of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCSEng) Archives, Ref. MS0513/1/1/ID1816.
The healing process from the operation coincided with a move to The Queen's Hospital, Sidcup - a larger, purpose-built facility that was needed to enable Gillies and his team to cope with a rapidly increasing number of patients. Aymard performed a further operation on Bert on 9th November, raising the bridge of the nose by implanting a section of cartilage from a rib. Bert's treatment was then taken over by Captain Geoffrey Seccombe Hett. On 5th April 1918, Hett attempted to reconstruct the bridge of the nose and the bridge between the nostrils using the cartilage that had been implanted in the previous operation; the whole of the nose was then covered by a flap of skin brought down from the forehead (pedicle). The procedure seems to have been only partially successful as a further operation on 11th June was needed to produce a new tip to the nose: a flap of skin at the upper end of the pedicle was separated from the forehead and swung down on to the end of the nose where it was sutured into place.
Above left: explanatory sketches of the operations of 5th April (top) and 11th June 1918 (bottom) thought to have been made by Sidney Hornswick; above right: Bert Scholes, 1st July 1919. Images courtesy of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCSEng) Archives, Ref. MS0513/1/1/ID1816.
The reconstruction process was completed on 25th June when Hett removed the pedicle. Bert was discharged to duty on 2nd July.
Bert was discharged from the army on 22nd February 1919 after completing hs wartime service with the Labour Corps.5 He was married twice, to Audrey Stacey Wilkinson (born as Wilkerson) in 1922 and, just one month before his death, to Ellen Partlin6. Bert died at home of heart failure on 16th December 1957.7
© Andrew C Jackson 2017
Images from the patient file of Herbert Scholes appear here with the kind permission of the Archives at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Thanks go to Dr. Andrew Bamji FRCP (now BAPRAS Gillies Archivist) for his help.