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Mollie Lentaigne – Medical Artist – Recorded McIndoe’s surgical procedures – 2nd World war

Mollie in Red Cross uniform

                               Mollie Lentaigne in her Red Cross uniform 

 

Archibald McIndoe, a pioneering plastic surgeon of the Second World War, operated on hundreds of burnt airmen at the Queen Victoria Hospital. Mollie Lentaigne sat in on operations and documented his work.

During the War

Mollie Lentaigne. Born 6th May 1920, was just eighteen when she impressed McIndoe with her quick and accurate drawing skills at a cocktail party. He enlisted her to help him at the Queen Victoria Hospital and asked her to sit into operations and document his work.

Mollie had left school at 16 but passed Art Exams set by the Royal Drawing Society at 14 years. She commented, “That all I could do was draw and I love it”.  

 

Mollie, with her parents’ permission and some negotiating with the nursing matron at the Queen Victoria Hospital, was made a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse with special privileges as a medical artist. Photography in the theatre had not been a success, apparently due to shadows thrown from various surgical instruments. McIndoe had also ‘auditioned’ two other artists already, both of whom, he said, had fainted at the sight of blood.  Initially Mollie was concerned that her medical knowledge would not be good enough, but McIndoe assured her he would train her in what she needed to know. This he proceeded to do, sending her to observe post-mortems so she quickly became familiar with medical and anatomical terms. He also checked her early drawings, making corrections and suggestions.

Mollie's drawing of forceps

Mollie's Drawing of hand reconstruction showing McIndoe's forceps and plastic surgery scissors 

Mollie’s drawing shows McIndoe forceps that were used to hold tissue, remove debris from wounds, place, and remove dressings. Other styles of forceps, which were commonly used in plastic surgery, had the horizontal grooves on the handle. McIndoe changed the direction of the grooves from horizontal to vertical to create his own version. McIndoe forceps are still used in plastic surgery today.

Mollie's drawing of drum dermatone

Mollie's drawing of a drum dermatone used for skin grafting 

Dermatones were used to cut thin strips of skin for grafting. The first drum dermatone was developed in the 1930s but McIndoe made his own adaptions and the resulting dermatone model was named after him.

She became very proficient and became a great success and during her time completed more than 300 drawings. These range from pencil sketches, pen drawings and work to full watercolour illustrations. Her drawings were included in the patients’ medical notes so other doctors and medical staff could see exactly what had been done in the operating theatre.

Her drawings were incredibly detailed; she honed her drawing skills to capture the operations in informative but not gory detail. She ensured that each drawing included the name of the patient and painstakingly labelled the equipment used and where appropriate described the individual steps of the surgery.

From these examples of Mollie’s work one can see the level of detail with which she recorded McIndoe’s surgical processes. Some of her drawings are on display at the East Grinstead Museum as part of the Rebuilding Bodies and Souls exhibition, which is dedicated to McIndoe’s work, and the Story of the Guinea Pig Club (a social support group formed by the injured airmen McIndoe operated on.)  All of her drawings, The Molly Lentaigne Archive, are now held at East Grinstead Museum and provide a detailed and beautiful visual record of the pioneering operations carried out by McIndoe and his team.

In 1945, Mollie’s vision became seriously impaired, and she was diagnosed with malnutrition due to war rations. She was also overworked and run down. She was ordered to stop drawing for a year and in the end never returned to medical illustration.

After the war
After the war, Mollie and her family emigrated to South Africa and later Zimbabwe. In 1955, she married farmer Timothy Ingram Lock, and they raised six children together, four sons and two daughters.

Mollie visiting East Grinstead Museum in November 2013

 

Mollie visiting East Grinstead Museum in November 2013.

 

Mollie who is now aged over 100 is living in a care home in Zimbabwe and still painting.

 

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