Ross Tilley

I have chosen to do my biographical assignment on Dr. Ross Tilley. I became interested in him when I heard about him at the summer camp I worked at this year. He used to own the property of Camp Hollyburn until he sold the property to my boss’ father, Ted Yard Sr. Before camp started we had to learn about the camp, and his name came up repeatedly, My boss talked about how he used to bring war burn victims up to the camp to discuss their struggle with being burned and to get away from the busyness of the city. It is a beautiful property and the lake is actually named after him to commemorate all that he has done.

Ross Tilley was born in Bowmanville, Ontario. His father was a local practitioner in the town. In his younger years he was an excellent student and an outstanding athlete. He attended medical school at the University of Toronto and graduated in 1929, as a silver medalist. He trained in surgery in Toronto, Edinburgh and New York. He also worked with Sternburg, who was known as the great Vienna pathologist. He opened a private practice in Toronto at the Toronto Western and Wellesley hospitals in 1935. There, he specifically became interested in Plastic Surgery, which was a hard to come by specialty, seeing how there was only three qualified plastic surgeons in Canada at the time. He trained with Dr. E Fulton Risdon in Toronto who was one of Canada’s first specialists in the field, completing his plastic surgery training just before the outbreak of the second world war.

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Tilley was a member of the Canadian Army Medical Corps Militia and went into active service immediately after the outbreak of the war. He transferred to the new RCAF Medical Branch shortly after it’s formation and he was posted at their headquarters in the United Kingdom in 1941 as principal medical officer. In 1942 Dr. Tilley was transferred to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead of Sussex which was the main treatment center for burned commonwealth airmen. As the number of Canadian casualties increased, it became necessary to build a purely Canadian wing at the hospital and Tilley was the main coordinator and planner. It was soon built by the Royal Canadian Engineers. Tilley and his colleagues treated hundreds of airmen there, whom were mostly Canadian, during the war and shortly after.

Tilley was a kind man, and wanted everyone to fit in around East Grinstead, if they were burned or not. He, as well as other doctors held a town meeting and encouraged the townspeople to mingle with the burned airmen who were soon going to be entering their town. They warned residence that they were in for some troubling sights, such as men left without eyelids and with fire-scarred faces, but they appealed to them not to stand and stare. Making the patients feel welcome, buying them a drink and talking to them was an important part of the healing process. The townspeople listened and when the wounded men in air force uniforms arrived, the town had open arms. A number of the airmen also married local women. The townspeople took an active part in their recovery. This shows that Tilley wasn’t just in it for the money, he had a joy in treating and helping patients.

Tilley’s achievements in England helped to develop standards of patient care that brought Canada into plastic surgery’s modern era. He and the other surgeons literally put their patients back together. The procedures ranged from the reconstruction of horribly battered feet to the rebuilding of faces and hands that had been deformed by fire or other injuries. Tilley was convinced that the personal demons confronting the injured people arriving at the hospital were held at bay by the camaraderie and all-for-one attitude provided by the ‘Guinea Pig Club’ and he maintained that bond that helped the healing process.

‘The Guinea Pig Club’ was an exclusive club for the victims of severe burns in World War Two. He once said “only god can create a face”, but to many people he became a close substitute for god. Tilley took an active role in the process and this reassured


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