MEMORIAL UNVEILED TO THE GUINEA PIG CLUB

Posted on Tuesday 8th November 2016


MEMORIAL UNVEILED TO THE GUinEA PIG CLUB


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Honouring the Guinea Pig memorial

A new memorial to the members of the Guinea Pig Club was unveiled by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on Wednesday, 2 November 2016. The memorial is dedicated to those Allied aircrew who underwent reconstructive surgery at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead during the Second World War.

It was because of the experimental nature of the work undertaken by plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe, the survivors named their social and support group the Guinea Pig Club. During the war, one of the greatest fears of aircrew was that of being burned if their aircraft caught fire during combat. The resulting injuries often led to painful deaths or permanent disfigurement, particularly to the hands and face.

For many hundreds of badly burned pilots and aircrew, the work of McIndoe and his team not just saved their lives but gave them a future and a chance to re-join society. It is one of those who benefitted from Alexander McIndoe’s treatment, 93-year-old Sandy Saunders, who himself became a doctor, who organised the raising of the funds for the memorial. Saunders had been badly injured in 1945 when the Tiger Moth he was flying crashed; he endured no less than twenty-eight operations to treat his burns.

In total, 649 guinea pigs came under McIndoe’s knife and he was knighted for his work in 1947. Today in Britain, just seventeen Guinea Pigs are still alive, there being a total of twenty-three worldwide.

Created by artist and sculptor Graeme Mitcheson, the memorial was carved in Cumbrian Slate and stands over two metres high. The shape of the memorial was partly inspired by a Spitfire wing, but also by the negative facial profile of the famous plastic surgeon, traced on the main face by a carved image of a crashing Hurricane aeroplane. Also on the main face are details of the history of the club with their logo.

The full story of Sir Archibald McIndoe’s work and the Guinea Pig Club, is told by E.R. Mayhew in The Reconstruction of Warriors. As the author reveals, plastic surgery was in its infancy before the Second World War. The most rudimentary techniques were only known to a few surgeons worldwide. The Allies were tremendously fortunate in having the maverick surgeon Archibald McIndoe – nicknamed 'the Boss' or 'the Maestro' – operating at a small hospital in East Grinstead in the south of England.

McIndoe constructed a medical infrastructure from scratch. After arguing with his superiors, he set up a revolutionary new treatment regime. Uniquely concerned with the social environment, or 'holistic care', McIndoe also enlisted the help of the local civilian population. He rightly secured his group of patients – dubbed the Guinea Pig Club – an honoured place in society as heroes of Britain's war.

Official records have been used by the aithor to explain fully how and why this remarkable relationship developed between the Guinea Pig Club, the RAF and the Home Front. First-person recollections bring to life the heroism of the airmen with incredible clarity.

a LITTLE FROM THE ROYAL AIR FORCE BENEVOLENT FUND!

The Memorial unveiled by His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh at the National Arboretum, 75 years after the Club was formed, is an honour to the Club and to its inspiring legacy.

As Guinea Pig Jack Toper said:


"The Guinea Pigs have been there to mentor new generations of burns victims, including Service personnel injured in the Falklands, Iraq, and Afghanistan. e know all about burns. We can tell them that their life is not over. It is beginning a new phase, but it is up to them what they want to do with it."

Further Reading


The Reconstruction of Warriors
(Paperback - 239 pages)
ISBN: 9781848325845

by E R Mayhew
Only £12.99

The history of the Guinea Pig Club, the band of airmen who were seriously burned in aeroplane fires, is a truly inspiring, spine-tingling tale. Plastic surgery was in its infancy before the Second World War. The most rudimentary techniques were only known to a few surgeons worldwide. The Allies were tremendously fortunate in having the maverick surgeon Archibald McIndoe – nicknamed 'the Boss' or 'the Maestro' – operating at a small hospital in East Grinstead in the south of England.

McIndoe constructed a medical infrastructure from scratch.…
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