01 February 2013
Plans have been announced for a statue commemorating Sir Archibald McIndoe, the charismatic plastic surgeon who led the treatment
Plans have been announced for a statue commemorating Sir Archibald McIndoe, the charismatic plastic surgeon who led the treatment of the wartime RAF ‘Guinea Pigs’.
McIndoe was a New Zealander who, at the start of the Second World War, was consultant in plastic surgery to the RAF. He established a centre at the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead, Sussex which became famous in particular for treating disfigured RAF aircrew.
The experimental nature of some of McIndoe’s work was behind the name of the Guinea Pig Club established by his RAF patients in 1941.
Now the charity, the Blond McIndoe Research Foundation, is raising funds for a statue in East Grinstead. A possible site has been identified in the town. The sculptor will be Martin Jennings whose work includes the statues of the poets Sir John Betjeman at St Pancras station in London and Philip Larkin in Hull. Jennings’ father was an Army tank commander treated by McIndoe. It is hoped that the statue will be unveiled before the end of 2013.
McIndoe, who was knighted in 1947 and died in 1960, allowed his Guinea Pigs to drink beer on the ward and play practical jokes. The patients walked out into East Grinstead, where local people trained themselves not to stare.
The surgeon came to be revered by the men he treated. Geoffrey Page, a Hurricane pilot shot down and terribly burned in the Battle of Britain, wrote of McIndoe, 'His humorous twinkling eyes and enormous workmanlike hands were perhaps the most striking features of this unique man. Unique inasmuch as, apart from indefatigable skill as a surgeon, he had insight into human nature and a willingness to help that is rare.' Page returned to flying and became a highly decorated Wing Leader.
Not all the Guinea Pigs had been burned. Alan Morgan was the Flight Engineer of a Lancaster bomber, hit by flak and badly damaged. Morgan went to the aid of another crew member, but became unconscious through lack of oxygen. He had taken his gloves off and lost all his fingers to frostbite. With the help and encouragement of Archie McIndoe he spent his post war working life as a toolmaker.
More information about the Blond McIndoe Research Foundation and the wartime activities at the Queen Victoria Hospital can be found at www.blondmcindoe.org. Find out more about the fundraising appeal for the McIndoe Memorial Statue at www.mcindoememorial.com.
With thanks to Geoff Simpson for letting us know about this story.