Sir Archibald McIndoe

Renowned wartime surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe (left) toasts a former patient and his bride on their wedding day. The photograph was taken in England in August 1947.

McIndoe maintained regular contact with airmen he treated during the Second World War, especially in his role as president of the 'Guinea Pig Club'. The club was formed by some of his patients in June 1941 to help pass the time during their long reconstructive treatments. They chose the title 'Guinea Pig Club' as a reference to the experimental nature of the treatments they were recieving. The club even had its own song - the Guinea Pig Anthem:

We are McIndoe’s army,
We are his Guinea Pigs.
With dermatomes and pedicles,
Glass eyes, false teeth and wigs.
And when we get our discharge
We’ll shout with all our might:
“Per ardua ad astra”
We’d rather drink than fight

John Hunter runs the gas works,
Ross Tilley wields the knife.
And if they are not careful
They’ll have your flaming life.
So, Guinea Pigs, stand steady
For all your surgeon’s calls:
And if their hands aren’t steady
They’ll whip off both your ears

We’ve had some mad Australians,
Some French, some Czechs, some Poles.
We’ve even had some Yankees,
God bless their precious souls.
While as for the Canadians -
Ah! That’s a different thing.
They couldn’t stand our accent
And built a separate Wing

We are McIndoe’s army,
(As first verse)

Sung to the tune Aurelia by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1864)

To be eligible for the club, members had to be serving airmen who had gone through at least ten surgical procedures. Along with aircrew patients, membership was extended to the medical staff that treated them at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex.

By the end of the war the club had 649 members. The majority were British but there were also New Zealanders, Canadians, Australians, Americans, French, Russians, Czechs and Poles. During the Battle of Britain, most of the members were fighter pilots but by end of the war, the vast majority were from RAF Bomber Command.

After the war the club provided a support network for its members and reunions were regularly held for 60 years until 2007. The last president of the club was Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

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2 comments have been posted about Sir Archibald McIndoe

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Sarndra Lees

Posted: 02 Mar 2014

Archie didn't just help those in the military. He operated on my partners mother as a young woman post war and went through the windscreen of a car in England. She emigrated to NZ in the early 60's and has long since died but he did an amazing job apparently.
Lovely to read that he is going to be recognised in such a way.

Jane Woodman

Posted: 18 Jan 2014

A statue of Sir Archibald McIndoe is to be erected in East Grinstead to commemorate the work of the pioneering plastic surgeon and to honour the people of the town (the town that did not stare) who welcomed the severely disfigured men into their lives. Were you or a family member one of Sir Archibald's Guinea Pigs? The Blond McIndoe Research Foundation would love to hear your story. enquiries@blondmcindoe.com. For more information about the statue which will be unveiled in June 2014 visit www.mcindoememorial.com