The RAF Benevolent Fund's Public Relations Officer Samantha Budde joined WWII veterans and HRH Princess Anne this week for a special ceremony to unveil a statue in honour of pioneering surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe and his 'Guinea Pigs'. Samantha tells us more.
It was more than 70 years ago that Sir Archibald McIndoe first started treating badly burned airmen in East Grinstead, pioneering plastic surgery techniques that would restore function and giving hope to young men with life-changing disfigurements.
These young men – mostly RAF aircrew who survived fiery crashes – formed a drinking club during their long recoveries and called themselves The Guinea Pig Club, in honour of the experimental treatments of Dr McIndoe.
The club grew to 649 'Guinea Pigs' from the UK, Commonwealth, and Allied nations.
The extraordinary story of Dr McIndoe and his Guinea Pigs is now commemorated in a bronze statue unveiled on 9 June in East Grinstead by HRH Princess Anne. The statue was designed by Martin Jennings, whose father was a tank commander treated by Dr McIndoe after being burned in France.
Martin said: "I have represented McIndoe with a patient...who has burns to his face and hands. The pilot is turning his head back up to the sky but also towards his doctor for reassurance. McIndoe's hands are on the younger man's shoulders, suggesting the communication of the surgeon's extraordinary confidence."
Guinea Pig Jack Perry was just 19 years old when he sustained severe burns to his hands and ears after his Lancaster crashed in 1944. He was treated by Dr McIndoe in East Grinstead for two years and remembered him as "a man of concise and effective words and when he spoke, everyone listened."
Jack was joined at the unveiling by eight other members of The Guinea Pig Club. It was extraordinarily moving to see them standing alongside the statue, celebrating the surgeon who, so many years ago, treated their wounds and restored their hope for a bright future after the war.
By Samantha Budde