The Guinea Pig Club

Over a Sunday afternoon glass of sherry on 20th July 1941 a group of airmen, all recovering from surgery, suggested they should form a drinking club. Membership would be open to:

  1. The Guinea Pigs - any member of Allied Aircrew who had undergone at least two operations at the Queen Victoria hospital for burns or other crash injuries.
  2. The Scientists – doctors, surgeons and members of medical staff.
  3. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Guinea Pigs – friends and benefactors who made the life of a Guinea Pig a happy one.

All members were to pay an annual subscription of 2/6d. Women were not able to be members but could come to some special ‘ladies’ evenings.

The club was originally intended to disband at the end of the war but has gone from strength to strength celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2016.

The Sty, cartoon drawn by Guinea Pig, Sergeant Henry Standen

The atmosphere on Ward III came as a surprise to all those who visited it. McIndoe’s ward resounded with raucous laughter, swearing and the constant hum of the radio.

Flight Engineer Alan Morgan said,

‘It sounded like a nuthouse,’

however this spirited environment fostered by McIndoe was a crucial part of his patients’ emotional and physical rehabilitation.

Ward III at the Queen Victoria Hospital, 1942

In contrast to the rest of the hospital, McIndoe requested Ward III be painted in cheerful greens and pinks and have homely chintz curtains.

He was keen for the ward to be as comfortable as possible and nonmedical in it appearance.

In between operations Guinea Pigs would also convalesce at Dutton Homestall in Ashurst Wood or Marchwood Park in Hampshire.

Guinea Pig Anthem

McIndoe joins the Guinea Pigs on the Ward to sing the Guinea Pig anthem, McIndoe’s Army, 1947

Unlike other wards, Ward III had its own piano encouraging socialising and singing amongst the men.

Crucially McIndoe allowed a barrel of beer on the Ward, turned a blind eye to practical jokes, and encouraged flirting with the nurses.

As young men cut down in their prime, one can see how this approach could help to restore the Guinea Pigs’ masculinity and morale.

Guinea Pigs, Sergeant Jack Toper & Flight Officer Charles ‘Dave’ Davidson with nurses

It is thought that McIndoe particularly chose pretty nurses for Ward III. However, they also needed to be strong to cope with the repeated exposure to the extreme nature of the men’s injuries.

They also needed to be able handle their patient’s advances as one Ward III nurse describes,

“some women were coerced into things they didn’t want to do. But it was probably what saved those young men’s lives, made them want to live. It’s an interesting moral dilemma isn’t it?”