A Short History of the Guinea Pig Club

Guinea Pig Club Logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Plans are made...

In 1936, the Government decided that Hitler’s insatiable appetite for expansion of the Fatherland would not be satisfied with the territory he had already taken and that war was inevitable. The lessons learnt during the Spanish Civil War, when Hitler and Mussolini ‘assisted’ General Franco with their air forces, slaughtered hundreds of civilians and won the war for Franco was proof that the next war would be mainly aerial and as a result our casualties in the air would produce many airmen in need of treatment for burns.

 

And so the Emergency Medical Service was set-up with hospitals out side of London selected to deal with this anticipated problem. One of them was The Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital (as it was then known) and a Mr A McIndoe (later to become Sir Archibald McIndoe) was appointed to take charge. He arrived on 4th September 1939 and together with a first-class team of medical people formed the Burns Centre.


An idea is born

In 1940, when the Battle of Britain began, Hurricane and Spitfire pilots, together with other aircrew, suffering from burns were taken to what was to become the world famous hospital in East Grinstead.

 

On 20th July 1941, some of these airmen were passing their time chatting in a newly erected hut at the hospital when one of them suggested forming a Club. Someone claimed The Guinea Pig Club would be appropriate, after all, Guinea Pig animals were mainly used for medical experimentation and so were the burned airmen, as burns treatment and plastic surgery was then in its infancy.

 

The Guinea Pig Club

The Club was duly formed with a committee and Mr McIndoe as its President. The Secretary was a pilot with badly burned fingers, which meant he was excused from writing many letters and the Treasurer was a member whose legs were burned, this ensured he could not abscond with the funds.


There were three types of members: The Guinea Pigs, who qualified by being WW2 aircrew members of Allied Air Forces and had received at least two operations at the hospital (for burns or other crash injuries), scientists, doctors and surgeons were honorary members and the third were the Club’s benefactors, who were to be known as 'Friends of the Guinea Pig Club'. Initially, the Club was really intended to be a drinking club, which would disband after the war, but instead it grew in strength and through the generosity of many people became financially sound.

 

Later, as the bombing programme intensified against the industrial heart of Germany, so the emphasis switched from burned fighter pilots primarily to burned and other bomber crews. In time these patients represented 80% of the total. There were 649 Guinea Pigs at the end of the war and mainly, 62% were British, 20% Canadians, 6% Australians, 6% New Zealanders and 6% from many other countries, including those who escaped the German invasion.

 

For further enquiries, contact GuineaPigClub@ OR info@eastgrinsteadmuseum.org.uk

 

Guinea Pigs then...

GP then

Some of McIndoe's patients in the 1940s

Guinea Pigs now...

GP now

Members of the club outside the former Guinea Pig Pub