Russell Davies (Third from Left) with all the founding members of the Guinea Pig Club July 1941
During WW2 he was a vital member of Archibald McIndoe’s plastic surgery operating team, helping carry out pioneering surgery on burnt airmen and crew, assisting the senior anaesthetist Doctor John Hunter.
Early life -
Born in 6.6.1914 in Ponthir, Monmouthshire, Wales, after his medical training he became house physician, house surgeon and resident anaesthetist at The Westminster Hospital. He then joined the Emergency Medical Service and during the second world war was posted to East Grinstead Queen Victoria Hospital.
He very active in the pastoral aspect and rehabilitation of the patients and was widely known for his work with the ‘Guinea Pig Club’, the support organisation for the badly injured RAF pilots who were the early patients at East Grinstead. He was one of the founding members of the Guinea Pig Club and was medical officer to the club from its inception in July 1941 until 1991 providing medical and pastoral care.
He helped the Guinea Pigs for over 40 years listening to their problems, assessing their needs and establishing how best to meet them. There were many examples of how he arranged financial help in cooperation with the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund or with the Guinea Pig Club for a Guinea Pig to find his feet on resettlement.
Russell Davies seemed to have felt an ongoing concern and a degree of responsibility for each of the 6oo or so members of the Club. As well as being an excellent anaesthetist he was also concerned with the multiplicity of anaesthetic injections he was forced to make, sometimes twenty, thirty or maybe forty times in the same person over a number of years and dozens of operations. In his own words: -
“I’d rather be under for half an hour than for two hours. I’d rather have one operation, than four. I’d rather have five than eight, ten then twenty.
I believe we’ve all been given so much…. courage, for want of a better word. And each time we go through an ordeal like this, we draw on our deposits of courage. Some of these men, some of my friends, had drawn heavily on their courage before they came to us. Simply in surviving the experience of crashing, I mean. I’m determined, and so are the rest of the Club, that if and when they need any support, that support won’t be lacking.”
After the War
Appointed a consultant after the war he spent the rest of his career at the Queen Victoria Hospital. When Doctor John Hunter died in 1953 McIndoe invited Russell to become his principal anaesthetist but Russell refused. Russell was an enthusiastic supporter of the National Health Service and maybe felt he couldn’t serve two masters. It has also been suggested that Russell wanted to make sure that there would be someone at the Queen Victoria Hospital to look after the needs of the Guinea Pigs.
On Doctor Hunters death Russell assumed the position of Head of the Anaesthesia team but still continued to carry out a lot of work on behalf of the Guinea Pigs. In the field of Pensions for Guinea Pigs Russell’s work was considered outstanding. After his retirement Edward Blacksell, Welfare and Rehabilitation Officer wrote a tribute to Russell in the Guinea Pig Club’s magazine. He mentioned how Russell had helped change attitudes and with Archie’s input had managed to alter the Pension Departments assessments of men with third degree burns and helped obtain proper disability pension payments for many of the men.
Russell was widely respected and held in high regard not just by the Guinea Pigs but by fellow medical professionals and anaesthetists. He gained an international reputation for superb post-operative recovery and advanced anaesthesia. He wrote many papers on the use of anaesthesia and in 1946 went to Yugoslavia for seven months to set up their Anaesthetic Services. Previous to this Yugoslavia was without a recognised service of this kind. He was awarded the Ivo Bettini Medal in 1973 for services to Yugoslavian Anaesthesia.
His other international work included two visits to Chicago as a visiting professor: six months as Fulbright Exchange Professor at the University of Illinois in 1954, and three months at North-Western University in 1967.
Russell Davies unveiling a plaque on Ward 3 at Queen Victoria Hospital 27.9.1979.
He was married first in 1941 to Joan (Nicky) Cooper, with whom he had two daughters, and second in 1983 to Dr Kate Packer. With a life-long interest in Exmoor he collected many books, leaflets and pamphlets about it, and in retirement worked as a volunteer ambulance car driver (1974-84) and (also in a volunteer capacity) at the Winchester Archaeological Society, becoming an expert on bell founding.
Russell died on 13th October 1991 aged 77 and on 22nd October 30 Guinea Pigs, representatives from the Q.V.H. and many friends attended his funeral at Salisbury Crematorium. During the service tribute was paid to him and he was called perhaps the greatest friend the Guinea Pig Club ever had.