Guinea Pig Club - Rebuilding Bodies & Souls
In September 1939, the arrival of Archibald McIndoe in East Grinstead changed the history of the town, its hospital and the lives of those he touched, forever.
Each and every one of the 649 Allied Aircrew treated at the Queen Victoria Hospital knew that they were, “just a guinea pig for the Maestro.” The pioneering treatment of burns patients by McIndoe and his team has gone on to underpin modern plastic surgery as we know it today. McIndoe’s interest in his men did not stop with his surgical procedures. He knew if the men were to have any future he needed to help them recover their place in the world too.
In 1941 a few recovering airmen formed a drinking group and the Guinea Pig Club was born. It was indeed “the most exclusive club in the world but the entrance fee is something most men would not care to pay and the conditions of membership are arduous in the extreme.” Vitally, through the comradeship of its members and the encouragement of McIndoe, the club has gone on to be a support network that celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2016.
A HOSPITAL FOR EAST GRINSTEAD
East Grinstead’s first hospital opened in 1863. At the time it was one of only five Cottage Hospitals in the country.
THE ARRIVAL OF McINDOE
On 4 September 1939, a Mr Archibald McIndoe, civilian Plastic Surgeon to the Royal Air Force, arrived to run the new Centre for Plastic and Jaw Surgery.
McINDOE'S PIONEERING TECHNIQUES
Instead of using tannic acid, McIndoe treated burn injuries using the basic first aid techniques of keeping the wounds open, washing them with saline and changing the dressings regularly.
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.
THE TOWN THAT DIDN'T STARE
To help their social rehabilitation, McIndoe appealed to the people of East Grinstead to welcome the disfigured Guinea Pigs into their lives.
GUINEA PIG ARCHIVE
Over many years the museum and the Guinea Pig Club have been working to build up a comprehensive database of information covering all 649 members.
GUINEA PIG ENQUIRIES
If you have an enquiry about the any aspect of the Guinea Pig Club or the work of McIndoe and his team please complete the form via the link below.