A warm Sussex welcome
To help their social rehabilitation, McIndoe appealed to the people of East Grinstead to welcome the disfigured Guinea Pigs into their lives.
He encouraged the men to go into town and they soon became a regular sight in the local shops and pubs. As people got to know the Guinea Pigs it undermined the long held belief that disfigured people should be hidden away.
East Grinstead residents went out of their way to accept the Guinea Pigs and this is the reason why the town became known as ‘The Town That Didn’t Stare.’
How to avoid the Hospital Blues
Historically, wounded servicemen wore a special uniform known as ‘Hospital Blues’ while they were recovering. However, the jackets buttoned up making them impractical for those with burned hands. McIndoe felt that the uniform made the wearer look like criminals and made them feel sorry for themselves. He forbade the Guinea Pigs to wear them and burnt the supply of blues sent to East Grinstead. The men could choose what they wore and more often than not they chose to wear their RAF uniform with pride.
McIndoe and the Guinea Pigs enjoy a drink at the Whitehall restaurant, East Grinstead, 1940s The Whitehall became the unofficial social club for the Guinea Pigs due to the welcoming attitude of the manager and waitresses. The men, seen here some in their RAF uniform and some in suits, were also regulars at the local cinema and the Rainbow, the local dance hall.
Guinea Pigs as celebrities
With the support of the RAF, McIndoe encouraged politicians and celebrities to meet and socialise with the Guinea Pigs as a way of supporting the war effort. He sent out invitations and wrote to newspapers. It was not long before the Guinea Pig members were being invited to film and theatre premieres. McIndoe was instrumental in changing the RAF’s approach to their injured servicemen. Now they actively promote the public acceptance of disfigured servicemen.
Clark Gable visits convalescing Guinea Pigs at Dutton Homestall, Ashurst Wood, 1942 Film star Clark Gable was just one of a number of celebrities, royalty and politicians who came to visit the Guinea Pigs while they convalesced. Over the years they met Winston Churchill, Dame Vera Lynn, comedians Joyce Grenfell, Tommy Trinder and Max Miller, entertainer Max Bygraves and many more.
The breaking and making of relationships
Sadly, but not surprisingly, many of the Guinea Pigs experienced emotional difficulties with their wives and girlfriends.
For the men it would take them a long time to come to terms with their life changing experiences. For the women it was sometimes too hard for them to see those they loved come back with such extreme injuries.
As a result many relationships broke down. For some of the Guinea Pigs new relationships did begin to flourish. The men developed bonds with their nurses and met local girls while out socialising.
The wedding of Bill Foxley to Miss Catherine Arkell at St Swithun’s Church, East Grinstead, June 1947 Bill and Catherine met while she was working at the hospital. He had already undergone 33 operations before they married. Bill was just one of many Guinea Pigs who married nurses or girls they met during their time in East Grinstead.