Stories from the Surgeon’s Table

By Jennifer Mason, Assistant County Archivist (Collections Management)

Five men with raised beer glasses standing around Doctor McIndoe, who also had a full glass of beer
Acc 14373 – Guinea Pig Club Christmas Magazine, 1948: Drinks with McIndoe!

‘The entrance fee is something most men would not care to pay and the conditions of membership are arduous in the extreme’

These words from renowned plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe describe the famous Guinea Pig Club, a group of badly burned Allied Air Force personnel who underwent pioneering plastic surgery procedures at Queen Victoria Hospital under the care of McIndoe during the Second World War.

HMQV/18/5 – The Queen Victoria Hospital exterior in 1936
McIndoe and two nurses (one of which only has their arms in the image), working in an operating theatre
Acc 4373 – Image from Guinea Pig Club Magazine showing McIndoe working in theatre, Summer of 1960

Queen Victoria Hospital was established as a small ‘cottage hospital’ in 1863 with just seven beds but during the Second World War became one of four national centres for plastic and reconstructive surgery, and the sole centre for the treatment of members of the Allied Air Forces.

Plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe (one of only four fully trained plastic surgeons working in the country at the time), was appointed in 1939 to lead the work at the hospital where he and his team established new techniques, such as saline bath immersion, and further developed existing skin grafting procedures which transformed the life expectancy and outcomes of his patients. McIndoe also promoted the importance of psychological health and reintegration into normal life for badly injured air force personnel and his legacy is partly founded on this holistic approach to treatment.

Cartoon shows jovial and active patients in the hospital reading letters and newspapers, playing the trombone, talking to nurses, and playing juvenile games like a slingshot and hanging from the building's rafters
Acc 14373 – Spirit of the sty cartoon from the Guinea Pig Club magazine, April 1948

The Queen Victoria Hospital Archive tells the story of these life-changing medical developments, both during the Second World War and beyond, through a remarkable series of patient case files, including those of members of the Guinea Pig Club. McIndoe’s own files reflect the development of his revolutionary surgical and psychosocial techniques.

You can explore the history of Queen Victoria Hospital, the pioneering plastic surgery work which took place there, and uncover the story of the Guinea Pig Club by joining our online talk ‘Stories from the Surgeon’s Table: the Queen Victoria Hospital Archive’ on Tuesday 28th September at 7pm. For further information and to book, please visit the Eventbrite website by following this link:

Please be aware that this talk contains medical images which attendees may find distressing.

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One thought on “Stories from the Surgeon’s Table

  1. I was treated for a period in the McIndoe burns unit during the mid-1970s. The ethos developed by Dr McIndoe was still very much in evidence and treatment was second to none. I have no doubt that without the pioneering work carried out many years earlier at East Grinstead I would not be here today. Thank you Queen Victoria Hospital and thank you WSRO for highlighting the work carried out there.


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