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The Reconstruction of Warriors (Paperback)

Archibald McIndoe, the Royal Air Force and the Guinea Pig Club

WWII Aviation All Frontline Books Frontline: WWII

By E R Mayhew
Frontline Books
Pages: 239
ISBN: 9781848325845
Published: 30th October 2010
Last Released: 27th July 2016



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The history of the Guinea Pig Club, the band of airmen who were seriously burned in aeroplane fires, is a truly inspiring, spine-tingling tale. Plastic surgery was in its infancy before the Second World War. The most rudimentary techniques were only known to a few surgeons worldwide. The Allies were tremendously fortunate in having the maverick surgeon Archibald McIndoe – nicknamed 'the Boss' or 'the Maestro' – operating at a small hospital in East Grinstead in the south of England.

McIndoe constructed a medical infrastructure from scratch. After arguing with his superiors, he set up a revolutionary new treatment regime. Uniquely concerned with the social environment, or 'holistic care', McIndoe also enlisted the help of the local civilian population. He rightly secured his group of patients – dubbed the Guinea Pig Club – an honoured place in society as heroes of Britain's war.

For the first time official records have been used to explain fully how and why this remarkable relationship developed between the Guinea Pig Club, the RAF and the Home Front. First-person recollections bring to life the heroism of the airmen with incredible clarity.

Fascinating and comprehensive account... An absorbing read for anyone interested in military aviation history.

The Log, January 2017 - reviewed by Andy Brown

The DEFINATIVE book on the work of Archibald McIndoe and the amazing courage of horrifically injured young men and their fight for survival, friendship and willingness to participate in revolutionary treatments that have formed the fundamental corner stone of modern plastic surgery.

Amazon Customer

A very well-written book about a story that needs to be told more often and given the widest audience. I have to admit that my eyes often filled with tears whilst reading the book, in pity and admiration at the wounded airmen's courage.
The author sets the scene well, explaining that the new high-octane aviation fuel meant that RAF aircrew in wartime would be facing what was virtually a new type of wound - terrible disfiguring burns that could 'erase' faces. And of how McIndoe had to develop new techniques - and discard old ones - to try to give back to his 'Guinea Pigs' some hope of a normal life. He also realised that surgery was only part of the treatment - the men's morale was vital too, so his approach was 'holistic', and included attractive nurses - who were chosen for their competence and ability to cope emotionally - and a barrel of beer in the ward to ensure the patients took enough liquids!
But above all, he enlisted the entire population of East Grinstead (and as the book makes clear, later the entire country too) as a support network, to help the recovering patients' re-entry to life and society. The men were not hidden away as dangers to morale, but rather celebrated as heroes and their contribution valued.
Both the 'Guinea Pigs' and McIndoe are well-served by this book, and you won't regret buying it.

Amazon Customer - George Rodger

It is often said that war brings out the best and the worst in people. It also brings out the best and the worst in historians. This is some of the best of both.
From the beginning of air warfare, an airman's greatest fear was fire. Burns are among the most painful of injuries and they also produce terrible disfigurement. This is the story of how Britain led the way in treating these injuries in WWII. It is about innovation in medicine and the treatment of patients, and about the people who did it and their patients.
The central theme is the remarkable figure of Sir Archibald McIndoe, his burns unit at East Grinstead and his patients, who formed the Guinea Pig Club. Through original research, Emily Mayhew adjusts the familiar tale. While the image of the Guinea Pigs is dominated in the public mind by fighter pilots, most famously Richard Hillary, we learn here about the far more numerous bomber crews. She also tells the story of David Charters who did work similar to McIndoe in the primitive conditions of a POW camp in Germany. We learn about how the town of East Grinstead itself played a key role in repairing not just the faces but the minds of the disfigured airmen, and how the RAF supported them and McIndoe, even when he bent the rules. The unit was one of the first to practice wholistic medicine, to treat its subjects not as patients but as people. It is a human tale.
Mayhew manages to combine scholarship with a compelling narrative and brings together the big picture and the personal stories of many of the individuals involved as doctors and nurses and their patients.
Always authoritative, the book is also an easy and gratifying read. It is a marvellous story. This is a highly informative and touching piece of work which deserves wide readership. Highly recommended.

Amazon Customer

This book speaks to two of the most diametrically opposed yet mutually supportive aspects of war: the ability to inflict horrific injury and the ability to heal. Mayhew also includes in her narrative an in depth bibliography and a reading/video list of timely and pertinent on the success of the Guinea Pigs and their continued activities. Mayhew is to be commended on an outstanding addition to expanding our knowledge of an area rarely discussed by historians. Her book should be mandatory reading for all defence members (both civilian and military) and on everyone's history shelf. This book is highly recommended.

Airforce Magazine

A vital story of part of the RAF's turbulent history.

Air Mail

Plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe is said to have changed the lives of more than 600 World War II airmen. His story is told in this book by Emily Mayhew.

RAF News

The history of the Guinea Pig Club, the band of airmen who were seriously burned in aeroplane fires, is a truly inspiring, spine tingling tale.

Heritage and History
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