The Guinea Pig Club

One of our members, Brenda Denny, asked me if the Oracle had ever featured Jack Dallaway. He was born in the 1920s, his Quinton connections are that he owned the Post Office and newsagents at 7 Faraday Avenue in the 1950s.

Jack was the wireless operator of a Hampden bomber in the Royal Air Force. He had returned from a shipping strike in the Skagerrak when a Ju 88 intruder sneaked up on the Hampden’s tail and shot it down as it was about to land in Norfolk. “We caught fire and I thought , this is the end. When I realised I had survived the crash, I found I couldn’t open the cupola above-my hands were burned. I wasn’t frightened I thought of mother at home. I heard a scream an supposed it was the navigator but when daylight broke I dropped through a hole into a ditch and scrambled into a ploughed field. I collected all my stuff together and thought that was another mission over-my twenty-fifth in fact.

The above information is taken from a book “The Guinea Pig Club” written by Edward Bishop. He also describes the profitable sale of his first shop in Birmingham and the business prospects opening out for him at Crawley. The simplest way to portray his story is via extracts from two articles, “Courage of the ‘Guinea Pigs’ (The Argus-Friday 1st October 2004) and the Internet Wikipedia “The Guinea Pig Club”. I have included both articles without any alteration; there may be sections repeated in the text and for that I apologise. Here is J J Allaway’s story:-

Wikipedia Article

The Guinea Pig Club was formed of patients of Archibald McIndoe at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, Sussex who underwent reconstructive plastic surgery during World War II, generally after receiving burn injuries in aircraft.

Initially the club was a drinking club whose aim was to help rehabilitate its members during their long reconstructive treatments. It was formed in June 1941 with 39 patients. Its members were aircrew patients in the hospital and the surgeons and anaesthetists who treated them. Aircrew members had to be serving airmen who had gone through at least ten surgical procedures. By the end of the war the club had 649 members.

The original members were Royal Air Force (RAF) aircrew who had severe burns generally to the face or hands. Most were British but other significant minorities included Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and by the end of the war Americans, French, Russians, Czechs and Poles. During the Battle of Britain, most of the patients were fighter pilots but by end of the war, a total of around 80% of the members of the club were from bomber crews of RAF Bomber Command.

Before the war the RAF had made preparations by setting up burns units in several hospitals to treat the expected casualties. The plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe worked at the Queen Victoria Hospital burns unit in East Grinstead. McIndoe improved, developed and invented many techniques for treating, reconstructing and rehabilitating burn casualties.

The treatment of burns by surgery was in its infancy. Before that time, many severely burned casualties would not have survived. The term "Guinea Pig" indicates the experimental nature of the reconstructive work carried out on the club's members and the new equipment designed specifically to treat these injuries.

McIndoe had to deal with very severe injuries. One man, Air Gunner Les Wilkins, lost his face and hands and McIndoe had to recreate his fingers by making incisions between his knuckles. Many burns required several surgical operations that took years to accomplish.

Also in the early days of plastic surgery for burns, there was little emphasis on reintegration of patients back into normal life after treatment. The Guinea Pig Club was the result of McIndoe's efforts to make life in the hospital easy for his patients and to begin to rebuild them psychologically in preparation for life outside the hospital. He expected many to stay in the hospital for several years and undergo many reconstructive operations, so he set out to make their stay in hospital relaxed and socially productive.

Unlike many military hospitals at the time or since, patients were encouraged to lead as normal a life as possible. They could wear their usual clothes or service uniforms instead of "convalescent blues" and were able to leave the hospital at will. There were even barrels of beer in wards to encourage an informal and happy atmosphere. McIndoe also convinced some of the local families in East Grinstead to accept his patients as guests and other residents to treat them as normally as possible. East Grinstead became "the town that did not stare"

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Later, many of the men also served in other capacities in RAF operations control rooms and occasionally as pilots between the surgeries. Those unable to serve in any capacity received full pay until the last surgical operations and only then were invalided out of the service. McIndoe also later lent some of his patients money for their subsequent entry to the civilian life.

The club regularly meets sixty years later and still offers help to burns patients. Annual meetings at East Grinstead attract visitors from all over the world. By 2003, there were around two hundred survivors. One of the local pubs adopted the name The Guinea Pig, but this was closed in 2008 and subsequently demolished in spring 2009 to make way for social housing. Sixteen members of the club have also written books about their experiences, some of them during the war. The president of the club is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

The Argus article

During the Second World War a group of badly burned servicemen who were given pioneering plastic surgery decided to call themselves The Guinea Pig Club. Every year they return to the Sussex hospital where they were treated so members can keep their bonds of friendship strong and pay tribute to the remarkable surgeon who made such a difference to their lives. The numbers are dwindling each year but they are determined to keep the club's memory alive. Siobhan Ryan reports.

Close friends Bill Foxley and Jack Allaway are members of an exclusive club. They are two of the hundreds of badly-burned RAF men who were treated by maverick plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe during the Second World War.

The 649 men staying at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead quickly realised the treatment they were receiving was largely experimental. One of the patients burst out to his friends that they were little more than guinea pigs being tested on - and the club name was born. The Guinea Pig Club stands as a testament to the amazing achievements of Sir Archibald and the strength, endurance and fortitude of the men he treated.

After leaving hospital hundreds of club members went on to marry and get on with their lives. This was in spite of losing facial features - eyebrows, noses, lips, cheeks, ears and eyelids - which all had to be replaced by McIndoe. But they never forgot their fellow guinea pigs and the surgeon who helped them. Their friendship and close bond has endured over 60 years. Mr Allaway and Mr Foxley both live in Crawley and meet regularly.

Mr Allaway was a wireless operator in the RAF and Mr Foxley was a navigator. They never flew together but in 1945 the pair found themselves in adjacent beds under the care of Sir Archibald. Both had suffered "airman's burn" - a horrific injury where their faces and hands were seared off by burning aviation fuel and oxygen.

Mr Foxley's bomber crashed on a training mission in March 1944 when he was 20 and Mr Allaway, who was 21, was shot down the following October. Their burns were severe but McIndoe gave them new faces, operating up to 60 times on each one over four years. Their hands were melted into fingerless lumps but McIndoe's skills managed to give them enough dexterity to use them.

The death rate of severely disfigured servicemen from the First World War was almost 100 per cent but McIndoe had a spectacular success rate more than 20 years later. He not only saved lives but also found ways to give people a good quality of life. Mr Foxley and Mr Allaway look back with fondness on their time on Ward III at the hospital where McIndoe worked to heal their scars, both physical and mental. Mr Foxley said: "The years being treated were the best of our lives. We never felt sorry for ourselves because we were together. "We were all young, spirited lads and he wanted to keep our spirits alive."

Patients were allowed to wear RAF uniform in hospital and there was always a barrel of beer on the ward - burns patients need to keep hydrated and it was easier to persuade them to drink beer, then lots of water. Mr Foxley, who has a glass right eye and partial sight in the other, said: "There was a great camaraderie. As aircrew you relied on teamwork and that same attitude helped you in hospital."

Many of the club married the nurses who cared for them, including Mr Foxley. His wedding to Catherine Arkell made the front pages in 1947. He said: "Even though I was burned I didn't doubt I would one day marry."

Mr Foxley has short stumps instead of fingers but has the use of his thumb so is able to hold things. He had escaped relatively unscathed from the bomber but returned for a crewmate. His plane had taken off for an exercise but developed a fault at 300ft and crashed, bursting into flames. Mr Foxley was able to get out but went back to help the trapped wireless operator before the plane blew up, killing three members of the crew. Mr Foxley was wrapped head to toe in bandages and taken to an RAF hospital where he was singled out by McIndoe for extra treatment and taken to East Grinstead. He had dozens of operations to give him new eyelids, brows, nose, lips, chin and hands but getting his sight back was the most memorable. He said: "I was given new eyelids. I opened them and saw some daffodils that my mother had brought in. She started to cry when I said I could see them."

Mr Allaway married his wife Joan in 1948 but before that dated Sir Winston Churchill's daughter Mary Churchill, who later became Lady Soames. Mr Allaway and Mr Foxley met Sir Winston in Montreux in 1946 when they were convalescing. The Churchills were on holiday.

Mr Allaway was shot down near Norfolk. Three of his crew died. He needed new eyelids, lips, chin and a nose and when he first saw himself in a mirror he shrank back. But after intensive treatment he was happy with the result. He and Mr Foxley know they owe Sir Archibald a huge debt of gratitude.

Every year club members return to East Grinstead for a weekend. There are only 128 members of the club still alive and the youngest is 80. A museum in the hospital has ensured the memory of each club member will remain. Curator Bob Marchant has hundreds of photos, papers, medical records and items of medical equipment donated by club members. They include a bullet removed from an airman's face, the original operating table used by Sir Archibald, mini medals and an airman's jacket. Photos adorn the walls of the museum showing before and after pictures of badly burned airmen. Mr Marchant said: "It is a job I am proud to do and it will serve as a lasting memorial to them."

The hospital has a roll of honour inscribed with the name of every member. The work done by Sir Archibald set a precedent for international expertise in burns treatment and maxillofacial surgery, which the hospital continues to offer today. Dr Mayhew said: "McIndoe gave the burned airmen new faces, operating up to 60 times on each over an average of four years. "He also operated on a scale never seen before or since. Over five years he had at least six new patients a week, an astonishing caseload."

Finally, I will close the article with photographs of Jack’s horrendous injuries – thankfully the Oracle is in monochrome and not colour.

Restorative surgery on badly burned patients

Photos from Edward Bishop’s Book

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