World War II was the deadliest military conflict in human history, with 70 to 85 million dead. The soldiers were very well acquainted with the sight of mangled bodies and badly disfigured soldiers who were lucky enough to survive whatever horrible experience they had been through. In the United States Armed Forces, for instance, a total of 671,846 were wounded throughout the war. That was why the Guinea Pig Club was formed in July 1941, with the goal of supporting those injured during the war through reconstructive surgeries.

The Guinea Pig Club was formed in July 1941 to support aircrew undergoing reconstructive plastic surgery after receiving burn injuries in the Second World War.

Pioneer in the Field

Before we talk about the Club, let’s get to know first the brilliant plastic surgeon who primarily worked with the members: Sir Archibald Hector McIndoe.

When World War II broke out, Dr. McIndoe was one of the surgeons working with the Royal Air Force. He was assigned to the recently rebuilt Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex. There, he founded a Center for Plastic and Jaw Surgery and treated soldiers who fell victim to very deep burns and serious facial disfigurement. Not only did he improve the existing techniques for treating those with badly burned faces and hands, but he also acknowledged the importance of rehabilitating these patients and helping them reintegrate into normal life. One of which was eliminating the Hospital Blue convalescent uniforms that basically screamed, “Look at me, I am injured.” Instead, he made them wear their service uniform.

Dr. McIndoe even went the extra mile and reached out to the locals and asked them to support the patients by inviting them to their homes. He also never called his patients “his patients” but instead referred to him as “his boys,” while his staff  called him “the Boss.”

He also observed that the wounds of those injured over the sea healed faster and better, realizing that the seawater helped their wounds. As a result, he incorporated the much-dreaded saline bath for all his boys. He also refined the pedicle graft that enabled them to get new noses.

The Guinea Pig Club

Being a guinea pig meant becoming an experimental person for procedures or tests that had not been done before, and that was where the name of the club exactly came from. When Dr. McIndoe visited the wards to look for candidates for his surgery, the officers usually volunteered some victims and said they had a “guinea pig for him.”

The Guinea Pig Club started in July 1941. It aimed to support pilots undergoing plastic surgery to reconstruct their faces after burn injuries that they obtained while in service. At least, that was how it started. According to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund‘s website,