As part of the 75th anniversary of VE day we will be exploring Leeds Castle’s involvement in World War II with a series of articles posted each day.
The Guinea Pig Club
In 1938 Sir Archibald McIndoe was appointed consultant in plastic surgery to the Royal Air
Force. On the outbreak of the war in 1939, he selected the Queen Victoria
Hospital at East Grinstead, which had been rebuilt shortly before the war. It
possessed ample land for expansion and was a suitable site for the
establishment of a centre for plastic and jaw surgery.
It was there that he treated the very deep burns and serious facial
disfigurements sustained by aircraft pilots and crew. In 1941 the patients at
the hospital formed The Guinea Pig Club. The club was made up of
members who were recovering WW2 pilots and bomber crew from the
allied airforce that had been burnt and were receiving treatment from Sir
Archibald McIndoe. The name reflected the pioneering nature of Sir
Archibald’s work, where many of the procedures and treatments were completely new to
plastic surgery. The work carried out by McIndoe in rehabilitating badly burned aircrew was quite outstanding, not only physically but also psychologically. By the end of the war there were 649 members of the Guinea Pig Club, all indebted
to Sir Archibald.
In 1943, when the Castle was no longer required as a hospital, some of the “guinea pigs” of Sir Archibald
McIndoe’s pioneering plastic surgery at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead were invited to Leeds
Castle to convalesce. One of these was Paul Hart, who returned to the Castle several times during 1943 and
1944 for stays of two or three weeks at a time as a guest of Lady Baillie. Mr Hart remembered Lady Baillie
as a very beautiful and charming lady.
He recalled that: “She was not there during the week, but we had the run of the house and at weekends
she came with other guests, including some of the leading war-time figures.”