Plastic surgery pioneers

The pioneers of plastic surgery: Archibald McIndoe


When it comes to pioneers in plastic surgery, Sir Archibald McIndoe is truly legendary.

Appointed as consultant in plastic surgery to the Royal Air Force in 1938, McIndoe moved to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead when World War II broke out. There he founded a centre for plastic surgery and went on to save the lives of 649 badly burnt airmen using innovative surgical procedures.

These included the walking-stalk skin flap or waltzing tube pedicle, a technique invented by his cousin, Sir Harold Gillies. This reconstructive technique involves shaping a flap of skin and soft tissue into a tubular pedicle and gradually stepping it towards the target site through a process of anchoring and severing.

He also employed radical methods to boost patient morale and help with their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. These included getting them to wear their service uniforms instead of their convalescent clothing and instigating drinking on his wards.

At his suggestion, the patients that he saved went on to form The Guinea Pig Club, which provided an important social and support network for survivors of the Second World War.

Recent tributes to Archibald McIndoe

So significant was McIndoe’s contribution to helping wounded airmen with innovative and life-enhancing reconstructive surgery that in 2014 a bronze statue of the surgeon was erected at East Grinstead.

Several members of The Guinea Pig Club attended the unveiling of the statue, which was made by the son of a Second World War tank commander that Archibald McIndoe had treated for burns.

Now it seems that his name and achievements are to be lauded once again; this time in the form of a movie for the big screen.

Called ‘The Guinea Pig Club’ and starring Richard E. Grant as Sir Archibald McIndoe, the film will be a powerful reminder of this outstanding surgeon’s maverick personality and pioneering work in reconstructive surgery.

Following in the footsteps of McIndoe

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