Many airmen suffered terrible burns during combat or in flying accidents in World War II. Sir Archibald McIndoe was the pioneering plastic surgeon who led a team at Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead to repair and rehabilitate them. Members of the RAF treated there were seen as guinea pigs for his experimental proceedures and the Guinea Pig Club soon formed numbering several hundred members.
McIndoe was as interested in psychological rehabilitation as he was in physical repair. Keen that his patients should not suffer too badly from the fear of being seen in public on account of their disfigurements, he encouraged the local people to invite them to social events and welcome them to pubs, the cinema and private houses. This earned East Grinstead the sobriquet ‘The town that did not stare’.
The sculpture was commissioned by the Blond McIndoe Research Foundation, with considerable support from McIndoe’s family, for a site in the town. Though initially the idea was to represent McIndoe alone, it soon became clear that he needed to be accompanied by a patient. The sculpture represents the surgeon as a fatherly figure placing his hands on the shoulders of a young disfigured airman soon to enter the operating theatre.
The sculptor’s father Michael Jennings, though not in the RAF, was treated at the hospital by McIndoe’s colleague Percy Jayes. Jennings had been wounded in a tank battle in Holland in 1944 and the injuries he received to his hands are represented in the figure of the airman as a tribute from his son.