Duke unveils tribute to war-wounded Guinea Pigs

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Media captionDuke unveils Guinea Pig Club tribute

The Duke of Edinburgh has unveiled a memorial to veterans who underwent pioneering surgery after suffering disfiguring injuries in World War Two.

Dr Sandy Saunders, a 93-year-old veteran who organised the memorial to the Guinea Pig Club, said it was a "fantastic" tribute.

Dr Saunders, badly burned in a plane crash in 1945, said he was proud to have helped with the tribute.

The members were dubbed Guinea Pigs because their surgery was experimental.

Prince Philip unveiled the tablet at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Dr Saunders, who had 28 operations to treat his burns, said: "I am proud that I made the effort. If it wasn't for me then no one else would have done it."

'Social' drinks

He praised the plastic surgeons who repaired his face and hands, which were badly burned in the crash of his Tiger Moth training plane near High Wycombe in 1945.

Dr Saunders said: "The plane stalled at low altitude and crashed. I was knocked out but luckily the flames woke me up."

Image caption Sandy Saunders was treated for serious burns after a crash in 1945 and became the 649th member of the Guinea Pig Club

He was 21 at the time of the crash shortly after the war ended.

The young airman was inspired by plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe and eventually trained to be a doctor spending 49 years as a GP in Sneinton, Nottingham.

The club got its name because patients had pioneering surgery in East Grinstead, Sussex, including new skin graft techniques developed by Sir Archibald.

Prince Philip has been the president of the Guinea Pig Club since 1960.

Image caption Some of the 17 surviving members of the club were able to attend the ceremony

Sir Archibald also encouraged his patients to spend time in social activities, including drinking beer on the hospital wards.

"He didn't see any harm in having a beer on the ward. We were suffering from burns and shock and it was important to keep hydrated," Dr Saunders, who has retired to Leicestershire, said.

"It (the memorial) is very imaginative. I had hoped to raise the funds for it myself, but then the costs increased and my wife decided it would be better to try to raise funds by crowd funding."

Dr Saunders, who is seriously ill with cancer of the bladder and prostrate, said the memorial was a "fantastic" achievement.

Plastic surgeon pioneer

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sir Archibald McIndoe was forced to perform treatments on the "guinea pigs" as he had no books or guides to refer to
  • Archibald McIndoe was born in New Zealand in 1900 and moved to England in 1930
  • Described as a "brilliant and quick surgeon"
  • Developed new techniques for treating badly burned faces and hands
  • Awarded a knighthood in 1947 for innovative reconstructive surgery techniques

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