Historical Reconstructive Surgery at the Hunterian Museum – Part II

Continuing our virtual visit to the Hunterian museum we now come to an exhibit called the “Guinea Pig Club”. Members of the “Club,” which at one point numbered more than 650, were injured Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel.

A Reconstructive Surgery Pioneer


The “Guinea Pig Club” members were patients of a plastic surgeon who was eventually knighted for his pioneering reconstructive work. Archibald McIndoe gave the wounded fliers a second chance at life. Many of the injuries they suffered were burns that resulted from crashes, and the severity of their injuries necessitated that Dr. McIndoe develop new techniques, hence the moniker “Guinea Pig Club”.

Archibald McIndoe began operating on the wounded RAF personnel in 1941. The reconstructive surgeries were performed at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex, UK. As the disfigured airmen would need to have multiple surgeries, they stayed on in East Grinstead, which became known as “the town that wouldn’t stare”.

Not only did the members of the “Guinea Pig Club” share a common bond in their relationship with Dr. McIndoe and his team, but also they became one of the first patient support groups. They would go out drinking between hospitalizations and even married several of their nurses. By 2007 the “Club” whose membership had dwindled as age took its toll, met for the final time. This meeting presented the opportunity to photograph the men who still bore the scars from their injuries and record recollections of their experiences and camaraderie.

Winnie the Pooh at the Hunterian Museum


Finally we come to a skull of a bear. Winnie the Pooh was a real live bear whose owner, a Canadian soldier, Lieutenant Harry Colebourn, brought him to the United Kingdom when he was stationed there during World War I. He had purchased the orphan bear in his hometown of Winnipeg, hence the name Winnie.

When Colebourn deployed to France he donated Winnie to the London Zoo, where the bear lived for 20 years. Winnie was visited there in 1925 by author A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin. The boy was so delighted by the bear that he renamed his stuffed teddy bear, Winnie the Pooh. A beloved children’s story was born. Milne did take some artistic license, as Winnie of the Zoo was a black bear, not golden brown.

When Winnie died, the London Zoo donated his body to that repository of human and animal curiosities – The Hunterian Museum.