I’ve decided to create a new category on here, of people who inspire me as a make up artist. When I decided to begin training as a make up artist, I was slightly concerned that it would be seen as a frivolous, vain career. Firstly, I wrong, nobody has ever thought that thankfully. Secondly, after learning about Archibald McIndoe I realised how important appearance can be to a person’s well-being.
McIndoe was born in New Zealand but moved to the UK before the outbreak of WW2. He founded a centre for plastic surgery in East Grinstead at The Queen Victoria Hospital. At this stage, reconstructive surgery was in it’s infancy. During WW1 most soldiers who were badly burned would die. During WW2, advances in medicine meant the survival rate greatly increased. Unfortunately these RAF soldiers were now maimed and burned beyond recognition.
In order to improve their chances of recovery, McIndoe pioneered a new technique. For example, if a soldier has lost his nose and suffered scar tissue across his upper body, McIndoe would take a slice of skin from the patient leg, leaving it attached at one end. The loose end would be formed into a tube, which would be attached further up the body. Because it was still attached to the body, blood could flow through and the skin would be kept alive until it had a chance to ‘take’ at the other end. This process would be repeated until the skin was on the face ready to build a nose.
This technique, though effective, was time consuming and meant that patients were left with these tubes around their body for months on end. Complimenting their medical treatment was the emotional support offered by McIndoe. He realised that the men were at risk of being seen as ‘freaks’ and so he encouraged them to mingle with their wider community in East Grinstead. Trips to the pub were arranged as were tea dances, where many patients met their future wives. Patients were encouraged to wear their own clothes or military uniform if they preferred, rather than hospital gowns and locals in East Grinstead were encouraged to invite the soldiers into their homes. Through this reintegration the soldiers were psychologically boosted and became a normal sight around East Grinstead, which came to be known as “the town that did not stare”.
A drinking club was formed between the soldiers. They called themselves the Guinea Pig Club in reference to their pioneering treatment and continued to meet annually in a pub in East Grinstead. By the end of the war there were 649 members, all helped by McIndoe, medically, emotionally and, in some cases, financially.
McIndoe was knighted in 1947 and died in 1960, leaving behind a legacy of care. McIndoe understood that appearance was important to confidence and through his original techniques he treated the person, not just the wound.