Please find below a selection of previous articles of our quarterly newsletter.
- ORDEAL BY FIRE AND SCALPEL (November 2010)
- PLAYING GAMES WITH THE ENEMY (February 2011)
ORDEAL BY FIRE AND SCALPEL
Two days after 253 Squadron arrived at Kenley on 29 August 1940 Squadron Leader Cleaves' Hurricane was shot down in flames and he bailed out, badly burned. He later was sent for treatment at Archibald Mclndoe's Burns Unit in the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead.
Wards Three and Kindersley at the Hospital were unique. A newcomer once described them as like entering a lunatic asylum! However the tolerant staff, alcohol availability and lack of any discipline were all considered of help in the treatment of young, badly injured aircrew. Saline baths were given before starting intricate surgery. But crippled hands and ravaged faces could never be fully restored to how they had been, therefore outside visits were encouraged for inmates to experience public reaction to their disfigurement, so walking wounded and wheelchair processions were often made into East Grinstead.
With future rehabilitation in mind the "Maxillonian" or "Guinea Pig" Club was formed in Ward Three in July 1941. Archie Mclndoe, a New Zealander, - known among his patients as "The Boss " or "The Maestro" was elected President. Torn Gleave was elected Vice President and Peter Weeks as Treasurer, chosen allegedly because, having his legs in plaster he couldn't run off with the Club funds. The Secretary chosen was a member who had badly burnt hands - "So that he would only write brief notes".
Eventually after having his face reconstructed, Tom Gleave was one who resumed RAF service but for others it meant endless operations; one of them enduring eighty of them! And it was these more unfortunate ones that the Guinea Pig Committee tried to help back into civilian occupations. Mclndoe fought to improve the pay and conditions of his "boys" and even lent them money to set them up in civilian life. Some went into civil flying, others into teaching, acting, commerce and industry. The Committee also helped with pension disputes and organised hilarious weekend reunion meetings at "The Sty" as they called the Queen Victoria Hospital.
Mclndoe was appointed CBE in 1944 and after the War many honours were bestowed on him. He was knighted in 1947,
Over the years the numbers attending the reunions diminished. Sir Archibald Mclndoe CBE FRCS died in 1960, his ashes being interred in St Clement Danes Church. Tom Gleave died in 1994. By 2007 only fifty-four of the original six hundred and forty-nine Guinea Pig members were still attending, so it was reluctantly decided that would have to be the last formal reunion held.
The end of an era but Mclndoe's memory is perpetuated in the Blond-
Mclndoe Research Unit opened in his honour at the Queen Victoria Hospital on 22
PLAYING GAMES WITH THE ENEMY
One essential aid for WW2 POWs intent on escape was a map showing where they were being held in relation to their route to freedom. The need for such maps to be easily smuggled into prison camps meant that they would have to be printed on to a material which was durable and capable of being fitted into the smallest possible space. Then to find a way of getting the maps into the hands of the prisoners.
In the 1940s only one manufacturer had perfected the technology of printing on silk -which was the material which met all those criteria. The firm was John Waddington Ltd, who was also licensee for the board game "Monopoly". As it happened, 'games and pastimes' was a category permissible for inclusion in Red Cross parcels for POWs.
Under the strictest secrecy a group of Waddington's employees began producing escape maps, keyed to each region where the camps were located. Red Cross packages were delivered with that same regional system.
The maps could be folded small enough to fit inside a Monopoly playing piece. Also added were a playing token containing a small magnetic compass and a two-piece metal file. Useful amounts of genuine German, Italian and French money were also hidden within the piles of Monopoly money.
Allied aircrew were briefed on how to identify a rigged Monopoly set - a red dot in the corner of a "Free Parking" square. It is estimated that of the 35,000 Allied POWs who escaped, a third were aided by this ruse.
The story wasn't declassified until 2007 when the surviving craftsmen from Waddingtons, and the firm itself, were honoured in a public ceremony.