Archibald McIndoe

From Academic Kids

Sir Archibald McIndoe (May 4, 1900 - April 11, 1960) was a plastic surgeon who worked for the Royal Air Force during World War II who greatly improved the treatment and rehabilitation of badly burned aircrew.

Archibald McIndoe was born May 4 1900 in Dunedin, New Zealand, into a family of four. His father was a printer. McIndoe studied at Otago Boys' High School and later medicine at the University of Otago. After his graduation he became a house surgeon at Waikato Hospital. On July 31 1924 he married Adonia Aitken and they later had two daughters.

In 1924 McIndoe was awarded a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in the United States to study pathological anatomy. He worked in the clinic a First Assistant in Pathological Anatomy 1925-1927 and published several papers on chronic liver disease. Impressed with his skill, Lord Moynihan suggested a career in England and in 1930 McIndoe moved to London.

At first McIndoe could not find work but his cousin, Sir Harold Gillies, a plastic surgeon, invited him to join the private practice he ran with Rainsford Mowlem and suggested he take a job at St Bartholomew's Hospital, where he became a clinical assistant. In 1932 he received a permanent appointment as a General Surgeon and Lecturer at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and 1934 a Fellowship of the American College of Surgeons until 1939. That year he became a consulting plastic surgeon to the Royal North Stafford Infirmary and to Croydon General Hospital. In 1938 he was appointed consultant in plastic surgery to the Royal Air Force.

When World War II broke out plastic surgery was largely divided on service lines. Gillies went to Rooksdown House near Basingstoke, which became the principal army plastic surgery unit; Tommy Kilner (who had worked with Gillies during the First World War) went to Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton and Mowlem to St Albans. McIndoe moved to the recently rebuilt Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, Sussex, and founded a Centre for Plastic and Jaw Surgery. He had to treat very deep burns and serious facial disfigurement like loss of eyelids. Patients at the hospital formed the Guinea Pig Club.

McIndoe was a brilliant and quick surgeon. He not only developed new techniques for treating badly burned faces and hands but also recognised the importance of the rehabilitation of the casualties and particularly of social reintegration back into normal life. He disposed of the "convalescent uniforms" and let the patients use their service uniforms instead. With the help of two friends, Neville and Elaine Blond, he also convinced the locals to support the patients and invited them to their home. McIndoe kept referring to them as "his boys" and the staff called him "The Boss" or "The Maestro".

McIndoe was created CBE in 1944 and after the war he received number of British and foreign honours, including a knighthood in 1947. He became a member of a council of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1946 and its president in 1958. His marriage to Adonia ended in 1953, and he married Constance Belcham 1954.

In 1958 McIndoe was a Bradshaw lecturer about facial burns, subject he knew well. He took part in the founding of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons (BAPS) and later served as its third President.

Archibald McIndoe died 11-12 April 1960 in his sleep. He was cremated, and his ashes were buried in the Royal Air Force church of St Clement Danes. On March 22 1961, the British Minister of Health opened a Blond-McIndoe Research Unit named in his honour at the Queen Victoria Hospital.


  • Emily Mayhew - The Reconstruction of Warriors: Archibald McIndoe, The Royal Air Force and the Guinea Pig Club (2004)

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