Sandy’s special tribute to wartime pals

The Duke of Edinburgh greets Dr Sandy Saunders at the unveiling ceremony for a new memorial to the iconic Guinea Pig Club at the National Memorial Arboretum EMN-160911-111403001
The Duke of Edinburgh greets Dr Sandy Saunders at the unveiling ceremony for a new memorial to the iconic Guinea Pig Club at the National Memorial Arboretum EMN-160911-111403001

As the nation remembers our war dead tomorrow (Friday), Dr Sandy Saunders will pay his respects in front of a memorial he campaigned to provide for a special group of Second World War servicemen which he belongs to.

The former GP, who lives in Burton Lazars, was one 649 badly injured and burned members of the armed forces who were treated by pioneering surgeon, Sir Archibald McIndoe.

The Duke of Edinburgh helps Dr Sandy Saunders unveil a new memorial to the iconic Guinea Pig Club at the National Memorial Arboretum EMN-160911-111345001

The Duke of Edinburgh helps Dr Sandy Saunders unveil a new memorial to the iconic Guinea Pig Club at the National Memorial Arboretum EMN-160911-111345001

They became known as the iconic Guinea Pig Club (GPC) and last week a special memorial to members was unveiled by Dr Saunders and the Duke of Edinburgh at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Dr Saunders, who was left disfigured by severe burns to his body from an air crash in 1945, organised an online fundraising campaign to help pay for the monument. Now 93 and struggling with ill health, it was one of his last wishes to provide something to preserve the legacy of McIndoe and his patients.

“It became a deeply held ambition of mine to have this memorial on display and I’m just glad I managed to do it in my lifetime,” Dr Saunders told the Melton Times.

“It’s so important to have something like this, particularly for families of the Guinea Pig Club members and Sir Archibald.

“I always think about my colleagues in the club at this time of year and I hope to go down to the memorial on Friday to pay my respects on Armistice Day.”

Dr Saunders is one of only 17 surviving members of the GPC and only seven were well enough to attend the unveiling of the memorial, which was designed by Leicestershire sculptor Graeme Mitcheson.

It was carved from a large piece of green Cumbrian slate. One side of the Monument has an outline of a Spitfire wing, the other has the face of Sir Archibald, traced by the smoke and flames of a crashing Hurricane aircraft.

The design pays tribute to the many GPC members who fought in the Battle of Britain in 1940, the year before the club was formed.

Sir Archibald and his team carried out his operations at the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead, Sussex, where a museum showcases his work.

Dr Saunders, who is a trustee of the club, said he was honoured to have the Duke of Edinburgh, the GPC president, alongside him at the unveiling.

He added: “The Duke spoke very well about the memorial and about the club.

“The camaraderie of all of the members runs very deeply as does our appreciation for the work of the surgeon and his remarkable team.

“I am gratified to know that the story of the club will be available to future generations, long after we are gone.”

Dr Saunders raised more than £20,000 to pay for the memorial, half of it through an online crowdfunding page.

His proud wife Maggie said: “People who donated left lots of lovely messages about the club, including one from the Czech Republic which mentioned one of Sandy’s best friends.

“Seeing the messsages showed Sandy how important people thought the memorial is.

“It was lovely seeing him unveil it with the Duke of Edinburgh - they sat next to each other for the service and were chatting away like old friends.”