WITH just three weeks to go before the statue of Sir Archibald McIndoe is unveiled outside Sackville College, Jacquie Pinney, Chief Executive of the Blond McIndoe Research Foundation, looks forward to the end of a ‘very exciting and very stressful’ project to honour East Grinstead’s most famous adopted son.
WHEN the appeal to raise £175,000 for the statue to honour pioneering plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe topped the one hundred grand mark this week, Jacquie Pinney allowed herself a small sigh of relief.
But only a small one.
There is still a long way to go and Jacquie is anxious that the on-going appeal doesn’t lose its momentum once Princess Anne unveils the statue on 9 June.
But at the same time there is enormous excitement at the Research Foundation that their hugely ambitious project to commission the McIndoe memorial is about to be realised.
The statue itself – heavily wrapped to prevent its being seen before the royal reveal – is due for delivery by crane on 6 June.
Thereafter it will be guarded from the gaze of the curious until the Princess arrives to reveal all at 1.30pm.
There have been one or two tweaks since the original design was proposed but – controversially in some circles – McIndoe will not be shown wearing glasses.
‘We were told they would be vandalised, and as McIndoe didn’t wear them all the time, and the family loved the proposed design, we went with that,’ said Jacquie.
The plinth on which the statue will stand is in the process of being installed and has been carefully colour-matched with Sackville College.
It wasn’t possible to use the same soft West Hoathly stone because it would not have been strong enough to bear the weight of the more-than-life-size bronze. But York Stone has proved a more robust substitute.
‘The idea for the statue was that it would show Sir Archie as a surgeon in scrubs which are accurately depicted as they were at the time, including the ties down the back.
‘The pilot is shown in RAF uniform, because that is what Sir Archie insisted his patients wore, not hospital uniform. He has his head resting against the man in whom he has complete faith and trust, and is looking towards the skies he will no longer fly.
‘McIndoe wasn’t just a surgeon – he was a real pioneer in that he completely understood the need to rehabilitate his patients either to fly again, or to get back into civilian life.
‘And to do that he enlisted the help of East Grinstead – the town that didn’t stare.
‘We wanted that aspect to come across very strongly – this is not just a statue, but a memorial. It’s a contemplative piece of art and we want people to sit around it and remember.’
The choice of Martin Jennings as the sculptor was a strangely appropriate one – although when she originally approached him Jacquie had no idea of his personal connection with McIndoe.
‘We very much liked the statue he had done of Sir John Betjeman at St Pancras station so I phoned him out of the blue to discuss it.
‘But when I explained what I wanted he suddenly went very quiet and I thought “he must think I’m some sort of nutcase…”’
Then, after a long pause, Jennings said ‘I have wanted to make a statue to McIndoe all my life…’
To Jacquie’s astonishment, Jennings revealed that his own father, a tank commander, had been badly burned during the war and had been treated by McIndoe.
And it is his father’s crippled hands that Jennings has incorporated into the depiction of the burned serviceman, as his own very personal tribute to both men.
The speed with which the statue project has come together is due largely to the generosity of local businessman Dave Brown, who underwrote the cost so that it could go ahead while there are still people alive who had either worked with McIndoe or who owe their lives to him.
Without his generous guarantee, it could have taken years to raise the funds said Jacquie.
But McIndoe’s legacy already lives on in the Research Foundation which bears his name.
‘He called his patients the Guinea Pigs because that is exactly what they were. He was passionate about the need to research better ways of treating them, but sadly he died before he could see the Research Foundation open.’
The date on which the statue to Sir Archibald will be unveiled was chosen by Buckingham Palace. But by curious coincidence 9 June is the date recorded on Sir Archibald’s Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, which had been languishing in a drawer until Britain at War magazine recently paid to have it framed and put on display, when the very appropriate date was spotted.
Among the guests at the unveiling will be the actress Amanda Redman who was treated at the QVH as a child for a scalded arm, and Shelly Page Gublemann from Florida, the daughter of Flt Lt Geoffrey Page, a founding member of the Guinea Pig Club.
* The story behind the making of McIndoe’s statue has been made into a 75 minute film which will be shown free at Chequer Mead from 3pm on 9 June when the public will be welcomed to watch it and celebrate a very memorable day in the town’s history.