McIndoe maquette unveiled tomorrow

Sculptor Martin Jennings looks at a maquette for a statue of Sir John Betjeman. A similar-sized maquette of Dunedin-born pioneering plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe will be unveiled tomorrow.
Sculptor Martin Jennings looks at a maquette for a statue of Sir John Betjeman. A similar-sized maquette of Dunedin-born pioneering plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe will be unveiled tomorrow.
A maquette of Dunedin-born pioneering plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe will be unveiled in England by the sculptor tomorrow.

English sculptor Martin Jennings said he was approached about designing a statue a year ago.

''They liked the statue of John Betjeman in London and asked would I like to make one of someone I had probably not heard of, Sir Archibald McIndoe.''

Mr Jennings said he had heard of the plastic surgeon because he credited the man with saving his father, Michael, who had sustained horrific burns during a tank battle during World War 2.

''He'd been the man who patched my father up after he'd been blown up in a tank battle in Holland in 1944. So I leapt at the chance and said this was a job I would love to do.''

The maquette of Sir Archibald, a miniature model of the statue, would be shown to Sir Archibald's daughter and grandchildren tomorrow, he said.

The maquette would also be a tribute to the Guinea Pig Club, a group formed for the ''burned pilots'' to build camaraderie, Mr Jennings said.

His father never talked about the treatment of his burns, he said.

''But when I was growing up, it was fairly evident that he'd been injured and had burn wounds and skin grafts on his face. His hands were injured, as well. We were very proud of him. He had a Military Cross from the King.''

After the surgery, his father became a teacher and a headmaster and had 11 children, and was 82 years old when he died, he said.

''The extraordinary thing was, all of McIndoe's patients were told that he didn't know how long they would live, because they had these terrible burns and extensive surgery, so when my father made the age of 80, he was astonished that he had got that far.''

To make the maquette, he collected photographs and footage of Sir Archibald and walked the wards of the hospital and operating theatre where he worked in East Grinstead, in West Sussex.

He talked to Sir Archibald's daughter Odonia to ''get a feel for the personality'' of the surgeon, he said.

''I think he [Sir Archibald] could be quite tough, if not abrasive. I don't know if that was his particular nature or more of a New Zealand thing, or British thing, but if his patients misbehaved and went out and spent too long in the pub and came home worse for wear, then he was absolutely furious and he would let them know just how angry he was.''

But the firmness was necessary, with fighter pilots as patients, Mr Jennings said.

''The character qualities that had made them such daring pilots also made them terrible patients. So he had to keep them in check.''

However, he had a ''practical compassion'' and gave hope to those with little future, he said.

He persuaded patients that they could lead full and useful lives, whereas similar burn victims from World War 1 were often found begging on the streets, he said.

Details of the statue would remain secret until the maquette was unveiled in East Grinstead and fundraising began.

''There's great enthusiasm for McIndoe and people look like they are ready to start donating to the fund. It's promising.''

The statue would be ''larger than life'' and would take about a year to create, Mr Jennings said.

Sir Archibald was born in Dunedin in 1900 and attended Otago Boys' High School and studied at Otago Medical School. He died in 1960.

- shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

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