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"I remember my mother coming into the ward and asking which one is my son"

Doug Vince was 22 when his Stirling Bomber was shot down by a German aircraft. He suffered extensive burns when he freed himself from the wreckage and was subsequently treated at East Grinstead Hospital by Sir Archibald McIndoe. 

Doug Vince

Doug joined the RAF as air crew when he was just 19-years-old.  As a flight engineer, Doug was flying back from a mission in Germany when the crew noticed they had been followed back to the UK by a German intruder.

When Doug's plane came into land the German fighter began firing at the Stirling, causing it to catch fire.

Doug recalls: "Our pilot landed the plane on fire and I managed to get out with three other members of the crew. 

"I went down the back to try and help the rear gunner up to the front. On the way down I grabbed the fire extinguisher which burned the middle out of my hand. The rear gunner unfortunately didn't make it."

Doug was treated at East Grinstead Hospital by the pioneering plastic surgeon, Archibald McIndoe and his team.

"I remember my mother coming into the ward where we were all bandaged up, except for a hole to breathe in, and saying 'Which one is my son?'

"Archibald McIndoe was a wonderful man. He did two operations and allowed me to open the hand and do most things without any trouble."

The following year, Doug found himself in financial difficulty, as he, his wife and newborn son faced eviction from their home. The RAF Benevolent Fund stepped in and was able to support Doug and his family with £200 towards a house deposit.

The Fund has supported Doug for almost 70 years, most recently with respite breaks at their seaside care home, Princess Marina House, in West Sussex.

Doug says: "I hope they carry on the memories when we're all gone. I'm sure the RAF Benevolent Fund will do that for us so The Guinea Pig Club is never forgotten."

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