At 91-years-old Jack Perry is one of the youngest members of The Guinea Pig Club. When his Halifax bomber exploded, he suffered 80 per cent burns to his hands, face, and ears. Jack dedicates a large part of his recovery to Sir Archibald McIndoe and 'the town that didn't stare'.
Jack left school at 14 and joined the Air Training Corps just two years later. He volunteered for air crew aged 18 and was briefly recruited as a pilot. Due to his engineering training, Jack retrained as a flight engineer and was seconded to fly with a Canadian crew as part of 6 Bomber Group.
On 31 August 1944, Jack reported an issue with the fuel warning light on the control panel to the pilot and the control tower. Despite this, the engineer officer instructed the crew to continue with their mission. As the Halifax took off and approached 300 feet it exploded.
Jack, who has very little recollection of the crash, was thrown from the aircraft as it exploded. He was later told that he went back to the fuselage to rescue the tail gunner, who sadly passed away.
Jack remembers holding his arms and hands up to try to protect his face, which is why his hands, face and ears were so severely burnt. He had third degree burns to the back of his hands, and a mixture of first and second degree burns to his face and ears.
The crash happened at RAF Topcliffe in Yorkshire and Jack was initially taken to North Allerton Hospital, which was very small. He was transferred to Rauceby Hospital, Lincolnshire, which was a satellite plastic surgery centre overseen by Archibald McIndoe's team in East Grinstead. In total, Jack had 18 operations in Rauceby and 12 in East Grinstead.
Jack recalls that during his early treatment: "People coming towards you saw your face and they couldn't stand it. They would either weep and cry or walk on the other side of the road."
Archibald McIndoe was instrumental in the recovery of the Guinea Pigs. He practised innovative techniques and pioneered new methods but also dedicated a great deal of psychological support to ensure their reintegration into the community was as painless as possible. He would encourage the men to socialise with the community by going to local pubs and to seek work locally.
Jack says: "In East Grinstead, McIndoe talked to the various organisations within the town and so they became known as the town that didn't stare.
"Being a Guinea Pig to me is something I've always cherished. It's been my life for the last 45 years. We are a band of brothers!"
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