Based on a true story, "The Beauty Shop" is a moving tale of love, compassion, and determination against a backdrop of wartime tragedy.The Beauty Shop
My debut novel, The Beauty Shop, was released on the 28th November 2016. The reason for writing this came from my discovery of the Guinea Pig Club and a New Zealand plastic surgeon called, Archibald McIndoe. At that time, not many people knew about the club or the story around it. This year, however, happens to be the 75th anniversary of the club and there has been much done to raise the profile and to bring this story to light. I say, this story, when I really
ought to say, their story – the story of all 649 members of the club, all veterans of WW2, all ‘boiled, mashed or fried,’ as they would say, and cared for by McIndoe at his unit, in East Grinstead.
What is so remarkable about them? A surgeon, a hospital and hundreds of men, mainly airmen, injured and disfigured as a result of the war in the air. Well, their story is rather colourful, and while tragedy infiltrates its core, it is richly layered with humour, love, pranks, humanity, care, courage and above all, indomitable spirits.
Firstly, they called their surgeon Archie, Boss or Maestro. Some even called him God, because to them, he was a god. Archie was a formidable man. He knew what he had to do; he knew what was needed to be able to do it, and Archie would do whatever it took to have the necessary resources for ‘his boys’ as he called them. He could shout as good as the next man, after all, he was only human, but he had a heart, and he cared for those boys, our veterans. He was determined they would go on
to live full lives.
Archie had a busy time during the war. He battled with the hospital committee who did not approve of his methods. He battled with the Air Ministry and with the Royal Society of Medicine when he needed to get things done, such as change policies or medical practice. Often, going through the appropriate channels did not give him the results he wanted, so he’d go higher up the chain of command. That was his way, but it seemed to work.
He’d often spend up to twelve hours plus in surgery, did ward rounds in the evening and had to find time to visit other hospitals during the week while looking for the more severely burned airmen who might benefit from his expertise. He was an innovator, but then he had little choice. Burns treatment back then was in its infancy, and Archie took what he knew and developed it to be able to treat the men effectively. During this time, he discovered the benefits of saline. The airmen who landed in the sea fared far better than those who bailed over land. Sea water is salty and soothes burned tissue, acting in a sense like a natural anodyne. It also has antiseptic properties and from this Archie came up with the idea of installing saline baths on his ward.
Step back into Ward 3, and take a look around. It’s a typical ward, with beds on either side, in rows. At the end is a piano – someone’s always striking the keys and playing a merry tune. The radio plays all day and evening, and the airmen love to dance, grabbing hold of an unsuspecting nurse or volunteer for a jive or a slow dance. The air is thick with a haze of tobacco, and they swill beer morning, noon and night. Burns patients require a lot of additional fluid, and Archie always keeps a keg of watered down beer for recreational and medicinal purposes. Occasionally, one of the lads will come sailing in on a bicycle, and you may witness him towing a bed through the ward too – they’re always getting up to something.
There are many volunteers here, and some of them happen to be beautiful chorus girls from London’s West-End who chaperone the men when they venture out to the pub. There’s also the odd romance and whispers of marriage. Yes, the Maestro’s methods certainly seem to work.
East Grinstead is the town that did not stare. The locals here took the burned airmen into their homes and their hearts. They looked them in the eye, as Archie asked them to, and they treated them like anyone else. They cared for them then as they still do today. Of the original 649 members, there are 17 veterans still with us. They’re so special, even though they don’t think so.
The Guinea Pig Club was also a registered charity, and it has served the men all these years, not only providing annual reunions and camaraderie, but financial support for those who needed it. Archie realised that some of the men would find it extremely difficult to gain employment for instance, and the club helped a number of veterans to establish their own businesses. There’s no club like it in the world and there probably never will be again.
The men, or ‘guinea pigs’ as they call themselves, overcame such adversity to live full lives, just as their Maestro wished them to do. They are Archibald McIndoe’s legacy in a sense. They are the brave few who risked their lives for us today. Lest we forget.
In memory of Sir Archibald McIndoe (1900-1960), an outstanding plastic surgeon and human being. He saw what others did not and pioneered great change. His memory and work live on today.
England, 1942. After three years of WWII, Britain is showing the scars. But in this darkest of days, three lives intertwine, changing their destinies and those of many more.
Dr Archibald McIndoe, a New Zealand plastic surgeon with unorthodox methods, is on a mission to treat and rehabilitate badly burned airmen – their bodies and souls. With the camaraderie and support of the Guinea Pig Club, his boys battle to overcome disfigurement, pain, and prejudice to learn to live again.
John ‘Mac’ Mackenzie of the US Air Force is aware of the odds. He has one chance in five of surviving the war. Flying bombing missions through hell and back, he’s fighting more than the Luftwaffe. Fear and doubt stalk him on the ground and in the air, and he’s torn between his duty and his conscience.
Shy, decent and sensible Stella Charlton’s future seems certain until war breaks out. As a new recruit to the WAAF, she meets an American pilot on New Year’s Eve. After just one dance, she falls head over heels for the handsome airman. But when he survives a crash, she realises her own battle has only just begun.
Suzy Henderson was born in the North of England, but a career in healthcare would eventually take her to rural Somerset. Years later, she decided to embark upon a degree in English Literature with The Open University.
That was the beginning of a new life journey, rekindling her love of writing and passion for history. With an obsession for military and aviation history, she began to write.
It was an old black and white photograph of her grandmother that caught Suzy’s imagination many years ago. Her grandmother died in 1980 as did her tales of war as she never spoke of those times. When she decided to research her grandmother’s war service in the WAAF, things spiralled from there. Stories came to light, little-known stories and tragedies and it is such discoveries that inform her writing.
Having relocated to the wilds of North Cumbria, she has the Pennines in sight and finally feels at home.
Suzy is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Romantic Novelists Association. "The Beauty Shop" is her debut novel and will be released 28th November 2016.
The universal link is: The Beauty Shop