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The Peanut and Guinea Pig Clubs

This page was started because of an email that Ken Booth sent me in July 2001. This was followed by an email from John and Carol Chamley, who collect badges, in October 2004.

Ken's email was used as part of the page about the crew of HMS Gambia and in it he said that...

I did have a strong connection with Peanut, it being the Peanut Club, started during the WW2 to support Sir Archibald McIndoe, the Plastic Surgeon who rebuilt the faces etc. of servicemen burnt in action. The badges that I sold for one shilling were small yellow discs with an unshelled peanut on it. I sold hundreds of these on many ships and in pubs all over the place. It was a crime to be found without your badge on you, so much so that when you went for a shower the lads would keep them in their mouths! After selling so many hundred I would get a Peanut Medal, this was a peanut hanging on a bar on a ribbon, there were five different colours of ribbon until you got to the top which was a Gold peanut, which I still have. I also like peanut butter!!

Peanut Club badge and medals

Peanut Club badge and medals
courtesy of Ken Booth

Following the email from John and Carol, asking about the Peanut Club, I decided to do a little research into both it and the Guinea Pig Club.

The Peanut Club

Peanut Club badge

Peanut Club badge
courtesy of John and Carol Chamley

The Queen Victoria Hospital, Peanut Ward website says that finding for the ward was helped in 1931 when Mrs. Gordon Clemetson, writing as "Aunt Agatha", started the Peanut Club, the children's section of a local newspaper. Mrs. Clemetson promised a bag of peanuts to anyone giving 12 new pennies to the Queen Victoria Hospital Fund.

Jean Rice, writing in Ireland GenWeb gives an account of the Peanut Club, written by Miss M. C. L. Longley of Tunbridge Wells, Kent in June 1998.

Apparently the Peanut club was started as a sort of joke. Local journalists produced a fun paper at a special event to raise money for the Kent & Sussex Hospital, Tunbridge Wells. One young journalist, signing herself "Aunt Agatha," promised a bag of peanuts to any child who donated a dozen "bun" pennies to the cause (a "bun" penny was one bearing Queen Victoria when she wore her hair in a bun). One child did just that, so Mr. W. R. Murray, Managing Director of the "Kent and Sussex Courier, "decided others could do the same and so the Pea-Nut Club was born. Miss Longley was a made a member (no. 2087) in April 1932. Every week for many years "Aunt Agatha" wrote a letter to the children of the Pea-Nut Club in the "Kent and Sussex Courier."

"Aunt Agatha" went on to become Mrs. Gordon Clemetson, Editor-in-Chief of the same paper. To celebrate £25,000 being raised for the Kent & Sussex Hospital since the club began in May 1930, a Service of Thanksgiving was held in Christ Church, Tunbridge Wells, on 6th September 1942. So many people were expected to want to attend that it had to be by ticket only. Not only did children become members, but also their relatives, friends and pets - in fact anyone and anything so long as the membership money was paid! Miss Longley's father made his bicycle a member, calling it "Old Faithful" as he used it day and night to get him to and from work. HMS Revenge was the first ship to help in a big way, raising £500 to buy a hospital cot. Several RAF Squadrons also joined. Eventually the club became so large that it it had to have two paid staff. At one time the Pea-Nut Club kept the "Magic Cupboard" on the children's ward stocked with books, puzzles, games, etc., and when child patients were discharged they received a present from it. After the war Sir Archibald McIndoe asked for the interest to be revived to work for the plastic surgery unit at the East Grinstead Hospital. At one time there were at least 350,000 members all around the world.

Queen Victoria was born on 24th May 1819, she became Queen on 20th June 1837, and was crowned on 28th June 1838. She ruled for 63 years, until her death on 22nd January 1901, Britain's longest reigning monarch. Not surprisingly, the image of her used on coins changed several times. The "bun" pennies were minted between 1860 and 1894.

1862 "Bun" Penny

1862 "Bun" Penny
Image from numizmat.net

The idea of the Peanut Club was to collect small sums of money from an enormous number of people. The club became very successful and the Peanut Club badges soon replaced the peanuts. In 1936, the club was extended to help the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead  and the club has continued to provide amenities to the hospital outside the scope of the National Health Service. The Emergency Medical Service wanted to set up four specialised units around London to provide treatment for war casualties with facial injuries and burns. Sir Archibald McIndoe arrived at the QVH on 4th September 1939, to set up one of the units. In 1947, the National Health Service was formed, and attempts were made for the money raised by the Peanut Club to be added to the general pool. These attempts were successfully repelled through the work of Sir Archibald and others. The children's unit was opened in July 1955 by the Queen Mother and christened "Peanut Ward".

The club is still going strong, providing funds for the Peanut Ward at QVH, East Grinstead. In fact, The Children's Fire and Burn Trust still raise funds and sell Christmas cards for the Peanut Ward.

Plastic Surgery

The "plastic" in plastic surgery comes from the Greek "plastikos" which means to mould, shape or give form. Plastic surgery includes both reconstructive and aesthetic qualities. There is some evidence that there were treatments for facial injuries around 4,000 years ago. As early as 800BC doctors in India were using skin grafts for reconstructive surgery. In Virginia, in 1827, Dr. John Peter Mettauer performed the first cleft palate operation in America.

It was the terrible injuries inflicted by warfare in the late 18th and early 19th centuries that gave surgeons the impetus to find new and innovative methods of reconstructive surgery. It was the scale and seriousness of injuries inflicted during World War I that really gave surgeons on both sides of the conflict the will and resources to develop new, ingenious and specialized treatments and modern plastic surgery was born.

During this time several surgeons cam e to prominence in the field. Among them were Harold Delf Gillies, born in New Zealand and trained in Britain as an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat); Vilray Blair, an orthopedic (skeletal system, its joints, muscles and associated structures) surgeon from St. Louis; Robert Ivy, a general surgeon from Philadelphia; Lee Cohen, an American otolaryngologist who studied in Europe; and Varaztad Kazanjian, an American immigrant who studied dentistry at Harvard Dental School and worked on the staff at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Gillies served with the British Army and worked at a hospital in Rouen, France and was particularly interested in reconstructive surgery. Early in the WWI, he was chosen by eminent surgeon Sir Arbuthnot Lane, head of plastic surgery at the Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot and one of the founders of the Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup, Kent, which opened in august 1917, to run the reconstructive treatment centre at the Queen’s Hospital. Gillies trained many surgeons at the hospital and was later knighted for his work.

By the end of the war, 11,572 major facial operations had taken place at Queen's Hospital. When World War II threatened, in 1939, Gillies began organizing hospitals again. The Emergency Medical Service was set up with hospitals out of London selected to deal with the anticipated problem of hundreds, if not thousands, of badly burned and injured people. One of them was the Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital, East Grinstead.

In 1930, Sir Harold's cousin and fellow New Zealander, Archibald McIndoe became clinical assistant in the Department of Plastic Surgery at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. In 1938, McIndoe was appointed consultant in Plastic Surgery to the Royal Air Force. On the outbreak of the war in 1939, he selected the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead as his base. He specialized in the care and treatment of badly burned and injured RAF crews, and the Guinea Pig Club came into existence. In 1947 McIndoe was also knighted for his work.

The Guinea Pig Club

The club was formed in 1941 and so named because, although some of the techniques were tried during World War I, McIndoe wanted to improve on them and try new ones. By the end of the war there were 649 members of the club; 57% were British; 27% were Canadian; 8% were New Zealanders; 8% were Australian. Despite the pain and seriousness of their injuries, these men never lost their sense of humour, hence the name "The Guinea Pig Club" and in some ways this was reflected in the way it was run. As the Queen Victoria Hospital page about the club puts it, "The Secretary was a pilot with badly burned fingers, which meant he was excused from writing many letters. The Treasurer was a member whose legs were burned, this ensured he could not abscond with the funds!"

Sources

American Society of Plastic Surgeons - History of plastic surgery
Ken Booth
John and Carol Chamley
Children's Fire and Burn Trust
EMedicine - History of plastic surgery
The Guinea Pig Club
Health Superstore - History of plastic surgery
Ireland GenWeb
Numizmat.net
Queen Victoria Hospital
Queen Victoria Hospital - The Guinea Pig Club
Jean Rice

Dads Navy Days | A brief history | Documents (Page 1), (Page 2), (Page 3) | Maps (Page 1), (Page 2) | HMS Gambia - ship (1950), (1951), (1952) | Collision (Page 1), (Page 2) | HMS Gambia - crew (Page 1), (Page 2), (Page 3), (Page 4) | HMS Gambia - places (1950), (1951) | HMS Gambia - visitors | HMS Warrior - ship (1953), (Vietnam), (1954), (Equator), (Life), (More 1954) | HMS Warrior - crew | HMS Warrior - places (Page 1), (Page 2) | HMS Warrior - planes (Page 1), (Page 2), (Page 3) | Other ships (Page 1), (Page 2), (Page 3), (Page 4), (Page 5) | Before & After | ARA Independencia (Page 1), (Page 2), (Page 3), (Page 4), (Page 5), (Page 6) | Spithead '53 (Page 1), (Page 2) | HMS Chevron (Page 1), (Page 2) | HMS Liverpool | HMS Cook | Peanut Club | Other Sites

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This page created 6th November 2004, last modified 11th December 2005


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