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Sir Archibald McIndoe

Posted on Tue, 17 May 2016

Sir Archibald McIndoe was born on the 4th May 1900, the second of four children of John McIndoe, a printer in Dunedin New Zealand.

He attended Otago High School before studying medicine at Otago University. He qualified in 1924, winning medals in both medicine and surgery. After qualifying, he was appointed house surgeon at Waikato Hospital. In the same year he was awarded the first New Zealand Fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in the United States, where he worked as a First Assistant in Pathological Anatomy for three years. During this period, he published several papers on hepatic disease including two individual papers on the importance of portal cirrhosis and on the structure of the bile canaliculus. He was subsequently awarded a John William White scholarship for foreign study and in 1929 was appointed first assistant in surgery at the Mayo Clinic. Whilst in America he met Lord Moynihan, who was so impressed with his surgical skills that he recommended a permanent career in England.

McIndoe arrived in London in the winter of 1930. To his surprise, there was no appointment available for him. On the suggestion of his cousin, Sir Harold Gillies, he took up an appointment as clinical assistant in the Department of Plastic Surgery at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. He passed his FRCS examination in 1932 and shortly afterwards, he received his first permanent appointment as a general surgeon and lecturer at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In 1934, he obtained the Fellowship of the American College of Surgeons. During his time in London, he adapted himself to the technical demand of plastic surgery and in 1939 he was appointed as a consultant plastic surgeon to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, the Chelsea Hospital for women, St. Andrews Hospital, Hampstead Children’s Hospital, The Royal North Stafford Infirmary and Croydon General Hospital.

McIndoe also held an appointment as a consultant in Plastic Surgery to the Royal Air Force and at the outbreak of World War Two he moved to the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead. This hospital had been rebuilt shortly before the outbreak of war and it possessed ample land for expansion to allow the establishment of a centre for plastic surgery. He strengthened his own position immensely by always resolutely refusing to be put into uniform. The work done by McIndoe in both physically and psychologically rehabilitating badly burned aircrew earned him an international reputation. McIndoe fought to improve the pay and conditions of badly injured airmen and the Guinea Pig Club of his ex-patients perpetuates his memory.

After the war many honours were bestowed upon him. He was appointed CBE in 1944, knighted in 1947, and received numerous foreign decorations. At the Royal College of Surgeons; he became a member of Council in 1946 and vice president in 1958. He had been Hunterian Professor in 1939 and in 1958 was Bradshaw Lecturer, his subject being facial burns.

He helped to fund the British Association of Plastic Surgeons and was its third President. McIndoe`s brilliant career was no accident but due to a combination of factors. He was fortunate in being a cousin of Sir Harold Gillies, the doyen of plastic surgery, who persuaded him to forsake general for plastic surgery. He was a determined man who had the skill of getting what he wanted, even if it meant treading on other people’s toes. Forthright in expression, he was quick in making a decision. He had the great gift of an iron constitution coupled with an infinite capacity for hard work. McIndoe`s contributions to plastic surgery are numerous. Most notably, he placed plastic surgery on a solid and permanent foundation. In July 1924 he married Adonia Aitken of Dunedin, by whom he had two daughters. The marriage dissolved in 1953. In 1954, he remarried to Constance Belcham. He died in his sleep on 11th April 1960.  His ashes were buried in the Royal Air Force church of St. Clement Danes.


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