Soldiering On Awards honours World War Two burns victims and Gurkhas

An awards ceremony in central London has taken place to honour veterans of war.


In particular, the 2015 Soldiering On Awards has awarded World War Two veterans who had been badly burned whilst in service. The veterans, who are all aircrew and part of a club called the Guinea Pigs Club, all suffered severe burn wounds when their aircraft crashed or were damaged. As a result, they all underwent pioneering surgery to fix their burn injuries.

The disfigured servicemen were all taken under the care of Sir Archibald McIndoe who was leading the surgery for injured soldiers during the war.

Sandy Saunders, Jack Perry and Des O’Connell are all members of the Guinea Pig Club and attended the awards ceremony to accept the award on behalf of the club.

Sandy Saunders was flying his plane when it crashed. He recalls how he felt embarrassed because he was in the cockpit, in control when the plane dived and he couldn’t save it. But once he got back to Allied base and he looked at his burn injuries in the mirror, he says he was shocked and almost suicidal.

McIndoe conducted facial reconstruction and plastic surgery on Saunders and all the other burn victims. At the time this kind of surgery was experimental, and McIndoe created the Guinea Pigs because of just that. Saunders says that the surgeon instilled confidence in them and made them feel that they could go back out and enjoy life.

On one occasion McIndoe even invited a chorus of show girls to the base to cheer up the recuperating soldiers.

John Wayne in the role of Singin ‘Sandy Saunders from Riders of Destiny [Via]

The Guinea Pig Club was specifically created as a support group for the injured soldiers and at the end of World War Two had more than 600 members. Today there are around 30 surviving members, and the club was awarded the lifetime achievement award.

Meanwhile Nepalese Gurkha’s were honoured for their role in supporting British troops during times of war. The Gurkha Welfare Trust supports veterans who, after returning from war struggle to survive because of hardship in Nepal. The Trust was awarded with the People’s Choice Award, The Telegraph reports.

The award’s organisers said that all of these kinds of veterans’ charities need continued support and that the ex-servicemen are an inspiration to everyone.

“We looked horrific at the time. But he encouraged other people to come and meet us. He even invited chorus girls down from London to prove to us that we could still talk to pretty girls.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE