Sir Archibald McIndoe and Bertram Owen-Smith
Bertram Owen-Smith, who has died aged 86, was a member of the band of badly burned Second World War airmen treated by the plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe. He was the only one of the airmen, called the Guinea Pig Club, to become a plastic surgeon himself -
He first appeared at McIndoe's hospital at East Grinstead, Sussex, in late 1941. On the night of October 16, while piloting a Whitley V on a training sortie, he had been flying in the circuit at Croft airfield, near Darlington, when one of the bomber's two engines failed at about 300ft, shortly after take-off. Smith (as he was then known) managed to land in a field, but the undercarriage sheared off and the aircraft – with a full load of fuel and incendiary bombs – burst into flames.
The rear gunner got out unscathed. Smith, his co-pilot, Freddie Whitehorn, and his French-Canadian navigator, Gerry Dufort, escaped after smashing a window in the cockpit. All three suffered serious burns. . . Smith's face was particularly badly burned.
For nearly two years he was a patient of McIndoe, who had a gift not only for reconstructing the features of his injured airmen but also for restoring their shattered morale. As the months passed, Smith became fascinated by the complexities of the surgery that he was undergoing, and decided that he wished to become a doctor.
He began to get down to the necessary preliminary studies (of which he had been somewhat neglectful at school), eventually matriculating from his hospital bed. . .