JAN STANGRYCIUK – Last of the Guinea Pigs
23rd October 2023
It is with great sadness that we report the death at 101 years, of Jan Stangryciuk, the last “Guinea Pig”.
On the night of the 3rd of October 1942 the Wellington bomber he was flying developed technical difficulties and crashed a few miles short of his home base. Having regained consciousness, his plane on fire, he tried in vain to free his fellow airmen before having to get out himself. As was common, he suffered a typical “airmans’ burn” to his face scalp and hands. First admitted to Nuneaton General Hospital, he went from there via RAF Cosford, to the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead on 4th January 1943, being admitted under the care of McIndoe.
Jan endured 10 procedures under McIndoes’ team, thus becoming a life member of the most exclusive club no one wished to join – The Guinea Pigs. This was the ironic name given to a group started by the injured pilots themselves, aimed at formalising their mutual self-help, but camouflaged by raucous behaviour. They met every year until the early 2000s. McIndoe himself was their President. For the rest of his own life, he remained involved and committed to returning “his men” to being productive members of society despite often overwhelming injuries.
Stangryciuk, returned to the war as a rear gunner in 300Sqn, taking part in another 18 bombing missions. Originally from Eastern Poland, he married after the war and settled in London where he was known as “Eddie Black”, living the rest of his working life as a delivery driver.
Stangryciuk’s passing marks the end of an era for British Plastic Surgery. Not only were the 649 “Guinea Pigs” a product of one of its pioneers, but they remained an indefatigable presence at BAPRAS meetings until the turn of the century. They embodied Winston Churchill’s maxim “never give up”. We are unlikely to meet their kind again.
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