Guinea Pig Club members Sam and Jan

Wednesday 25th October 2023

All at the RAF Benevolent Fund pay tribute to the service and life of the last members of The Guinea Pig Club, Flight Sergeant Sam Gallop and Lieutenant Jan Stangrycuk-Black, who have passed away at the age of 101.

Sam and Jan were the last two surviving members of the illustrious Guinea Pig Club, which was formed in July 1941 to support aircrew who were undergoing reconstructive plastic surgery after receiving burn injuries in the Second World War.

Under the care of surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe, pioneering plastic surgery techniques restored function and gave hope to these young men with life-changing disfigurements. What began with 39 patients, grew to 649 by the end of the war and included Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders as well as Americans, French, and Czechs and Poles.

The Guinea Pig Club challenged the existing perception that disabilities were life-limiting and went on to mentor new generations of burns victims, including Service personnel injured in the Falklands, Iraq, and Afghanistan conflicts.

The Guinea Pig Club members

Flight Sergeant Sam Gallop, Chairman of The Guinea Pig Club, passed away on 17 October 2023 at the age of 101. Sam’s journey of resilience and indomitable spirit began in 1943 when he survived an air crash with severe injuries. Upon his admission to RAF Hospital Cosford, it was evident that Sam was no ordinary serviceman; he was destined for greatness in the face of adversity.

His remarkable story of survival saw him transferred to the Queen Victoria Hospital, where he spent 18 months under the expert care of Sir Archibald Indoe and his dedicated team. Over the years, Sam has devoted much of his time and energy campaigning for the needs of the disabled for which he was awarded his CBE.

Sam founded Employment Opportunities’, a UK-wide charity recruitment agency to get disabled people into work. He also founded Aim Hi, a charity for hearing impaired students. Sam established the All-Party Parliamentary Limb Loss Group to influence emerging disability legislation and was involved with numerous charity boards.

For those who wish to make a donation in celebration of Sam’s life, he requested donations to be made to McIndoe’s Guinea Pigs Memorial Trust – one of the charities he helped to set up – which sponsors research into burns treatment and rehabilitation.

Lieutenant Jan Stangrycuk-Black passed away in London on 22 October 2023, at the age of 101. Jan was born in eastern Poland and was living in Argentina when he answered an RAF advert looking for volunteers. Jan served as the rear gunner in the Polish bomber squadron No. 300 “Land of Masovia” during the Second World War. He and the No. 300 Squadron’s activities, during a time of great peril, were essential in defending British airspace.

On 3 November 1942, the Wellington Bomber Jan was flying aboard malfunctioned and crash-landed a few miles from base. When he regained consciousness, Jan tried to free his fellow airmen but was unable to before needing to get out himself, where he was helped by the local people.

Suffering with burns to his face, scalp and hands, Jan was admitted firstly to Nuneaton General Hospital, then RAF Hospital Cosford, before being transferred to the Queen Victoria Hospital on 4 January 1943 where he underwent extensive surgery.

Jan become a proud member of The Guinea Pig Club and was quoted later to say: “The friendship I made with the Guinea Pigs will live with me for the rest of my days”.

The Fund is proud to have supported The Guinea Pig Club since its inception and has provided assistance to many of its members over the years.

The legacy of The Guinea Pig Club is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of camaraderie in difficult times.

The Fund is sad to learn of Sam and Jan’s passing and send thoughts to their friends and family during this time.

You can find out more about The Guinea Pig Club here.

The Guinea Pig Club mini-series is the RAF Benevolent Fund’s third series of its All Stations podcast and can be listened to at, on Apple and Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast app.

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