William (Bill) Foxley- WW2 airman and burns survivor whose bomber crashed on a training exercise. He became the most severely burnt airman to survive his injuries from the war, recieving treatment from pioneer of plastic surgery Sir Archibald McIndoe amd becoming a member of the Guinea Pig Club.
William, commonly known as Bill, was born in Liverpool on August 17th 1923, and joined the Air Force at the age of nineteen.
On 16th March 1944, he took off from Castle Donington airfield, in Derbyshire as a navigator in a Wellington Bomber, with five other crew. A mechanical problem hit the aircraft and it crashed, hitting the ground and bursting into flames. He managed to exit the through the astrodome but returned when he heard the wireless operator screaming for help: he was trapped behind a table in the burning fuselage.
Although Bill eventually managed to release and get him out of the burning aircraft, the wireless operator died of his injuries, as did two other crewmembers. Bill was not aware of the extent of his own injuries immediately following the crash but remembers having to be led away as he could not see.
Photo © RAF Museum
An ambulance took Bill to a local hospital with life threatening third degree burns. Doctors administered Morphine and bandaged his wounds. Even though Penicillin had been discovered in 1930, Bill could not have received it to fight off infection, as there was no way of making the medicine on an industrial scale in 1945.
He was also unaware for some months, for much of which he lay sedated in a hospital bed, that the fire burnt his fingers away when he tried to pull himself and the wireless operator out of the white-hot aircraft: he also lost much of the features of his face, and one eye.
While Bill was recovering from the severe trauma of his injuries in a local hospital, Archibald McIndoe, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, found him. This was during one of his regular visits to RAF hospitals to look for patients to help using his reconstructive skills.
One of the first treatments Bill received at East Grinstead was the irrigation of his burns in a saline bath: this procedure for wound healing had superseded the use of coagulants and chemical treatments previously used by medical professionals. From the mid 1920s to the 1940s, Tannic Acid was the most popular treatment applied to burns injuries, which followed the principles of burn treatments from WW1, and earlier. At the start of WW2 Tannafax jelly was the burn treatment of choice for medical officers, and hospitals, but by 1940 McIndoe had convinced the Ministry of Health that these methods were wholly unsuited for use on the sort of burns he saw on a regular basis. Often causing more complications than benefits.
As a result, the Ministry sent out a memo to all civilian hospitals, instructing them of this change of treatment for burns.