140 years of the St John’s Am­bu­lance

Each year, about 100,000 peo­ple in the UK are given first aid by St John Am­bu­lance vol­un­teers. We may hardly no­tice their pres­ence at the events we at­tend, but let’s cel­e­brate their un­sung ser­vice now

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Hello! -

It was one of those life-chang­ing mo­ments. Tessa Weaver was driv­ing on the mo­tor­way when a Land Rover crashed and rolled over just in front of her. She’d pulled over and was hur­ry­ing to­wards the ac­ci­dent, car­ry­ing the first-aid kit she kept in the glove com­part­ment, when she heard some­one say, ‘Thank good­ness, some­one who knows what to do...’

‘I re­mem­ber think­ing,

“That’s good...” and then re­al­is­ing they meant me!’ says Tessa who’s 59, and from Sur­rey. ‘For­tu­nately, the driver was fine, but I re­alised I never wanted to be in that sit­u­a­tion again, and vol­un­teered to be­come a St John Am­bu­lance

St John Am­bu­lance be­came a vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion in 1887

Over 55 ba­bies’ lives have been saved by peo­ple hav­ing watched The Choke­ables ad, show­ing how to aid a chok­ing baby. Go to sja.org.uk and search for ‘The Choke­ables’.

Around 30,000 vol­un­teers in the UK work for St John Am­bu­lance, in roles in­clud­ing first aiders, nurses, doc­tors and paramedics.

Com­mu­nity First Re­spon­der.’

That was 10 years ago, and Tessa now com­mits around 15 hours a week when she’s ready to go out and give first aid at a mo­ment’s no­tice. She also at­tends pub­lic events, from fetes and fes­ti­vals to cy­cling con­tests and mini rugby tour­na­ments.

Most com­monly she deals with wasp st­ings and falls. But three years ago, mat­ters be­came more dra­matic.

‘I got a call from the am­bu­lance ser­vice to say that a re­moval man had fallen while car­ry­ing a load up­stairs. He was just two min­utes from my house and I was asked to at­tend be­fore the am­bu­lance ar­rived. The man – Don­nie, as I later found out – wasn’t breath­ing and was be­ing given CPR by some­one in the house. Time is cru­cial in events like these and can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween sur­viv­ing with a good qual­ity of life or dy­ing. I had a de­fib­ril­la­tor with me, which de­liv­ered an elec­tric shock to his heart and got it beat­ing again be­fore the am­bu­lance ar­rived and took him to hospi­tal, where he had a pacemaker fit­ted. Two days later, the woman who’d given him CPR and I vis­ited Don­nie in hospi­tal. It felt fan­tas­tic to see him fully re­cov­ered and to know we’d been able to help.’

How it all be­gan

In 1877, St John Am­bu­lance (founded by the Or­der of St John) started train­ing the pub­lic in first-aid tech­niques and pro­vided equipped am­bu­lances in the UK. Ten years later, it be­came a vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion of­fer­ing free med­i­cal care. Dur­ing that year, on 20 June, 50 vol­un­teers car­ried out its first of­fi­cial pub­lic duty, at­tend­ing Queen Vic­to­ria’s Golden Ju­bilee.

Fast for­ward 21 years to 1908, and they rolled out

for the Lon­don Olympics, be­gin­ning the tra­di­tion of be­ing on duty for ma­jor sport­ing events. They’re al­ways at Wim­ble­don – fit­ting, since the ten­nis tour­na­ment and the char­ity were both launched in the very same month, July, in 1877 – 71 years be­fore the for­ma­tion of the NHS in 1948.

Since then, St John Am­bu­lance (SJA) vol­un­teers have dealt with ev­ery­thing from bombs (they were out in force dur­ing both World Wars and more re­cently, in the af­ter­math of ter­ror at­tacks) to Beatle­ma­nia, treat­ing the group’s hys­ter­i­cal fans dur­ing the 60s.

It was long be­fore that, around 1070, that the Or­der of St John (ded­i­cated to St John the Bap­tist) was founded in Jerusalem, to care for pil­grims. It later moved to Malta, and its em­blem, seen on the uni­form of St John Am­bu­lance vol­un­teers, is an eight-pointed Mal­tese Cross em­bel­lished with lions and uni­corns.

To­day, the char­ity is ac­tive in over 40 coun­tries with a mis­sion ‘to pre­vent and re­lieve sick­ness and in­jury and to act to en­hance the well­be­ing of peo­ple any­where in the world’.

A SJA nurse from 1909 and present­day Com­mu­nity First Re­spon­der Tessa

Vol­un­teers dur­ing the First World War

Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, the SJA dealt with ca­su­al­ties above and (right) be­low ground

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