The St. John Ambulance Brigade as it was previously known has been around for hundreds of years, its origins date back to the 11th Century and the days of the Knights Templar, and evolved around the Order of the Knights of St John and the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.
My involvement with the St John Ambulance Brigade started in the very early 70's, now I had seen the cadets many times at the Charlton Athletic football ground, but I never knew what they were, I have to admit I believed at the time they were 'Ball Boys', those that returned the football to the pitch when it was kicked out.
An event happened that really shook me, out cycling one day from my home to visit my Nan, I came across a head on car crash, there was nobody around at the time although it was on a busy stretch of road (the A2 at Falconwood, not far from the railway station). I dropped my bike and ran over to help, although i had no idea how.
One man was already dead, I wont go into gory details but even I could see that, lets just say his head was impaled. The driver of the other car though was making very strange noises and struggling to breathe. As the emergency vehicles started to attend I saw him die, not a good sight for someone who had just entered their teens.
I felt guilty, useless, a feeling that stayed with me for months, if only I had known what to do then just maybe I could of saved him.
So I decided to learn!
After talking to one of the senior cadets at Charlton football ground he explained all about the SJAB, that it was not 'religious based' like the boys brigade, but it was fun, useful, and a great organisation to be in. He told me where they met on a Friday night and I eventually plucked up the courage to go and see. It was the best thing I ever done as a child, never looked back and I learned so many things apart from First-aid, things I carried forward into both my career and my life.
I undertook and passed my first-aid course, and was was given my grey uniform shirt , white lanyard and haversack, and my black beret.
Now I could attend the many 'Duties' that we had in our area, Football matches at Charlton, racing at Brands Hatch, Air shows at Biggin Hill, Motorcycle Trials and Grass track racing, West-end Cinema's, Fete's and shows. I even attended the Who concert at Charlton.
We practiced our Drill, and each of us were eager to win the monthly Uniform Trophy.
And I gained promotion to the highest of the Cadet ranks, becoming 'Cadet Leader'.
Being a Cadet taught us respect, discipline, self-worth, and taught us endless skills that we took forward in life.
The C.30 Welling Ambulance Cadet Division was a brilliant division, its officers were strict and intent on giving us the best training we could receive, pushing us to learn many things and to becoming the best. We entered (AND WON!) many first-aid competitions, not only that but due to us having our own Nursing Officer, along with the first-aid we also learned what the Nursing Cadets were taught, we were the first boys team to ever enter a Nursing & bed making competition, and despite all the girls and their officers laughing at us, we won!
We also had three ambulances, (similar to those above) each paid for by us spending one or two nights a week collecting many tons of old newspapers in hand carts from around the Welling area, collecting thousands of green shield stamps books, and doing odd jobs such as delivering leaflets for local businesses.
We were taught correct radio procedures, and again earned money to buy our own radio for the ambulance, Call-sign: Lima Delta 135.
Later I would be assigned as 'Radio Operator' to a senior officer at the Biggin Hill Air Show, which actually set me up for my first job working at Guys Hospital.
I wanted to join the London Ambulance Service Cadet Scheme, but they raised the age of entry just before my 16th birthday, so I had to find employment elsewhere until I came of age. So I trained as a Physiological Measurement Technician (Audiology Technician).
It wasn't just First-aid, Home Nursing, Drill and Radio procedure we learned. around the many varied duties we also undertook took many courses and learned many practical skills, some based around the skills of a first-aider, others not.
Air-Wing Support, Advanced First-aid, Advanced Nursing, Ambulance Attendants Course, Casualty Simulation, Advanced Resuscitation, Drug administration, Use of Suction devices. Lifting & Handling.
Campcraft, Fire-Fighting, Survival Training, Water Safety, Water rescue, Map reading, Grasstrack Race Safety, Race Marshalling, Brands Hatch Circuit Safety, Trials Course Safety, and many others.
THE ELTHAM WELL HALL TRAIN CRASH LONDON 1972
One of my biggest memories as a young Cadet Leader (approx 14 years of age), was to be called out to man the ambulance with my Divisional Officer and attend the horrific train crash in Eltham.
Strangely I had just been under an hour before, I had been visiting my Nan with my Dad in the car, he had stopped at the station to buy cigarettes from the little sweet shop beside it. We had only just arrived back home in Welling when the 'Pyramid Call' came through. The ambulance picked me up en route from Plumstead and I did my first 'Blue Light' run to Eltham. It was the first time out of competitions that I really had to put my skills into action, climbing through the dark wreckage searching out casualties, bandaging wounds and then leading them out. Towards the end of the night we transported the walking wounded to Lewisham Hospital.
Reaching 16 years of age I started to attend the Adult division along with the cadet division, slowly transferring over to being an adult member. This opened the doors too many new 'Duties' such as providing cover for the many of London's West-end Theatres.
I later returned back to my cadet division as a 'Cadet Divisional Officer', then gained promotion to 'District Staff Officer' at London District Stores. in this role I was responsible for arranging and organising such big events as.
Lord Mayor's Show, Trooping the Colour, State visits,
The Queen Pop concert in Hyde Park, and Bay City Rollers concert at Victoria the next day
DAGE (Deptford Action Group for the Elderly) Annual Outing to Margate (40 coaches).
I even slept in a bell tent by the fountain just outside Buckingham Palace, patrolling the parks hourly for the 3 nights prior to the Trooping of the Colour !
MOTORCYCLE ESCORT WORK
Also being an avid motorcyclist, and member of the 'Eltham & District Motorcycle Club', I combined this with St. John to provide 'Immediate Care' by motorcycle, and at the same time acting as a Race Marshall for the Folkestone to London Cycle Race.
Working with the Police we were given speed exemption on the route to enable us to get ahead of the racers, and some of those pedal bikes could half shift!
Maybe I was London's first ever Motorcycle Medic !
One of the many offshoots I did as both a Cadet and Adult Member, was to join and train with Casualties Union.
It gave me a deep understanding of the signs and symptoms, body structure, and of injuries and how to deal with them. We learned how to make up the injuries in a life like form, and how to act the part as if the injuries were real.
We were used by the Government to test the Emergency Services in staged disasters, air crashes, train crashes, explosions. I also tested the first-aid teams at the Treasury in Whitehall.
It was a good grounding for when I later joined the Ambulance Service.
Things change over the years I know, the vehicles, the equipment and the training have improved as would be expected, but I am amazed and extremely disappointed at how the St. Johns has been forced to change beyond that.
Health & Safety laws have all but stopped the Cadets from attending events, and the original 'Ethos' of St. Johns being a 'Voluntary Service' seems to have been lost along the way.
It used to be all about community, and financed by donations and public collections, and members giving up their free time to help out.
Now it is being run like a business, high charges are made for attendance, which prevents many from inviting St John to attend their Fete's and events. And Members even want paying to cover duties ?.
And they are now run not by volunteers, but by business men in an office earning over £80,000 a year. ????????