St John Ambulance

Our heritage

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St John Ambulance is the UK’s leading provider of first aid training. As a charity, our volunteers provide vital first aid cover for the public ‒ at national events like the London Marathon, and locally at football matches and village fêtes. St John Ambulance is also a youth organisation: more than half of our 23,000 volunteers are under 25.

Our volunteers strive to ensure that anyone who is sick or hurt will receive first aid and that no one will suffer for the lack of a trained first aider. Our proud heritage goes all the way back to 11th century Jerusalem, where the first Knights of St John set up a hospital to care for sick pilgrims.   

Continuing through revolts and revolutions, war and peace, the story of St John crosses the centuries and shows how we have maintained our caring role to the present day. The eight-pointed cross on our volunteers’ uniform is the symbol worn by the knights who provided free medical care in that first hospital in Jerusalem. St John Ambulance in the 21st century is a modern and dynamic charity, but our vital work is underpinned by this long and astonishing heritage.

If you’d like to find out more about the history of St John Ambulance please explore the timeline below, or visit our museum to lean more of the fascinating story of the Order of St John.

Explore the timeline

1880s
The St John Ambulance Brigade was formed in 1887, as a voluntary organisation offering free medical care. Queen Victoria’s Jubilee saw the Brigade in action in public for the first time.
1880
  • Sir Edmund Lechmere
  • Sir John Furley
  • QV Jubilee
  • 1880 2
  • 1880 5
  • Queen Victoria
1890s
The end of the 1890s saw over 2000 St John Ambulance volunteers offer medical assistance during the Boer Wars.
1890
  • John William Hutchinson
  • William Church Brasier
  • 1890 2
  • Model Ambulance
  • Model Ambulance
  • Model Ambulance
1900s
St John Ambulance volunteers performed their first duty for a major sporting event at the 1908 London Olympics, marking the beginning of a long-standing relationship between the charity and the sporting world.
1900
  • 1990 1
  • 1900 3
  • John Nicholson
  • Lily Madeleine Wood
  • Majorie Williamson
  • 1990 3
1910s
The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 saw St John Ambulance join forces with the Red Cross to form the Joint War Committee, providing medical care for war casualties in hospitals in England and overseas.
1910s 1
  • 1990 1
  • Veronica Nisbit
  • Lady Ethel Perrott
  • 1910 4
  • 1910 6
  • 1910 5
1920s
In the 1920s, the St John Ambulance Cadets were formed for girls and boys aged 11 to 18, offering first aid training to those who were too young to join an adult division.
1920 cadets
  • 1920 1
  • 1920 2
  • Anne Wisla, 1920s
  • 1920 3
  • 1920 3
  • 1920 cadets 2
1930s
At the Coronation of King George VI in 1937, St John Ambulance volunteers provided first aid treatment to 9,000 members of the public.
1937 Coronation
  • 1930 1
  • Betty Popkiss
  • Miss Mildred Brett
  • Helen Owen
  • Doris Zinkeisen
  • 19301
1940s
During the Second World War, the Joint War Committee once again came together, to provide voluntary first aid to the injured. In 1948, the formation of the NHS altered the role of St John Ambulance who now support local ambulance trusts in times of need.
1940
  • Edwina Mountbatten
  • Doug Isherwood
  • Ron Davis
  • Pat Leadbeater
  • Rex Purchase
  • Pauline Rowe
1950s
St John Ambulance, the British Red Cross Society and St. Andrew’s Ambulance Association published a First Aid Manual together in 1958. Now in its tenth edition, the guide gives step by step instructions on how to treat over one hundred medical conditions and injuries.
1940
  • Terry Walton
  • Norman Boyling, 1950s
  • Brian Lewis, 1950s
  • Brenda Hird-Scott, 1950s
  • Iris Pellow, 1950s
  • Pauline Rowe
1960s
Beatlemania created a new type of casualty for St John Ambulance, as volunteers treated their first cases of hysteria in young women across the country.
1960 2
  • Esmee Salkeld
  • Barbara Cartland
  • James Petticrew
  • Glynn Reeve
  • Shirley Cox
  • Jim Brown
1970s
The 1970s were a period of unrest, and St John Ambulance volunteers provide first aid to the injured in a number of dangerous situations such as riots.
1970
  • Ian Pilkington
  • Jan Baker
  • Philip Bennett
  • Graham Robinson
  • Barbara Marshall
  • Vincent Smith
1980s
New first aid regulations were introduced for the workplace and St John Ambulance has offered first aid at work training ever since. The Badgers programme for young children was introduced in 1987.
1980 Badger
  • Douglas Bailey
  • Dr Hayley Jenkins
  • Peter Coulson
  • Wendy Rushby
  • Patricia Carter
  • David Wright
1990s
On 31 March 1990, central London saw the largest demonstration of the Poll Tax Riots, in Trafalgar Square. Volunteers provided first aid to 102 injured people, taking 46 to hospital for further treatment.
Monty Levy
  • 1990 012
  • Tim Everard
  • Carole Phillips
  • John McKay
  • Michael Hattey
  • Graham Hattey
2000s
2005 saw St John Ambulance support the London Ambulance Service during the 7/7 bombings on London’s transport system, providing emergency transport and first aid where it was most needed.
2000 1
  • Gareth & Amy Davies
  • Archie Hogan
  • Clive James
  • Mehdi Foladi
  • Rachel Prosser
  • Sue Sieger
2010s>
In 2010, St John Ambulance broke the news that each year, up to 140,000 people die in situations where first aid would have given them a chance to live. Other initiatives, including the First Aid Awards and Save a Life September were also launched to raise awareness of the importance of first aid.
2010
  • Sophie Raworth
  • James Mavin & Michael Purvis
  • Patricia Bentley
  • Jamie Humphreys
  • Jack Lyon
  • Jeff Tong

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