Betty Quinn, née Popkiss Betty Popkiss, 1930s

Throughout the Second World War, the skills taught by St John Ambulance were crucial, to enable people to give first aid to those injured by the frequent bombings.

On leaving school in 1940, Betty Popkiss joined St John Ambulance as a volunteer. Soon after, Betty’s home city of Coventry suffered a devastating air attack. ‘As I walked home the main shelling suddenly started. It was dark, the sirens were wailing and our anti-aircraft guns were blazing as the bombers dropped their high explosives.

Suddenly a little girl who lived on my road ran up to me and said “mummy, daddy...please...” Something was obviously wrong and I told her to get help. I looked ahead and realised a bomb had made an almost a direct hit on an Anderson shelter. Our neighbours, the Worthington family, were all trapped inside. I started digging into the rubble with my bare hands and I remember hearing moans from inside. Other people helped and we all worked together, fumbling around in the dark with only light from the shells exploding overhead. Together we got the family free and I helped to give them first aid. I remember just pulling off my brand new black coat and laid it over them.’

Source: Museum of the Order of St John

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