In the second article in this series on August 30 we considered the formation of the High Wycombe branch of the St John Ambulance Brigade (SJAB) in 1919. Mr R M Blaikie, who was the principal of a local firm of solicitors, was appointed Divisional Superintendent, and Dr Parker as Divisional Surgeon. We now look at the initial development of the Brigade over the period to just before the start of the second world war.
In 1919 there were 19 volunteers in the Brigade, who included Mr E McDermott as Ambulance Officer. Other names are recorded in the Brigade records, at least half of whom are thought to have joined after being demobilised from the Army. The first requirement was to train these volunteers in the theory and practice of First Aid. Each would have been given a copy of the St John First Aid handbook, and it is known that Dr Parker gave a series of lectures to the group in the Oakley Hall, Castle Street. Having completed the training members were presented with a certificate, and to maintain this status they were re-examined annually.
The practice in the SJAB was to adopt military ranks, so two members were appointed Sergeants. Although the transport of patients to the Cottage Hospital in Priory Rd was initially by means of a wheeled litter which was manually propelled, a motor ambulance was quickly acquired. Probably a Model T Ford, this came through the Home Service Ambulance Scheme set up by the Red Cross and St John organisations. This scheme made use of the Army ambulances which were no longer needed by the military after the Great War. Through this seven ambulances were allotted for Buckinghamshire.
Although the ambulance was acquired free, its use was not, because of the requirement to make it financially self-supporting. The maximum charge was one shilling per mile, although it could be waived depending on the circumstances of the patient.
In his annual report for 1921 Superintendent Blaikie reported “The whole of the members have attended a large number of Public Duties no separate record of which has been kept. They would comprise Football Matches, (every Saturday throughout the season), Sports Meetings, Fetes, Motor Trials, Children’s Gatherings and Street Processions. Attendances have been generally decided by rota and each member has taken his share—Sergeant Payne and Privates Bryant, Adkins, Cheese, Turner, and Watts deserve special mention but all have worked well and have earned for the Division gratitude and praise”.
The Wycombe Division of the SJAB started an Ambulance Cadet section for boys aged 10 or more in 1925. This was established by William J Lunnon, whose son Raymond remains a member to this day. The Cadet Division has been very successful, with most of the boys transferring to the Adult Division when they were 18. Many then went on to be members for life, and stalwarts of both the Wycombe Division and also at County level.
In that same year,1925, the Wycombe motor ambulance transported 113 cases, out of 360 attended, over a distance of 1,454 miles. In 1928, for the quarter ending March 31, the ambulance covered about 520 miles to deal with 35 calls. In June of that year it was reported that “Aylesbury and Slough Ambulance Divisions possess very smart and up-to-date motor ambulances, whilst High Wycombe, the largest town in the county, is still carrying on with a war relic.” Later that same year the Wycombe Brigade purchased a Dodge motor ambulance at a cost of £465. The Cadets were taken camping for a week at the seaside in the summer of 1928, the first time that many of them had been on holiday or to the seaside.
In 1932 the Wycombe Division were given the opportunity by the Borough Council to lease a part of the Wheelers Brewery site which had not been demolished. This was located in Queen Victoria Rd, between the new Council Offices and Easton St. Most of the brewery had been demolished to make way for the building of a new Post Office, but the part remaining provided a new HQ for the Division, with space for an office, training room, and the storage of equipment including a garage for the motor ambulance.
These headquarters were formally opened on November 5, 1932. Unfortunately one of the founders of the Wycombe Division, Mr R M Blaikie, was seriously ill and unable to be present. He died just 5 days later, on Nov 10. Mr Frederick Rittman succeeded Mr Blaikie as Superintendent.
The first Ambulance Cadet Competitions to be held in Buckinghamshire were organised at the High Wycombe Headquarters on November 12th, 1933. Five teams took part – from Bourne End, High Wycombe, Chesham, Slough Town and Emberton. The competition was made possible by the donation of a large silver trophy by Mrs Disraeli.
In 1934 a brand new Commer ambulance was purchased and presented at a ceremony in the ‘yard’ in Queen Victoria Road. It was a vehicle that was fitted with a hydraulic lifting arrangement to elevate patient and stretcher into the upper bunk. A second ambulance was purchased in 1937, a custom-built Vauxhall ambulance – streamlined and equipped to a high standard. Both these vehicles served very well for the remainder of the 1930’s, throughout the war and for the next two decades.
If any readers have been members of the St John Ambulance Brigade, or have experienced their assistance, and would like to share their memories, please contact me, Mike Dewey on 01494 755070 or email [email protected]