Celebrating 125 years of St John in New Zealand
A special service at 10am on Sunday 4th July at Taranaki Cathedral.
This year St John celebrates 125 years of serving New Zealanders.
The history of St John is a rich tapestry of community service, strong local involvement and compassion for others.
The delivery of its mission - to prevent and relieve sickness and injury and to enhance health and well-being - has seen St John develop into a national icon.
St John began in New Zealand in 1885 as an entirely volunteer organisation, providing ambulance services and first aid training to local communities. As the value of its services became known, St John soon spread throughout the country to become the vibrant and connected charity it is today.
St John is today one of the largest civilian service organisations in New Zealand. It remains committed to its roots, including close links to communities and a strong commitment to volunteering, service and care.
How it all began
St John began in New Zealand at a community meeting at St Mary's Church in Merivale, Christchurch on 30 April, 1885. The meeting was called to discuss and agree options for the community to serve its own need for ambulance and first aid services.
The community representatives agreed to form a branch of the St John Ambulance Association – the sixth branch to be formed in the world outside England.
St John rapidly established itself throughout New Zealand, in the bigger centres of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin; and in smaller towns where medical services were limited and the labour-intensive workforce was susceptible to serious injury.
Colonial New Zealand was built on rural endeavour, goldmining and the railways – and St John worked closely with these industries.
From the earliest days, it became popular for people to get involved with St John by raising funds, attending first aid lectures and helping with administration of the organisation - three areas of commitment that remain popular to this day.
In 1885, the success of St John depended heavily on the service of volunteers – ordinary New Zealanders who gave up their time to serve their fellow citizens. Today volunteers remain crucial to the success of the wide range of services St John offers, working closely with local communities.
First to care
The development of St John in New Zealand saw a lot of firsts, not only for the country but also the world.
- The first life saved by a local St John member trained in first aid was in 1891 in Christchurch, where a resident’s life was saved by prompt and effective early intervention.
- St John began providing medical assistance from the sidelines of our sports fields from as early as 1891. The first recorded case was when William Bowden came to the aid of William Larcombe at a rugby match at Sydenham, Christchurch in1891.
- The St John Ambulance Corps in Dunedin was the first division of the St John Ambulance Brigade outside Britain to be registered – in 1892.
- In 1895, St John set up the first registered New Zealand nursing division - the Dunedin Nursing Corps, and launched a home nursing service two years later.
- St John played a leading role in disaster relief from its formative days and was a pioneer in air ambulances.
- St John established the first blood collection service in New Zealand. Its National Blood Transfusion Council coordinated the donation of blood by members of the public.
- The first official St John Cadet division outside Britain was formed in Wanganui in 1927. As today, the youth curriculum taught first aid and social skills and leadership. As war loomed, subjects such as aircraft accident and anti-gas drill were added. In 1988 the programme was renamed St John Youth. Today St John Youth is one of the largest and fastest growing youth programmes in New Zealand.
- During World War One, St John and the Red Cross Society raised money for field ambulances and medical comforts for service men and women and civilians caught up in the war. More than 350 New Zealand St John personnel served in military forces overseas.
- During World War Two, St John adults and cadets made and rolled bandages and dressings, taught first aid at mass public classes and worked at medical centres. Many St John members served overseas with New Zealand military forces.
- In modern times, St John plays a leading role in many initiatives in the health sector including in ambulance operations, clinical education, first aid training and community care.
First aid flourishes
When St John first began in New Zealand, first aid was still in its infancy. It held a novel attraction, and newspapers abounded with reports of successful treatments by first aiders. Public interest in first aid and medicine in general grew rapidly, and the St John Ambulance Association ran regular lectures in first aid. St John is credited with inventing and popularising first aid as we know it.
St John Ambulance Brigade members began voluntarily attending sports matches, race meetings and processions, to be on hand to offer first aid assistance at the scene. First aid volunteers on sports fields became fondly known for a time as ‘Zambucks’– so named for the black and white branding on a tin of skin ointment, which matched their black and white uniforms.
Over the years, first aid training became more sophisticated, with the introduction of CPR and radical (at the time) new treatments for injuries such as water treatment for burns.
First aid training services continue to grow. St John is recognised as a leading provider, and today provides first aid and emergency care services at more than 8,500 public events nationwide.
Ambulances through the ages
When St John first began in New Zealand, the ambulance volunteers - trained in first aid - would push patients along the road on covered stretchers upon trolleys – known as hand-wheeled litters.
Horse-drawn carriages were a breakthrough in ambulance transport, with the first such carriage brought over from England by St John in 1895. Debate at the time nationwide included whether horses would be bought - or hired as required, and where horses would be kept.
By 1920, most horse-drawn ambulances had disappeared from the main centres and St John embraced the motorised age. The first motor ambulance is believed to have been acquired in 1915 in Timaru, where fundraising was well-organised. The Timaru ambulance set a high standard St John would follow throughout the country.
The earliest motorised vehicles held two stretchers with rubber mattresses, a box of bandages and splints, a bottle of brandy and a bottle of smelling salts.
Today things have moved on significantly, with St John now running a modern fleet of advanced ambulances and, in some areas, Rapid Response vehicles, Health Shuttles and motorcycles. Ambulances are equipped with the latest in medical technology.
Things have also progressed in the area of ambulance dispatch and communications. In the early days of dispatching ambulances, ambulance officers would be summoned by flags on top of hotels and other local landmarks, sirens or messengers. The development of emergency ambulance communications centres revolutionised the way ambulances are dispatched and communicated with.
As the lead provider of ambulance communications services, St John today uses the latest technology to dispatch not only road ambulances but also air ambulances, Coastguard and other emergency resources to emergencies.
Means of communication include via computer, radio, cell phone and pager.
Fundraising and community support has always been crucial to St John. From the earliest times, the strength of St John in a particular town or district related mostly to the members’ ability to win the hearts and minds of local citizens.
St John today equally relies on the public to join with it and support it in its work. Funding for community services comes from the community and health-related commercial activities. Ambulance funding comes from a wide variety of sources - including public donations, bequests, grants, government contributions and patient part-charges.
The first recorded fundraising appeal for St John was in 1906, when the St John Ambulance Brigade and Nursing Division in Christchurch held an ambulance exhibition and collected donations from the public. The event raised £243, which went towards a new building. The next year in Christchurch, funds were raised for ‘a new galloping ambulance wagon’ to attend street accidents.
Today the St John Appeal is held during St John Week in June every year nationwide, with an envelope appeal and street collections, and the generous support of the public is much appreciated. St John seeks and receives donations and other support throughout the whole year in addition to its fundraising appeal.
St John today
Today St John is one of the country’s largest and much-loved charities, touching the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders every year.
In 2010, St John provides ambulance services to more than 85% of the country’s population and more than 95% of the geography. St John has more than 900 full-time paid ambulance officers and 2,500 volunteer ambulance officers.
Community services are provided throughout the country in varying locations, all designed to help enhance the health and well-being of New Zealanders.
Services include Caring Caller, a telephone support service; Health Shuttles to help people get to medical appointments; Friends of the Emergency Department - volunteers helping patients and their families; and Safe Kids - teaching young people what to do in a medical emergency.
Products sold include first aid training courses, first aid kits and St John Lifelink Medical Alarms – a valuable service linked to the ambulance communications centres and enabling unwell or disabled people to remain independent in their own homes for longer.
Today, St John is committed to ensuring it applies its experience and learning over the past 125 years to continuously improve its services to the community.
With an eye to the future, St John wishes to further develop its contribution to the wider health sector, including further innovations in treating patients at home and introducing new technologies to continually improve health and well-being.
St John in New Zealand enters 2010 as a strategically focused organisation, drawing on the values of its rich past and looking forward to continuing to serve the people of New Zealand.
We couldn’t do it without you
St John wishes to mark its landmark 125 year anniversary by thanking the many people who work with and support St John, including its partners, donors, supporters, volunteers and fellow health providers and emergency services
To find out more about St John, go to www.stjohn.org.nz or phone 0800 ST JOHN (785 646)
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