Early years of service by St John volunteers

Corinne McDonald of Halifax Antiquarian Society, travelled along snowy roads to speak to Todmorden Antiquarians.

Corinne has studied the history of St John’s Ambulance movement, which she joined 12 years ago as a volunteer, writes Sue Clough. “The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem” was the 11th century full title established when a group of noble knights tended sick pilgrims who had travelled to the Holy City. In 1888 Queen Victoria recognised the order and it expanded rapidly.

Trawling through our local newspapers, Corinne has researched Todmorden’s St John’s Ambulance movement. Four enthusiastic men joined the Hebden Bridge contingent to South Africa to aid 
the injured during the Boer War.

By 1903 three divisions of St John’s had been formally set up in Cornholme, Todmorden and Walsden. Dr Wilson Russell helped establish a district nursing division in 1904.

First Aid classes were held in modules at the former Todmorden Co-operative Stores, Dale Street. Large employers encouraged training participation for medical support. Todmorden St John’s provided First Aid at many events like the Rose Show, Agricultural Show, even Blackpool Aviation week.

Premises used included the Fire Station, rooms at St Mary’s Church, and eventually Victoria Road.

Fundraising for training and equipment were essential and there was a lively social side. Mr Petrie and Joshua Hoyle generously bought early ambulances for the Todmorden Brigade.

A section of Corinne’s talk concerned Centre Vale Mansion becoming a Field Hospital during WW1, referred to by Robert Priestley at the society’s last meeting. Permission to use it was granted in 1914. Injured war victims were tended in 20 beds (later 36) staffed by local nurses, doctors and voluntary aids.

Todmorden took the scheme to heart with boy scouts running errands and volunteers transporting the sick from the railway station, besides free hair cuts!

Corinne said the wounded received minimum treatment on the frontline.

She showed pictures of the transportation system back to Todmorden - hospital ships, a vast waterfront hospital complex at Netley, then adapted ambulance trains.

Centre Vale hospital closed in 1919. Todmorden St John’s Ambulance Brigade made an enormous public contribution in the early 20th century and thereafter.