100 Years of Film

Museum of the Order of St John Isobel MacAuslan, Museum Assistant

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the introduction of film to St John Ambulance’s teaching repertoire. If you have been on one of St John’s First Aid Courses today, you will know that visual media is an important part of their teaching practice. Short films are useful teaching aids and a good way to bring an emergency scenario into the classroom.  

St John Ambulance was established in the late nineteenth century, just before film began to emerge as a medium.  During the First World War, St John Ambulance commissioned the making of a film marking “a new era in first aid instruction”. In the January 1918 edition of First Aid, the introduction of ‘First Aid Instruction by Cinematography’ is triumphantly announced in the editorial.  

The organisation had hired Mr Harold Loamas, “a worldwide cinema-photographer”, to create their new educational resource which First Aid hoped would ‘further employment of the cinematograph as a means of instruction in ambulance subjects”.  One section focused on Railway accidents. The Great Western Railway Ambulance division was used to demonstrate they best ways of operating if two trains collided. A reviewer of the film in First Aid enthusiastically applauded how “the realism of some of these cases is remarkably striking…one might be excused for assuming that incidents attending a real accident were depicted’. The Railway workers were treated to a special viewing of the film to see themselves in action.  

First shown in Poplar on 16th April 1918, the film was dispatched to St John Ambulance divisions overseas. As of January 1918, Australian and Canadian divisions had ordered copies of the film. It was hoped that “the various Centres of the Association and Divisions of the Brigade will arrange for the exhibition of the film, not only as a means of education in first aid methods for their members, but also in order to interest others in the good work which is being accomplished”. Showings were even arranged to be held in public cinemas so that the population could gain an understanding of the role played by the ambulance workers.  

During the last century, film has been used extensively by St John Ambulance as an education tool. In 1987, to mark the Centenary of the St John Ambulance Brigade, a film titled For All The Right Reasons was released featuring commentary by Jimmy Tarbuck. Today, anyone with internet access can view St John Ambulance films via their YouTube channel. In 2017, St John Ambulance won the Charity Film of the Year BAFTA with ‘The Chokeables’, a 40 second film that teaches parents how to save a choking baby. A lot has changed in the 100 years between the first St John Ambulance film being released yet the medium continues to serve a vital educational purpose.  


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