St John in the First World War


To mark the centenary of the First World War, twelve St John Ambulance Cadets* from the London region have worked in collaboration with Museum staff to produce a digital learning resource and commemorative display as part of a project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The learning resource, which is available in the Museum and online, tells the story of St John Ambulance volunteer Veronica Nisbet who, during the First World War, served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse at the St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital in Étaples, northern France, from 1917 – 1919.

Maintained and equipped primarily at the expense of the Order of St John, the St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital in Étaples was the largest voluntary hospital serving the British Expeditionary Force during the First World War. The hospital had a staff of 241, all from the St John Ambulance Brigade, and was considered by all who knew it to be the best designed and equipped military hospital in France, caring for over 35,000 patients throughout the war.

As a Base Hospital, patients received by the St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital came from the Casualty Clearing Stations, which were situated a few miles behind the front line.  It provided treatment, surgical support and some degree of convalescence to patients before they were evacuated to hospitals in the UK or returned to their units. During the course of the conflict, the hospital was expanded several times. Initially containing 525 beds, when it opened in September 1915, the hospital was able to accommodate 744 patients by spring 1918.

On the night of the 19th May, the St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital was hit by a bomb which killed five members of staff. Shortly after, on 31st May, a second bomb hit the hospital, resulting in eleven deaths and sixty casualties. This second attack left no department undamaged and rendered the hospital incapable of continuing. The decision was taken to move what remained of the hospital up the French coast to Trouville, where it operated from October 1918 to 1st February 1919.

In addition to the learning resource, the below jackanory-style film has been produced, which is based upon real documents from the St John Archive, including Veronica’s scrapbook. The fifteen minute story recounts the wartime experiences of fictional St John VAD Charlotte:


*The St John Ambulance Cadets who participated in this project were: Shankari Gnanakumar, Thomas Karam, Vidthya Kadirrajah, Joanna Street, Amie Hampsheir-Gill, Shyr-nai Davison Thomas, Chloe Peyser, Daniel Squirrell, James O’Connell, Sean Welsh, Jessie Thorne and Phoebe Sweeney.

To find out about the Cadets’ experiences during the project, why not read Amie’s blog!


Related Online Resources

Veronica Nisbet's Scrapbook 1917 - 1919

As part of a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, discover more about the wartime experiences of St John Ambulance Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse Veronica Nisbet by exploring this interactive interpretation of her...

Veronica Nisbet's Scrapbook 1917 - 1919

First World War Roll of Honour

The Roll of Honour contains the names of the 1077 members of the Order of St John, volunteers of the St John Ambulance Brigade and members of the Territorial Branch of the St John Ambulance Association who lost their lives during the First World...

First World War Roll of Honour (PDF download)

First Aid Journal (July 1894 - December 1957)

First Aid is the independent journal for the ambulance and fire services. It includes the St John Gazette. Digitisation of this collection was possible through a generous financial donation from the St John Historical Society. Please note that the...

First Aid Journal July 1894-June 1896
First Aid Journal July 1896-June 1898
First Aid Journal July 1898-1900
First Aid Journal 1901
First Aid Journal 1902
First Aid Journal 1903
First Aid Journal 1904
First Aid Journal 1905
First Aid Journal 1906
First Aid Journal 1908-1909
First Aid Journal 1910-1911
First Aid Journal January-June 1912
First Aid Journal July 1912-June 1914
First Aid Journal July 1914 -June 1916
First Aid Journal July 1916-1917
First Aid Journal 1918-June 1920
First Aid Journal July 1920-June 1922
First Aid Journal July 1922-June 1924
First Aid Journal July 1924-June 1926
First Aid Journal July 1926-June 1928
First Aid Journal July 1928-June 1930
First Aid Journal July 1932-June 1934
First Aid Journal July 1934-June 1936
First Aid Journal 1939
First Aid Journal January-June 1940
First Aid Journal 1940-1941
First Aid Journal 1942-1943
First Aid Journal 1943-1944
First Aid Journal 1945-June 1946
First Aid Journal July 1946-December 1948
First Aid Journal 1951-1953
First Aid Journal 1954-1957


The Museum of the Order of St John would like to thank all those who have supported and continue to support its work. In particular, the Museum would like to thank the following for their generosity: