A new digitally accessible Archive collection: First Aid to the Injured

Museum of the Order of St John Sophie Denman (Archivist)

In celebration of our Archives Revealed project to catalogue the founding records of St John Ambulance, we have digitised St John’s earliest first aid manuals ‘First Aid to the Injured’ to make them publicly accessible for the first time.

What is First Aid to the Injured?

In 1877, the Order of St John founded the St John Ambulance Association to train men and women in first aid to the sick and wounded in war and to civilians in peacetime. Its lectures on ‘First Aid to the Injured’ were developed into its first aid manuals, first published in 1878 under the title of ‘Handbook Describing Aids for Cases of Injury or Sudden Illness’, and later renamed ‘First Aid to the Injured’. This was the Association’s first manual, intended for use by the Metropolitan Policy and in the Association’s ambulance classes across England, and created for non-professionals to ‘enable any one to act in cases of injury or sudden illness, pending the arrival of professional help’.

The manuals were one of the first pocket-sized practical guides for dealing with first aid scenarios and life-threatening injuries, designed for quick and easy access, and including detailed accompanying illustrations, and they are a unique record of the Association’s developing training and guidance, critical to our understanding of St John’s early first aid innovations, many decades before Health & Safety legislation and the National Health Service. Within eight months, 20,000 copies were sold, demonstrating the appetite for access to lifesaving skills and information.

What have we digitised?

Millions of copies of First Aid to the Injured were published. There were 40 editions during this time, with each edition having many reprints. We chose to digitise one copy of each edition and some examples of the earlier Handbook, giving us a resource of 45 historical first aid manuals that span the years 1878-1953. The manuals are small and slim, measuring 111mm x 140mm when closed (small enough to fit in your pocket!) They have an average of 200 pages, and most of the editions include a fold-out illustration of the human anatomy.

These resources show the changes in first aid over time, with the illustrations showing how contemporary first aid was delivered. They are some of the most sought-after records in the Archive by researchers, and by making these publicly available, we can broaden access to the records we have, and I’m delighted that we can share these records with you all.

How can I access the digitised copies?

The digitised manuals are freely and publicly available on issuu with the Archive’s other digitised material, and you can access them by clicking on this link. We have also created a Guide to using issuu which you can access here.

Our thanks go to the St John Historical Society, who generously funded the digitisation of these records.