St John Archive

Explore Your Archive and the theme of #EYABig

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

This week is Explore Your Archive week, an annual celebration of all things archive-y, organised by the Archives & Records Association (UK & Ireland) to encourage everyone to visit, use, celebrate, and be inspired by archives across the UK & Ireland. On today’s theme of #EYABig, let’s explore a big scrapbook from the St John Ambulance Brigade’s 50th anniversary in 1937.

The St John Ambulance Brigade was established on 24th June 1887, St. John’s Day, as ‘a voluntary civilian organization for rendering assistance to cases of accident and sudden illness in civilian emergencies’, and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1937 (the same year as the coronation of King George VI and his wife Elizabeth). 

The Brigade’s 50th anniversary celebrations included a reception at St John’s Gate, an afternoon party at St. James’s Palace, first aid and nursing competitions for Brigade Divisions within the British Empire, a Review in Hyde Park, London of representatives of the Brigade at Home and Overseas by Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral attended by HRH The Duke of Kent, an Investiture at Buckingham Palace, and tea party at the House of Lords. What a lot of celebrations! 

One of the big records in the Archive is a scrapbook, filled to bursting with all kinds of paperwork, planning documentation, invitations, photographs, and newspaper cuttings relating to the anniversary.  

An example double-page of some of the contents of the scrapbook.

There were three Home and five Overseas teams representing Ambulance Divisions (the men) who participated in first aid competitions, and two Home and six Overseas nursing teams representing Nursing Divisions (the women) who participated in nursing competitions. The winners of competitions for Ambulance Divisions included teams from England, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, and Canada, with the Wolverton Division of England winning the Earl of Scarborough’s Cup for the best individual team. The winners of competitions for Nursing Divisions included teams from England, South Africa, Canada, Hong Kong, and New Zealand. Cups and prizes were presented by HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone. 

A close-up photograph of one of the newspaper cuttings in the scrapbook, showing female Nursing members participating in a first aid competition.

Some of the cuttings also refer to the royal Review (a Brigade inspection) in Hyde Park, where a total of 5,127 members of the St John Ambulance Brigade from all over the world were in attendance to be inspected by the Queen. She sent the following message after the Review: 

“Please convey to all ranks of the St John Ambulance Brigade my appreciation of their smartness on parade this afternoon. It was most gratifying to me to see the Overseas contingents so well represented and as Commandant-in-Chief of the Nursing Corps and Divisions of the Brigade, I was particularly pleased to see so many nurses taking part in the Review. I would also ask you to convey to all the members who were on duty my admiration of their splendid services on Coronation Day”. 

If you would like to visualize the Review, why not check out this newsreel from British Pathé footage on YouTube: 

A close-up photograph of one of the newspaper cuttings in the scrapbook, showing civilians waiting to see the Queen.

This scrapbook is not only a physically big record, but its contents also record a big moment in St John’s history, and the celebrations of its members around the world.