Posters, Books

Get Well Soon

Museum of the Order of St John Jessica Swift, Museum Assistant

St John Ambulance, since its establishment in 1877, has been dedicated to caring for others. While the most wellknown and wellestablished part of St John’s caregiving has been in the training and providing of first aid, our volunteers, including Cadets, have long been providing other forms of care and support to the sick and injured 

A poster with a painted image of a book in front of medical items suck as pill bottles with 'THE CURE OF BOOKS' in red block capitals.
The Cure of Books Poster, LDOSJ SJA2076

This poster, ‘The Cure of Books’, advertised a special library service with which St John was involved heavily from the Second World War onwards. The British Red Cross had initiated a voluntary library service in 1914, to provide reading materials to the Navy and Army. Books and other reading materials were donated both by publishers and members of the public, and parcels were delivered to military hospitals on a regular basis. This service continued through peacetime, but on the outbreak of the Second World War, the Order of St John joined forces with the British Red Cross to ensure that the hospital library service could help as many people as possible.  

A diorama with toy people, two volunteers giving out books to patients in bed.
Diorama: ‘St John & Red Cross Hospital Library Department’ from the British Red Cross collection

Books, magazines and illustrated papers were donated in masses by the public, collected by volunteers and taken into hospitals both at home and abroad – books were collected in many languages such as Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Hindustani, Bengali, Greek and Turkish. Trained librarians and assistants gave their time to go into hospitals to help patients with their selections. While fiction was the highest in demand, the Library Service made sure to collect specially requested books relating to the patients’ hobbies, for example books on music, architecture or fishing. The books would be lent to patients and collected again by the volunteers, who then took the time to care for the books, rebinding and cleaning them to ensure more patients could continue to enjoy them. We know that Cadets were also active in this effort, this photograph from the British Red Cross shows cadets mending books.   

Back and white photograph of three young women in uniform tending to books
Cadets repair books for the Hospital Library Service from Caring on the Home Front

After the war, the service continued and lent over 3 million books in the UK in 1970 alone, serving around 1300 hospitals across the county. While services like this rely on volunteers and book donations, they also incur costs that need to be met in order to work, and unfortunately by 1996 the Service was no longer undertaken or funded by the Joint Committee, but St John Ambulance took charge and brigades across the country continued to provide the Hospital Library services locally. Our museum collection even includes trophies that were given for librarianship and book mending.  

Another example of St John providing non-medical care to those in hospitals was the Flower Mission Project. Established in 1900, the Flower Mission collected donations from subscribers to buy and take flowers to hospitals and infirmaries. A Report from 1925, found in the museum’s archives, described how Mission Members had made almost fourteen hundred weekly visits to patients in the workhouse infirmary since its establishment, and only stopped for a period in 1905 when an outbreak of smallpox called for a ban on all visitors to the infirmary.  

Every Wednesday afternoon, the ‘Flower Ladies’ would take flowers, magazines and other donated gifts to patients, taking the time to have a chat with them and check in on how they were doing. Every Christmas, the Flower Ladies took a sack of holly and mistletoe along with the flowers, and in 1925 this was in addition to a gift of 400 “high-class and most beautiful magazines”, as well as 350 normal ones, meaning they delivered flowers, Christmas decorations and 750 magazines as a gift for the patients that yearThe report for 1925 stated that the Mission had lost three subscribers that year and was relying on remaining subscribers to continue functioning. 

Excerpt from archival material about the Flower Mission

Many studies have shown that things like reading, exercising and spending time in nature are proven to improve wellbeing, and these charitable drives such as delivering books and flowers not only provide people with a gift, but also the chance to interact and have something to look forward to during difficult times. As part of a wellbeing project at the Museum of the Order of St John, we have developed a library which is kept at the entrance to our cloister garden. The books are collected from donations, and anyone is free to borrow, swap or take a book, and a donation box is kept nearby if people would like to take a book with them. We try to keep our garden open as much as possible to remain as a calm space of nature in the busy city.  

It is important to remember that the human efforts of the volunteers and workers of St John Ambulance are just as important as the medical care, and that by being connected to our communities we can help to support wellbeing, even if not medically trained, and this has been part of the work of St John from the very beginning.  



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