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First Aid and Voluntarism in England, 1945–85


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First aid was the focus of growing voluntary activity in the post-war decades. Despite the advent of the National Health Service in 1948, increased numbers of people volunteered to learn, teach, and administer first aid as concern about health and safety infiltrated new activities and arenas. In this article we use the example of the Voluntary Aid Societies (VAS, focusing in particular on St John Ambulance) to highlight continuities and change in the relationship between state and voluntary sector in health and welfare provision during the four decades after 1945. Though the state assumed vastly expanded health and welfare responsibilities after the war, the continuing vitality of the VAS suggests cultural continuities that the post-war welfare state did not eradicate. The article therefore builds on the insights of historians who argue that volunteering remained a vital component of British society across the later twentieth century, and that the state and voluntary sector were not mutually exclusive.
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Stefan Ramsden* University of Hull, UK
Rosemary Cresswell University of Hull, UK
First Aid and Voluntarism in
England, 1945–85
First aid was the focus of growing voluntary activity in the post-war decades.
Despite the advent of the National Health Service in 1948, increased numbers of
people volunteered to learn, teach, and administer first aid as concern about
health and safety infiltrated new activities and arenas. In this article we use the
example of the Voluntary Aid Societies (VAS, focusing in particular on St John
Ambulance) to highlight continuities and change in the relationship between
state and voluntary sector in health and welfare provision during the four
decades after 1945. Though the state assumed vastly expanded health and
welfare responsibilities after the war, the continuing vitality of the VAS suggests
cultural continuities that the post-war welfare state did not eradicate. The article
therefore builds on the insights of historians who argue that volunteering
remained a vital component of British society across the later twentieth century,
and that the state and voluntary sector were not mutually exclusive.
After the Second World War, there were fears that the voluntarism that
many saw as an essential feature of British society, and which had come
to the fore in the collective effort of the home front, would be fatally
eroded by the advent of the welfare state.
William Beveridge worried
* This work was supported by the Arts and Humanities
Research Council (grant number AH/N003330/1), which funded the project ‘Crossing
Boundaries: The History of First Aid in Britain and France, 1909-1989’ (2016–19). Open-
access publication has been funded by the UKRI open-access block grant allocation to the
University of Hull, and this article is published with the Creative Commons copyright
licence CC-BY 4.0. The research used a wide range of archives, interviews, and published
sources, and these are referenced in the article. The authors are very grateful for
comments from Professor Barry Doyle, University of Huddersfield, co-investigator for the
project, and to the three anonymous referees, and would like to particularly thank the
heritage teams at the Museum of the Order of St John, and the British Red Cross Museum
and Archives. The authors are also very grateful to our oral history interviewees, and to
the University of Hull. Rosemary Cresswell has formerly published as Rosemary Wall.
Brian Harrison and Josephine Webb, ‘Volunteers and Voluntarism’, in Albert Henry
Halsey and Josephine Webb, eds, Twentieth Century British Social Trends (Basingstoke,
2000), 587–619, 614.
Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 30, No. 4, 2019, pp. 504–530 doi:10.1093/tcbh/hwy043
Advance Access publication 3 February 2019
ßThe Author(s) [2019]. Published by Oxford University Press.
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that the patchwork of voluntary associations, which he considered
central to the robust civil society on which British democratic freedoms
depended, might be forced into retreat by the expanded state which his
famous report helped to bring about.
A submission from St John
Ambulance (SJA) to Beveridge’s post-war study of the voluntary sector
argued that the public were developing an attitude that ‘‘‘the state will
provide’’...the man-in-the-street considered the Brigade’s work was
According to historian Rodney Lowe, the events of the war
decisively shifted the public mood towards acceptance of statist
responses to welfare issues:
the perceived economic efficiency of the wartime state (as compared
to the perceived inefficiency of the market in the 1930s) and the
common need of all classes in the blitz to rely on the social services
each paved the way for a degree of state intervention and a
centralisation of welfare services strikingly at variance with the
national tradition of individual freedom and decentralisation.
Muscled out by a ‘comprehensive’ National Health Service (NHS),
improved state pensions, sickness and unemployment payments, and
public-sector social care, there appeared to be much less for the
voluntary sector to do in post-war Britain.
But despite the fears of contemporaries, voluntarism did have a
future in post-war Britain. Recent historians have shown that the British
willingness to engage in voluntary activities of all kinds remained
undiminished. The increased scope of the welfare state did not simply
lead to a decline of the ‘voluntary ethos’ and the replacement of an
active, engaged citizenry with passive recipients of state welfare.
Writing in the early 2000s, Charles More pointed to evidence suggesting
that activities which involve membership of an organization had
increased since the 1950s, noting that on one count almost half the
population volunteered for some activity during the calendar year.
Historians of the post-war voluntary sector have increasingly
emphasized change rather than decline. For example, James Hinton in
a study of the Women’s Voluntary Service considered that, from the
1960s, the ‘quietly auxiliary role in provision of personal social services
developed by WVS’ was replaced by ‘the new voluntarism centred
Frank Prochaska, The Voluntary Impulse. Philanthropy in Modern Britain (London,
1988), 89.
St John Ambulance Brigade ‘Memorandum’ in Lord Beveridge and A. F. Wells, eds,
The Evidence for Voluntary Action (London, 1949), 148–56.
Rodney Lowe, The Welfare State in Britain since 1945 (2nd edn, Basingstoke, 1999), 12.
Parliamentary Archives, <
liamentary-archives/>, HL/PO/PU/1/1946/9&10G6c81, National Health Service Act,
1946, for ‘comprehensive’.
Charles More, Britain in the Twentieth Century (Harlow, 2007), 232.
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around information and advice services designed to help clients
negotiate the intricacies of welfare rights, mutual aid groups operating
with little direct connection with the state, and campaigning, pressure-
group activities’.
In a similar vein, Matthew Hilton argues that since
1945 there has been shrinkage of ‘service organisations’ (those doing
good works in particular places) and a growth in NGOs undertaking
campaigning and advisory roles, these latter constituted at national
level and relying on indirect public support rather than active
Nevertheless, the utility of ‘voluntarism’ as a framework through
which to understand post-war welfare provision has been questioned.
Martin Gorsky claims that across the twentieth century the private
sector, after the state, has usually played the larger role in providing
healthcare outcomes, and that the relationship between state and
market should be seen as more important than state and voluntary
sector. He argues that recent historiographical concern with voluntarism
in the health sector reflects recent ‘third way’ and ‘big society’ political
ideologies—interpretations which assume that there has been and ought
to be an ongoing role for voluntary groups and charities in healthcare.
Yet, the historiography of voluntarism and post-war welfare in
Britain has largely ignored first aid—which can be defined as ‘such
skilled assistance as will preserve life, promote recovery and prevent
the injury or illness becoming worse until medical aid has been
obtained’—but it is an activity with much to tell us about the
developing relationship between voluntarist civil society and the
welfare and ‘warfare state’.
The ‘Voluntary Aid Societies’ (VAS)—in
England, the British Red Cross Society (BRCS) and the SJA—were a
crucial part of the mixed ecology of emergency healthcare during the
first half of the century; from the mid-1930s, these organizations were at
the forefront of civil defence, training and providing volunteers to give
emergency first-aid assistance during bombing raids.
There were
James Hinton, Women, Social Leadership, and the Second World War: Continuities of Class
(Oxford, 2002), 235.
Matthew Hilton, A Historical Guide to NGOs in Britain. Charities, Civil Society and the
Voluntary Sector Since 1945 (Basingstoke, 2012), 20–31.
Martin Gorsky, ‘‘‘Voluntarism’’ in English Health and Welfare: Visions of History’, in
Donnacha Sean Lucey and Virginia Crossman, eds, Healthcare in Ireland and Britain from
1850. Voluntary, Regional and Comparative Perspectives (London, 2014), 31–60.
See for example, Charles Webster, The Health Services since the War volume I: Problems
of Health Care: The National Health Service Before 1957 (London, 1988); Lowe, Welfare State;
for quotation see St John Ambulance, St John Ambulance Digest of First Aid (London, 1975);
and for the term ‘warfare state’, see David Edgerton, Warfare State. Britain, 1920-1970
(Cambridge, 2005).
Ronnie Cole-MacKintosh, A Century of Service to Mankind: A History of the St John
Ambulance Brigade (London, 1986), 90–8. For example, British Red Cross Museum and
Archives, London (BRCMA), BRCS Council Minutes RCB 1/3, Minutes of Statutory
Meeting, 18 May 1939. St Andrew’s Ambulance is active in Scotland.
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undoubtedly tensions between an ethos of voluntary public service and
the emerging emancipated individual of the post-war era.
But the VAS
continued to occupy an important place in the public life of the nation.
In this article we trace shifts and continuities in the activities and
composition of the VAS from 1945 to 1985. First, we show that, though
some of the old rationale for the VAS disappeared in the era of the
NHS, there was still space within which VAS could operate, and a
practical need for the kinds of training and emergency care that they
had long experience in providing. Second, we consider how the VAS
were able to adapt their services and their appeal to volunteers to the
realities of a changing society. We then examine how the composition of
SJA volunteers in particular changed markedly across the period, in
response to significant social and economic shifts. Finally, we examine
cultures of volunteering within the VAS, arguing that while in many
respects these organizations were a conservative cultural force,
volunteers interpreted involvement according to their own meanings
and purposes.
Most of the discussion is focussed on SJA, which was probably the
most prominent of the two organizations in first-aid provision and
training across these years. However, BRCS will be considered where
appropriate, since the two organizations overlapped, collaborated, and
complemented each other in many ways. Overall, we argue that the
VAS represented the adaptation of an older service ethos and liberal
view of welfare to new circumstances. These organizations’ survival,
and, on many counts, flourishing, across the three post-war decades
gives us an insight into change and continuity in an English voluntarist
tradition across a period often represented as an era of radical social
New Spheres of Service
During the first half of the twentieth century up until the creation of the
NHS, multiple agencies and spheres of activity coalesced to form the
patchwork of health provision in Britain.
The VAS were primary
providers of first-aid training, and in many areas represented the first
response to emergencies. SJA, which was until the early 1970s divided
into an Association (SJAA) concerned with training and a Brigade
(SJAB) concerned with providing first aid, spread like an evangelical
movement through industrialized areas of Britain from 1877, preaching
Hinton, Women, 238–9.
Barry Doyle, The Politics of Hospital Provision in Early Twentieth-Century Britain
(London, 2014).
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mutual aid in the sphere of first aid; works’ Brigade divisions often
doubled as ambulance services for the local community.
During the
First World War, amongst many activities, BRCS and SJA Voluntary Aid
Detachment (VAD) members supplemented medical services; as a result
of the war effort, recruitment and training activity peaked (as we see in
Figures 1 and 2).
After the First World War, SJA and the BRCS came
together to form the Home Ambulance Committee, the county
committees of which administered 325 local voluntary ambulance
services by 1925.
In the mid-1930s, the SJA, BRCS, and St Andrew’s
Ambulance Association in Scotland were commissioned to prepare first
aiders for a chemical war. The three organizations trained over 100,000
people by January 1939, with the BRCS taking the lead and training
over 85,000 people by March 1939.
The Second World War was the
high point in VAS activity: the expectation of mass casualties as a result
of aerial bombardment led many people to seek first-aid training from
VAS, who also trained Civil Defence personnel.
SJA issued a
staggering 304,765 certificates in 1940 alone (most of which were for
first aid), and the membership also expanded significantly from 84,419
in 1937 to 167,271 in 1942 in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and
Including Civil Defence personnel, SJA trained 1.2 million
people between 1938 and 1945.
Some 50,000 SJA volunteers joined the
Civil Defence service, with their skills of particular use to the casualty
Immediately after the Second World War, at the point of the creation
of the NHS, Beveridge surveyed the state of the voluntary sector in
Britain. In his publication The Evidence for Voluntary Action, SJA
described the range of their first-aid activities:
Every year Brigade members deal with more than half-a-million cases
of First Aid—the majority being treated by members when on Public
For example, Dorothy A. Rand and Members, St John Ambulance Consett 1909-2009. A
Centenary Souvenir (Consett, 2009); Susan Edlington, The History of the Gainsborough
Division of the St John Ambulance Brigade (Beckingham, 2009); Cole-MacKintosh, A Century
of Service.
Joan Clifford, A Good Uniform. The St. John Story (London, 1967), 37–8.
Alexander Pollock ‘Historical Perspectives in the Ambulance Service’, in P.
Wankhade, K. Mackway-Jones, eds, Ambulance Services (Cham, 2015), 17–28, 23–4.
Museum of the Order of St John, London (MOSJ), First Aid, January 1939, 165.
BRCMA, BRCS Council Minutes RCB 1/3, Minutes of Statutory Meeting, 18 May 1939, 62.
Clifford, Good Uniform, 39.
MOSJ, The Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Venerable Order of the Hospital
of St John of Jerusalem (BROSJ), ‘Report of the Chapter General for the Year 1937’;
‘Annual Report 1940’; ‘Annual Report 1942’.
P. G. Cambray and G. G. B. Briggs, Red Cross and St John: The Official Record of the
Humanitarian Services of the War Organisation of the British Red Cross Society and Order of St
John of Jerusalem, 1939-1947 (London, 1949), 684.
Clifford, Good Uniform, 40.
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Duty, including Ceremonial Parades ... sporting events ... and at
entertainments of various kinds ... Hundreds of minor injuries are
treated at the Beach Huts ... and assistance is also given in staffing
First Aid Huts and Tents in Holiday Camps ... The Brigade also
1910 1915 1920 1925 1930 1935 1940 1942 1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1991
cerficates awarded
Figure 1
SJA certificates awarded (in 000s). Statistics taken from MOSJ: Order of St John,
Annual Reports, 1910–1990. Statistics are for England, Wales, Ireland and Northern
Ireland up until 1945, and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland after this date.
Figure 2
SJA Brigade total members (in 000s). Statistics taken from MOSJ: Order of St John,
Annual Reports, 1910–1990. Statistics are for England, Wales, Ireland and Northern
Ireland up until 1945, and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland after this date.
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maintains a Road Service, with roadside First Aid Posts, and during
1946 ... [operated] 588 ambulances.
SJAB divisions also ran ‘Comfort Depots’ supplying communities with
home-nursing materials on loan.
The BRCS reported a similar range of
first-aid activity.
As the post-war period progressed, some of these functions were
eroded. Ambulance provision became the responsibility of the local
authorities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 1948. SJA
Comfort Depots were taken over by the state in some areas, and
roadside and beach first-aid posts were gradually phased out as the
necessity for these was reduced by increasingly effective motorized
At the same time, numbers of adult members of the SJAB
went into decline which continued throughout the later twentieth
century (see Figure 3). This decline preceded the advent of the NHS
1910 1915 1920 1925 1930 1935 1940 1942 1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1991
men women
Figure 3
Male and female adult SJA Brigade membership (in 000s). Statistics taken from MOSJ:
Order of St John, Annual Reports, 1910–1990. Statistics are for England, Wales,
Ireland and Northern Ireland up until 1945, and for England, Wales and Northern
Ireland after this date.
Lord Beveridge and A. F. Wells, eds, The Evidence for Voluntary Action (London, 1949),
For example, Rand and Members, St John Ambulance Consett, 73–4; Cole-MacKintosh,
Century of Service, 102.
Beveridge and Wells, The Evidence, 147; the same publication (143–53) shows that
both VAS also provided a number of services that augmented state medical care but
which fall outside of the first-aid remit of the current article, including care and
transportation of the elderly and disabled, blood transfusion services, assistance in state,
and voluntary hospitals.
Cole-Mackintosh, A Century of Service, 102.
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and was in part a natural readjustment after the extreme activity of the
Second World War—from 134,350 in 1942, adult brigade membership
had already shrunk to 72,648 by 1947. In 1953, members of an
ambulance division in Hull bemoaned their dwindling membership and
were told by a visiting Corps Officer that they were not unique, and
‘there were divisions even worse placed than ourselves, some having
only the Div. Off. [Divisional Officer] turning up for drills’. The same
officer speculated that reasons for the decline included national service,
which ‘took men away at the age they would join the Brigade and
killed the interest in the minds of young men who knew they would be
called up at 18 and could not therefore see the point in taking up
ambulance work’.
However, Gorsky’s argument that the voluntary sector made little
impact in the delivery of ‘curative services’ in the post-war NHS
undervalues the important role VAS played in supporting the NHS in
its early years and beyond.
In relation to 14,000 road accidents
occurring each month, BRCS noted in 1947 that the new ‘comprehen-
sive National Health Service’ did not make ‘provision for first aid
In the immediate post-war decades, VAS continued to run
some ambulance services; County Councils subcontracted ambulance
work to SJA and the BRCS in England, and St Andrew Ambulance held
the contract for supplying the entirety of ambulance provision in
Scotland. In 1950, SJA claimed that 90 per cent of the new NHS
Ambulance Service personnel were part-time volunteers.
For the first
two decades of the NHS, therefore, many ambulances were still driven
by volunteers from the VAS (though by the time of NHS reorganization
in 1974, most ambulance staff were paid).
In the early days of the
post-war welfare state, BRCS offered further services, including
nursing, home visiting, loaning medical equipment, meals on wheels,
and homes for older people.
Moreover, in a society apparently becoming ever more risk-aware,
there were new areas in which the VAS’ expertise and experience in
first aid were required. Perhaps the most obvious context in which
increased risk awareness underpinned a rise in first-aid knowledge and
training was in the workplace. Across the first half of the century,
Private collection, Minutes of Hull West St John Ambulance Division, Annual
General Meeting, 10 February 1953.
Gorsky, ‘Voluntarism’, 31–60.
Wellcome Library, London, Archives and Manuscripts, PP/HEW/E.4, Box 12, ‘The
Health Services Relations between the British Red Cross Society and HM Government’.
Report to be presented to The League of Red Cross Societies in connection with the World
Health Organisation Assembly, Oct 1947, 3c.
Review of the Order of St John, 1950, vol. 23, no. 2.
Pollock, ‘Historical Perspectives’, 23–4.
BRCMA, The British Red Cross Society Quarterly Review, January 1951, 118–20.
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legislation was introduced requiring that particularly dangerous
industries supply first-aid boxes and/or have ambulance rooms and
staff on hand who had been trained in first aid, for example: the Coal
Mines Act 1911; the Ambulance and First-Aid Arrangements at Blast
Furnaces, Copper Mills, Iron Mills, Foundries, and Metal Works Order,
1917; the Hides and Skins Regulations 1921; and the Chemical Works
Regulations 1922.
In terms of implementation of this legislation,
Arthur McIvor notes a turning point under the wartime coalition
government: during the interwar depression, many workplaces had
been able to avoid their health and safety obligations, but Ernest Bevin
as Minister of Labour during the Second World War was proactive in
enforcing regulation, with the result that the number of works doctors
increased from 60 to around 1,000.
In the second half of the twentieth
century, legislative governance of workplace first aid was generalized:
the First Aid (Standard of Training) Order 1960 detailed the level of
training required for workplace first aiders; the Factories Act 1961
required that all factories provide at least one trained first aider for
every fifty employees; in 1963, the Offices, Shops, and Railway Premises
Act required that these workplaces have a trained first aider for every
150 persons.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 stepped away
from detailed governmental regulation of hazards in the workplace,
giving industries greater autonomy in how they exercised their health
and safety responsibilities; this move increased the onus on voluntarist
measures on the part of employers and employees.
In this spirit, the
Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 stipulated only that
employers should make provision for first aid based on their own risk
assessments and did not specify precise numbers of first aiders (though
later government literature did come with suggestions about num-
Despite this shift in regulatory philosophy, the number of
certificates awarded by SJA reached its peacetime peak in the later
1970s, this against a backdrop of intensified competition from private
training providers catering for the occupational first-aid market (see
Figure 4).
The National Archives: Public Record Office, Kew (TNA: PRO), St John Ambulance
Association Occupational First Aid Sub-Committee (SJAA OFASC), BK 2/1416, ‘A List of
Statutory Enactments about First Aid in Factories’.
Arthur J. McIvor, A History of Work in Britain 1880-1950 (Basingstoke, 2001), 144.
TNA PRO: SJAA OFASC, BK2/1416, ‘The Industrial First Aider—A Guide’.
Chris Sirrs, ‘Health and Safety in the British Regulatory State, 1961-2001: The HSC,
HSE and the Management of Occupational Risk’, PhD thesis, London School of Hygiene
and Tropical Medicine, 2016.
Health and Safety Executive, ‘First Aid at Work. The Health and Safety (First-Aid)
Regulations 1981. Guidance on Regulations, 2013’, <
priced/l74.pdf> accessed 17 July 2017.
MOSJ: BROSJ ‘The Report and Accounts of the Chapter-General’ 1977; BROSJ, ‘The
Report and Accounts of the Chapter-General’ 1980.
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But the demand for first-aid training was broader than just the
workplace. In 1967, the SJA annual report noted an ‘ever greater
importance placed on first-aid knowledge in Educational establish-
ments; national and local organizations including Scouts, Mountain
Leadership groups, local referees, Boys Brigade, Sub-Aqua clubs, Duke
of Edinburgh, motorists’.
The growth in per-capita gross domestic
product and in leisure time (in particular, an increase in paid holidays
for many workers) between 1945 and the 1970s underpinned a more
expansive leisure society and diversification of leisure and sporting
many of the activities which have grown in popularity since
the Second World War included an element of danger, to which have
been progressively applied the expectations of damage limitation
through trained first-aid cover. Outward-bound leisure was still making
increasing demands on SJAB services as trainers and first-aid providers
in 1975: ‘now that sailing and all forms of water sports are so popular,
first aid and rescue facilities on both inland and coastal waterways are
of paramount importance ... The number of Divisions already
undertaking river and inshore rescue, as well as mountain and cliff
operations, is steadily increasing’.
Legislation caught up with leisure
Figure 4
Male and female cadet SJA Brigade membership (in 000s). Statistics taken from MOSJ:
Order of St John, Annual Reports, 1910–1990. Statistics are for England, Wales,
Ireland and Northern Ireland up until 1945, and for England, Wales and Northern
Ireland after this date.
MOSJ: BROSJ ‘Report of the Chapter General for the Year 1967’.
See, for example: Douglas A. Reid, ‘‘‘Mass Leisure’’ in Britain’, in R. Moore and
Hans van Nierop, eds, Twentieth-Century Mass Society in Britain and the Netherlands
(Oxford, 2006), 132–59.
MOSJ: St John Ambulance Annual Report 1975.
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expansion; the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 required that
professional and amateur sports clubs make provision for the safety of
spectators, participants, and volunteers as well as employees.
the later 1960s, organizers of a new phenomenon in mass public
entertainment, the summer rock festival, relied on VAS to provide some
measure of medical cover: ‘almost invariably the organizers of such
shows have failed to appreciate the depth of planning such large
gatherings of people demand, with the result that the Members
covering such large gatherings have been confronted with a task calling
for last minute improvisation’.
A somewhat less benign post-war demand for first-aid training
resulted from the threat of nuclear attack. The Second World War had
demonstrated the utility of volunteer civil defenders trained in first aid,
operating under conditions of bombardment. As a response to the Cold
War, the British Government recruited volunteers into a Civil Defence
Corps. Instituted in 1948 and stood down in 1968, the Civil Defence
Corps had as many as 500,000 volunteers on their books by the mid-
Every member of the Civil Defence Corps was supposed to
receive at least some first-aid training, though the amount varied across
the different units that made up the Corps, from a basic course lasting
no more than three hours for those in the Headquarters units, for
example, to more extensive courses based on the training of the VAS for
those in the Rescue and First Aid sections.
So, despite a much-
expanded state health service in Britain in the post-war period, there
was a growing demand for first-aid services within both the warfare
and the welfare state of the kind that SJA and the BRCS were
experienced in providing.
To Adventure and Pioneer
In a 1947 memorandum, SJA faced the prospect of the state expanding
into their spheres of activity with a combination of equanimity and
Ed Jaggard, ‘From Bondi to Bude: Allan Kennedy and the Exportationof Australian
Surf Lifesaving to Britain in the 1950s’, Sport in History, 31 (2011), 62–83; Robert E.
Rinehart, ‘Alternative Sports’, in S. W. Pope and John Nauright, eds, Routledge Companion
to Sports History (Abingdon, 2010), 295–316; Dennis Brailsford, Sport, Time, and Society
(London, 1991), 123–43; Health and Safety Executive, ‘Amateur Sports Clubs’ <http://> accessed 12 June 2017.
MOSJ: BROSJ Report of the Chapter-General of the Grand Priory of the Order of the
Hospital of St John of Jerusalem 1970.
Matthew Grant, After the Bomb. Civil Defence and Nuclear War in Britain, 1945-68
(Basingstoke, 2010), 28–9.
Matthew Grant, ‘‘‘Civil Defence Gives Meaning to Your Leisure’’: Citizenship,
Participation, and Cultural Change in Cold War Recruitment Propaganda, 1949-54’,
Twentieth Century British History, 22 (2011), 52–78, 58–9.
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The Brigade is more than ready to co-operate with the statutory
authorities in any way possible although naturally preferring to
operate and control its own personnel in doing so; but at the same
time it is prepared to hand over any of its work to local authorities as
soon as the latter are in a position to carry it out ... The Brigade ...
holds that, however efficient the State Social Services are, there will
always be a place for individual, personal service, between neighbour
and neighbour, and many opportunities for voluntary bodies to
adventure and pioneer in new spheres of service to the public.
Similarly, in 1947, the BRCS Secretary responded to the National Health
Service Act (1946) by declaring that the charity was ‘always ready to
give emergency and supplementary aid’, and that there would continue
to be ‘scope for the voluntary worker even in a state planned and state-
aided service’.
However, there was no automatic reason why the job
of providing first-aid training and cover should fall to the VAS. In
France, for example, post-war first-aid cover and ambulance services
were often provided by private individuals or organizations who
charged the state, individuals, or insurance companies for their
in later decades in Britain, private companies increasingly
competed with the VAS for contracts to supply first-aid cover at events
and to train workers in first aid.
As the ‘new liberal’ political
economics of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government opened up
public services to private contractors (as well as the voluntary sector),
SJA found that it had competition. In this context, the organization
trumpeted as a significant achievement the 137,000 certificates awarded
in 1985: ‘the SJAA is maintaining a strong position in providing courses
for the public, even though we have over 500 competitors in the
training business’.
But the post-war VAS could not take for granted
their central role in the field of first aid and made efforts to ensure
continued relevance.
Key to these efforts, as is suggested above, was the readiness to
respond to state agenda. In 1949–50, a War Office Working Party met to
outline the role of the BRCS and SJA in the next war.
SJA and the
Beveridge and Wells, The Evidence, 157.
BRCMA, Branch Circulars 1947, W. J. Philips, Secretary, to County Directors,
‘National Health Service Act 1946’, 5 June 1947.
Charles-Antoine Wanecq, ‘Road Accidents as an Epidemic: The Creation of the
Emergency Medical Services (SAMU) in France (1956-1979)’ unpublished paper, given to
workshop ‘Accidents and the State in the 20th Century’, 9–10 June 2016, Freiburg Institute
for Advanced Studies; Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France, Oeuvres hospitalie
`res franc¸aises
de l’Ordre de Malte, 3 (1969), FOL-JO-12418.
MOSJ: BROSJ, The Report and Accounts of the Chapter-General 1980.
MOSJ: BROSJ, The Report and Accounts of the Chapter-General 1985.
TNA: PRO, War Office, WO 32/15716, British Red Cross Society: Working Party to
Consider Activities in an Emergency: Report and Correspondence, 1948–61, Reports and
Correspondence from 1948 to 1950.
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BRCS were both quick to respond to the risk of another war and to
offer the first-aid expertise of their personnel in the service of the
nascent Civil Defence Corps.
It appears that much of the first-aid
training given to the Civil Defence Corps volunteers was organized and
run by SJA or BRCS volunteers and doctors and, as a minimum
standard, trainers were required to hold certificates from these
The VAS also cooperated with official requests to
encourage their members to sign up for Civil Defence Corps and the
National Hospital Service Reserve (an auxiliary body intended to
supplement the NHS in case of war).
The extent of this partnership
meant that when the Civil Defence Corps were disbanded in 1968, it
was the VAS upon which the government relied; should a war appear
imminent, it was expected that these organizations would train the
public quickly in emergency first-aid skills.
SJAA with their long industrial connections was also well placed to
respond to increasing demand for trained first aiders in the workplace.
The organization wrote first-aid manuals and tailored courses to fit the
needs of industry. Courses were organized and delivered by volunteers
and examined by doctors associated with the organization.
the First Aid Standard of Training Order 1960 and the submission of
evidence to the Robens Committee in 1971, SJAA examined and
certificated 785,000 workplace first aiders.
Though the VAS were not
the only deliverer of workplace first-aid training—in 1969, many
workplaces employed professional nurses who trained voluntary
members of staff in first aid—it was the SJA and BRCS manuals that
were followed in most courses.
In 1972, only 6 per cent of industrial
first-aid courses did not use the VAS’ combined manual, First Aid.
the early 1970s, SJA published a range of supplementary first-aid
publications alongside their main manual, including a manual
MOSJ, St John Ambulance Association Annual Report, 1950.
Wellcome Library, Civil Defence, PP/AWD/F/4, Box 31, County Medical Officers of
Health Group of the Society of Medical Officers of Health and Association of County
Medical Officers of Health of England and Wales, Minutes of meeting 9 May 1952; East
Riding Archives and Local Studies, Beverley (ERALS), Bridlington Borough Council
Correspondence File on Civil Defence Corps 1949–62, BOBR 2/15/4/1702, Civil Defence
Training Memorandum No.1 (1957).
ERALS, Bridlington Borough Council Correspondence file on Civil Defence Corps
1949–62, BOBR 2/15/4/1702, Home Office Civil Defence Circular No.23/1954.
TNA: PRO, Home Office Civil Defence files HO 322/733, Training Notes for
Instructors: Organization of First Aid Services.
Clifford, A Good Uniform, 32–6.
TNA: PRO, SJAA OFASC, BK2/1416, Evidence Given to Robens’ Committee by St
John Ambulance, 1971.
TNA: PRO, SJAA OFASC, BK2/1416, Society of Occupation Medicine Report on the
Teaching of First Aid in Industry 1969.
TNA: PRO, SJAA OFASC, BK2/1416, Dr J. D. Cameron ‘Training of First Aiders in
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specifically tailored to first aid in occupational settings—by 1970, their
eighteen publications had sold 300,000 copies.
SJA strove to shape and lead the emerging field of occupational first
aid. A VAS sub-committee on Occupational First Aid was established in
This committee met monthly from 1969 and was attended by
executives from nationalized industries as well as senior medics from
the Society of Occupational Medicine and the Royal College of Nursing
and senior civil servants from H.M Inspectorate of Factories and the
Health and Safety Executive. The Occupational First Aid sub-committee
oversaw the production of a new Manual of Occupational First Aid, and,
inspired by a Canadian SJA initiative, commissioned research that they
hoped would show that training employees in first aid meant not only
that they were equipped to assist victims of accidents but also that they
were likely to behave in a more safety conscious manner. In 1971, SJA
submitted evidence to the Robens Committee, advocating tightening
first-aid requirements and the introduction of a common standard of
accreditation of workplace first aiders, whilst also burnishing the
organization’s own credentials as the primary first-aid trainer.
Whilst the SJAA sought to retain a role as trainer, standard setter,
and campaigner for wider dispersion of first-aid skills, the Brigade arm
of the organization continued to provide first aid through its trained
volunteer divisions. Workers in dangerous industries continued to join
SJAB divisions situated in their workplace across the three post-war
decades. Those who joined SJA and St Andrew divisions in the dock
industry had their own first-aid magazine, with details of competitions,
rescues, and techniques.
In some areas, there was expansion in
Brigade divisions during the post-war decades; for example, the East
Midlands Division of the National Coal Board agreed at a meeting in
1948 that ‘it would be a good thing to go forward and organize a
scheme and work in line with the St John Ambulance Brigade
Organisation’; the meeting was ‘in favour of attempting to form a
Brigade at each colliery’. Over the ensuing decade, the Coal Board
provided grants for the establishment of divisions, which could cover
expenses such as uniforms, payment of lecturers, and examination fees,
as well as expenses associated with annual camps.
TNA: PRO, SJAA OFASC, BK2/1416, Working Party Report on St John Ambulance
Manuals 1970.
TNA: PRO, First Aid on the Docks (ten issues—1965–70), BK 4/8.
TNA: PRO, National Coal Board East Midlands Division (NCBEMD),
Correspondence and Papers, COAL 50/728, Area 6 Assistant General Manager, St John
Ambulance Brigade (SJAB), County of Nottingham, Minutes of meetings 1948–59; TNA:
PRO, NCBEMD, Correspondence and Papers, COAL 50/724, Area 6 Assistant General
Manager, SJAB camps 1954–9.
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In addition to workplace first aid, SJAB and BRCS volunteers
continued to provide first-aid duties at public, sporting, and leisure
events, including football matches, amateur sporting events, cycling
races, fetes, rallies, concerts, rock festivals, theatre, and cinema. A
historian of SJA, writing in the 1960s, commented that ‘the black and
white uniforms are a familiar site wherever people congregate in large
numbers’—indeed, she considered that such was their ubiquity, they
were taken for granted by many members of the public, who presumed
SJA to be part of the NHS.
A member of a Hull SJA division during
the 1960s remembered that the duties she attended included ‘football,
children’s homes, New Theatre, Regal cinema, roller skating’.
member of the Durham BRCS remembered first-aid duties at Durham
Miners’ Gala and the Great North Run during the 1980s.
members took to the water to bring assistance to the growing number
of leisure craft—at Filey in 1975, five out of the six lifeboat crew were
SJA members.
The voluntary nature of this cover meant that private
organizers of events were spared costs; it also saved the state from
expenses of providing trained care at public events. SJA even helped
out in instances of public unrest: an annual report from 1977 claimed
that the police had been thankful for the presence of SJA volunteers at
disturbances at Lewisham and at Notting Hill Carnival.
So, for at least 30 years after the advent of the NHS, voluntary effort
continued to make a significant contribution to healthcare. This was a
period in which demand for first aid was growing, and the VAS were
well positioned to address this demand. The voluntary sector, not the
state or private sector, continued to set standards in first aid and took
responsibility for training the public, particularly in workplaces and in
civil defence. Volunteer ambulance units attended public gatherings of
all kinds, bringing skilled assistance to those in need at no cost to the
state and very little cost to private entrepreneurs who staged
entertainment and sporting events.
Changing Membership
Despite the continued relevance of the services that the VAS provided,
and overall membership levels that, in the case of SJA, did not dip
below 1938 levels until the 1980s, VAS changed considerably from the
1930s to the 1980s. Most obviously, the class, gender, and age
composition of their memberships shifted in line with wider social,
Clifford, A Good Uniform, 55.
Margaret Simpson (Pseudonym), Interview with Author, 17 February 2017.
Kevin Cummings, Interview with Authors, 23 February 2017.
Cole-MacKintosh, A Century of Service, 107.
MOSJ, St John Ambulance Annual Report 1977.
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economic, and cultural changes: SJAB became less dominated by
working-class men adult men, and the BRCS less dominated by upper-
and middle-class women. These shifts reflected the VAS’ adaptability to
emerging social arrangements.
During the first half of the twentieth century, SJAB divisions in
industrial areas were part of the broader male-dominated working-class
civil society of institutions and associations evoked by social historians
such as Rob Colls, including trade unions, ‘nonconformist and
Methodist chapels and Sunday Schools, the Cooperative Wholesale
Society and Cooperative Union, and the national friendly societies, and
after them, the allotment societies, the brass bands, voluntary bodies,
sporting clubs, youth organizations’.
As late as 1971, SJA pointed out
in evidence given to the Robens Committee that: ‘industrial workers
constitute the largest group of First Aid members in the organization’.
But across much of the twentieth century, traditional industries
(including coal mining, iron and steel production, and shipbuilding)
were in decline.
For example, mining and quarrying represented 8.8
per cent of male employment in 1921 but only 4.3 per cent in 1951; the
UK coal mining industry shed 170,000 jobs between 1959 and 1963, and
in County Durham alone, the proportion of occupied males working in
coal mining dropped from 46.9 per cent in 1911 to 10.6 per cent in
Though industrial production as a whole rallied after the Second
World War, with British manufacturing enjoying an ‘Indian Summer’ in
the 1950s, the number of people employed in manufacturing began to
shrink from the 1960s and dropped off steeply during the 1980s.
industrial decline, particularly marked in traditional, dangerous
industries where there had always been a strong SJA presence, may
have been at least as important as the advent of the NHS in the
shrinking of the adult male membership SJAB (see Figure 3).
example, as shipbuilding and coal mining industries contracted sharply
Robert Colls ‘When We Lived in Communities. Working-Class Culture and Its
Critics’, in Robert Colls and Richard Rodger, eds, Cities of Ideas : Civil Society and Urban
Governance in Britain, 1800-2000 : Essays in Honour of David Reeder (Aldershot, 2004), 283–
307, 302.
TNA: PRO, SJAA OFASC, BK2/1416, Evidence Given to Robens’ Committee by St
John Ambulance.
Andrew Newell, ‘Structural Change’, in Nicholas Crafts, Ian Gazeley, and Andrew
Newell, eds, Work and Pay in Twentieth Century Britain (Oxford, 2007), 35–54, 40.
Martin Bulmer, ed., Mining and Social Change. Durham County in the Twentieth Century
(London, 1978), 240, 22.
Michael Kitson and Jonathan Michie, ‘The De-Industrial Revolution: The Rise and
Fall of UK Manufacturing, 1870-2010’, in Roderick Floud, Jane Humphries, and Paul
Johnson, eds, The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain. Vol II 1870 to the Present
(Cambridge, 2014), 310–13.
Cole-Mackintosh, A Century of Service, 102, 183, 185; Robert Colls, ‘Save Our Pits and
Communities’, Labour History Review, 60 (1995), 55–66.
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in the North East during the 1980s, many SJAB divisions closed or were
However, though the period after 1945 saw continual decline in the
numbers of male volunteers in the SJA, the overall membership reached
its highest point in the later 1950s. Whilst it declined thereafter,
membership figures were still greater in the late 1970s than at any point
previous to the Second World War (see Figure 2). This expansion was
largely because of the growth of the Cadets—the youth branch of the
SJAB, established in 1922 and consisting of boys and girls of age
between 11 and 18. In 1937, there were 14,286 Cadets compared with
70,133 adult members of the SJAB in England, Wales, and Ireland; by
1957, there were more Cadets (72,019) than adult members (60,310) (see
Figure 5).
The rise of youth leisure movements (Scouts, Guides,
Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade, Boys Brigade, etc.) was one of
the success stories of associational voluntarism in the twentieth century.
From roots in late-Victorian responses to the emerging category of
‘adolescence’, youth groups proliferated and grew.
Although supply-
side arguments are made about the provision of ‘rational-recreation’,
the success of these groups also had a demand-side component; this
may be linked, in part, to the mid-century trend observed by some
social scientists and historians for families to place more emphasis on
the happiness and fulfilment of their children, a trend assisted by
improving material conditions and decreasing family sizes.
youth groups such as SJA Cadets met the appetite for activity to amuse
and stimulate young people.
The activities offered to SJA Cadets were
similar in many respects to those they could expect in the Scouts and
Guides, as the leader of the Beverley SJA Cadets in the 1950s and 1960s
remembered: ‘You had to do twelve badges to get [the] Prior Badge; we
did camping, map reading, signalling and all things scouts did’.
important attraction for many was the institution of annual camps for
their cadets. According to one historian of SJA, although there were
Sheila Thorpe and Dorothy Rand, St John Ambulance Burnopfield 1907-2007: A
Centenary Souvenir (Burnopfield, 2007), 10; Rand, St John Ambulance Consett, 35.
Cole-Mackintosh, A Century of Service, 114.
John Springhall, Brian Fraser, Michael Hoare, Sure and Steadfast. A History of the Boys’
Brigade (London, 1983), 26–7; Tammy Proctor, Scouting for Girls: A Century of Girl Guides
and Girl Scouts (Santa Barbara, 2009), xvii–xviii; More, Britain, 232; Hilton, A Historical
Guide, 16–20.
Josephine Klein, Samples from English Cultures. Volume One (London, 1965), 291;
Ronald Fletcher, The Family and Marriage in Britain (Harmondsworth, 1966), 124–8;
Ferdynand Zweig, The Worker in an Affluent Society. Family Life and Industry (London,
1961); Elizabeth Roberts, Women and Families. An Oral History, 1940-1970 (Oxford, 1995),
Cole-Mackintosh, A Century of Service, 111.
John Whittles (Pseudonym), Interview with the Author, 27 April 2010.
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camps in the interwar period, ‘since the end of the Second World War a
new spirit of adventure has been generated and camps have become
more challenging’.
In the 1950s, the National Coal Board allowed
SJAB Divisions attached to its collieries to gather every year in the
Derbyshire Miners’ Holiday Centre in Skegness. These camps were
extremely popular, with arrangements having to be made for an
additional camp in Rhyl in Spring 1954 because of the demand. In
Spring 1955, 1,909 Ambulance men, 1,492 Ambulance Cadets (boys),
243 Nurses (women), and 952 Nursing Cadets (girls) attended the
NCB East Midlands Division SJAB camps, a record number (4,596
in total).
Post-war changing gender roles also impacted on the membership
profile of VAS. SJA, with its strength in industrial areas, traditionally
had a strong male membership—many married working-class women
had little time for leisure pursuits or voluntary work, as their time was
fully taken with economic activity, caring for the family, or both.
Across the three decades after 1945, however, declining family sizes,
labour-saving domestic appliances, and changing cultural norms meant
that a wider range of leisure activities became available to working-
1910 1915 1920 1925 1930 1935 1940 1942 1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1977 1982 1985 1991
adult cadet
Figure 5
Adult and cadet membership of SJA Brigades (in 000s). Statistics taken from MOSJ:
Order of St John, Annual Reports, 1910–1990. Statistics are for England, Wales,
Ireland and Northern Ireland up until 1945, and for England, Wales and Northern
Ireland after this date.
Cole-Mackintosh, A Century of Service, 114.
TNA: PRO, NCBEMD, Correspondence and Papers, COAL 50/724, Area 6 Assistant
General Manager, SJAB Camps 1954–9.
Claire Langhamer, Women’s Leisure in England 1920-1960 (Manchester, 2000).
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class women—though this can be easily exaggerated.
Certainly, the
adult female membership of the Brigade declined more slowly than
male in the post-war decades. In 1947, Brigade membership in England,
Wales, and Northern Ireland stood at 48,978 men and 23,670 women; by
1967, membership in England and Wales (Northern Ireland was not
reported) stood at 32,347 men and 18,036 women. Frustratingly, SJA
reports after this date usually do not report membership numbers, but
it seems likely that in the 1970s the proportion of female to male
members continued to increase: in 1977, the Brigade’s Commissioner-in-
Chief expressed concern over the decline in male membership, noting
that over the past year, membership of the male Brigade ambulance
units dropped by 465, whereas membership of the female nursing units
increased by 363. In the cadet divisions, the feminization of the SJA was
more marked. From a position of approximate parity between nursing
(female) and ambulance (male) cadet numbers before the Second World
War, nursing cadet numbers exceeded ambulance cadet numbers in
1942 and soared far above them thereafter (see Figure 4). This may in
part have been due to the greater opportunities for a career in nursing
with the expansion of employment in the NHS across the post-war
The BRCS’ demographic shifts were rather different. The organiza-
tion had a large number of middle-class female volunteers in its rank-
and-file during the first half of the twentieth century, as well as upper-
class women in leadership roles. After the Second World War, women
from these classes increasingly moved into professional employment;
Helen McCarthy notes that, from the early 1950s, ‘an increasing number
of officers [in the WVS, Women’s Institutes and BRCS] were being
elected from lowlier occupational groupings, with the wives or female
relatives of farmers, market gardeners, minor public officials, small
tradesmen, railwaymen and unskilled workers seizing the reins from
the titled ladies of the shires’.
Although the BRCS’s VAD membership
was in decline from the late 1950s and 1960s, VAD membership
remained over 40,000 until 1968. As with SJA, the organization still had
more volunteers with first-aid training in the early 1970s than in the
So, while we have highlighted significant continuities in the roles of
the VAS, particularly SJA, these were organizations that were changing
Cecile Doustaly, ‘Women and Leisure in Britain: A Socio-Historical Approach to
Twentieth-Century Trends’ in Brett Bebber, ed., Leisure and Cultural Conflict in Twentieth-
Century Britain (Manchester, 2012), 181–204.
Helen McCarthy, ‘Associational Voluntarism in Interwar Britain’, in Matthew Hilton
and James McKay, eds, The Ages of Voluntarism. How We Got to the Big Society (Oxford,
2011), 47–68.
BRCMA, BRCS Council Minutes, RCB 1/3, Minutes of Statutory Meeting, 18 May
1939, 62; BRCS Annual Reports, 1958–72.
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with the times. Crucially, they were able to appeal to new groups, as
social and economic change eroded their traditional constituencies.
The Voluntary Ethos
In this final section we utilize qualitative data from VAS publications,
local history, and reminiscence literature alongside oral history
interviews with ten people who volunteered between the 1950s and
the 1980s (eight SJA members, one former BRCS member, and a
member of the Civil Defence corps) to offer insights into organizational
culture and the range of meanings individuals attributed to their
volunteering activity.
It was once a staple of empirical social science and social history that
post-war social and economic change, including affluence, the decline
of ‘traditional working-class communities’, and the advance of the
welfare state resulted in an increasingly individualistic culture in which
people were more likely to turn their backs on public service and wider
community in favour of home-centred, ‘privatised’ lifestyles.
persistence of volunteering in the UK across the later twentieth century
and into the twenty-first century suggests some caution in accepting
such narratives: statistics for volunteering as a whole show no clear
decline in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
evidence presented in this section suggests that an older, paternalistic
kind of voluntarism, as well as a voluntarism rooted in ‘traditional’-
type working-class communities and kinship networks, continued into
the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. However, the VAS evidence shows that
volunteering was not simply a matter of persistence of older ‘socially
oriented individualism’; the ‘new sort of individualism’ could also
encourage membership of voluntary organizations.
In the immediate post-war years, it is not surprising that the VAS
themselves expressed doubt about the impact of the welfare state on
society. The obvious comparison with the recent massive mobilization
of volunteer effort during the Second World War led to anxiety about
the individualistic direction of society. SJA publications often lament the
growth of a selfish, something-for-nothing culture—explicitly connected
to the new Welfare State—and position the organization as a guardian
Francois Bedarida, A Social History of England 1851-1990. (2nd edn, London, 1991),
251–2. See also, Zweig, The Worker; J. H. Goldthorpe, D. Lockwood, F. Bechhofer, J. Platt,
The Affluent Worker in the Class Structure (Cambridge, 1969); Emily Robinson, Camilla
Schofield, Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, Natalie Thomlinson, ‘Telling Stories about Post-
War Britain: Popular Individualism and the ‘‘Crisis’’ of the 1970s’, Twentieth Century
British History, 28 (2017), 268–304.
Hilton, A Historical Guide, 296.
Bedarida, A Social History, 252.
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of the voluntary ethos, seen as a self-evident good. For example, a 1950
editorial in the Review of the Order of St John asked:
Is voluntary service losing its appeal? There is undoubtedly cause to
wonder whether in these days of the ‘Welfare State’ too many
people, especially among the younger generation, prefer to be at the
receiving end of the line. There are, of course, still great
opportunities for voluntary service, and there is no limit to the
work of St. John.
Of course, the VAS were always likely to view the extension of the
Welfare State with suspicion, since their whole rationale for existence
depended on the notion that the volunteer had a part to play in the
delivery of welfare and emergency care. Furthermore, SJA and BRCS
had origins in, and were ideologically wedded to, paternalistic liberal
welfare regimes of the late nineteenth century. As a result, there were
strong conservative overtones to the organizational structure and ritual
life of the VAS. The Red Cross movement established auxiliary
emergency services to the armed forces, and, as Roger Cooter noted,
SJA was also imbued with characteristics derived from its late
nineteenth century militarist origins:
[St John Ambulance founder member John Furley] was never
happier than when playing soldiers ... [it was] hardly surprising that
the Association should have consisted (much like the Salvation
Army, founded only a year later) of ‘corps’ ‘divisions’ and ‘brigades’
... with power ascending up a hierarchic chain of command to a
central authority.
This role as complementary service to the military continued into the
post-war era; the SJA Review in 1950 claimed that ‘one of the objects of
the Brigade is to provide Reserves for medical services of the Forces of
the Crown’, and we have seen how both SJA and BRCS cooperated
closely with the Civil Defence Corps.
The VAS were also closely tied
to other hierarchical conservative national institutions—the monarchy
and the church. The Order of St John, parent organization of SJA,
remains a Royal Order of Chivalry with an overtly Christian mission.
Both VAS appointed members of the royal family as their patrons and
presidents; since the beginning of her reign, the Queen has been Patron
of the BRCS; those invested as Knights of the Order of St John were
Review of the Order of St. John, 1950, vol. 23, No. 5.
Roger Cooter ‘The Moment of the Accident: Culture, Militarism and Modernity in
Late-Victorian Britain’, in Roger Cooter and Bill Luckin, eds, Accidents in History: Injuries,
Fatalities and Social Relations (Amsterdam, 1997), 107–57, 118.
Review of the Order of St John 1950, vol. 23, No.2.
St John International, ‘The Order’, <>
accessed 12 October 2018.
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obliged to swear allegiance to ‘Her Majesty our Sovereign Head’ and to
remember that the cross of St John represented ‘the purity of life
required of Christ’s soldiers and servants’
; thus ‘citizenship was
associated with patriotism and loyalty’ as Paul Ward, following Frank
Prochaska, has argued.
In addition, the VAS’ higher echelons were
studded with members of the upper classes during the period we are
concerned with, reflecting and validating social hierarchy more broadly.
For example, in 1955, the Hampshire SJA Commissioner was Colonel
W.P.S. Curtis, O.B.E., D.L.; Countess Mountbatten of Burma was the
county president of the SJA Brigade; The Duke of Wellington was the
president of the SJA council; and Sir Maurice Hallett G.C.I.E., K.C.S.I.
was the chairman of the St. John Council;
in the same year, in the very
different county setting of Durham, local leaders of SJA included
Viscount Gort M.C. as Chairman of the Council; Lt-Col Sir Myers
Wayman, K.B.E., F.S.S., J.P. as County Commissioner; Lady Wayman as
County Superintendent; and Lady Starmer as County Vice-President.
We cannot simply deduce the beliefs and motivations of members
themselves from the structure, ritual practices, and pronouncements of
the organizations. But those who volunteered could not ignore the
conservative tone of the VAS, and many appear positively to have
embraced it. Interviews and written memories of VAS members are
often imbued with a sense of respect for social hierarchy. A history of
Gainsborough’s SJAB notes approvingly the pride of a retiring member
of SJA in 1959 who had met Lady Mountbatten three times: ‘what a
wonderful set of memories to have’.
A publication compiling SJA
members’ memories appears disproportionately weighted with stories
about encounters with royalty (e.g. ‘To Tea with the Queen’, ‘A Day
Out’, ‘The day I met the Queen’, ‘The Queen Mother’s Birthday’
‘Trooping the Colour’, and ‘Our Trip to Buckingham Palace’). SJA
support for the institutions of state was exemplified through partici-
pation in church and remembrance parades, as an interviewee who had
been a Brigade member in Hull during the 1960s recalled:
We did a parade to the cenotaph on remembrance day, from outside
the Guildhall to St. Marys or Holy Trinity ... There was always sea
cadets on these parades, army corps, RAF, cub scouts. More or less,
uniformed organizations were expected to take part ... .I enjoyed the
First Aid on the Docks, Vol. 1, No. 2 January 1965.
Paul Ward, Britishness since 1870 (London, 2004), 20.
Review of the Order of St John, 1955, Vol. 28, No. 5.
Review of the Order of St John, Vol. 28, No.1, 1955.
Susan Edlington, The History of the Gainsborough Division of the St John Ambulance
Brigade (Beckingham, 2009).
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parades ... they were part of showing the public what we were and
what we stood for ... very much a sense of pride.
In an era of social and cultural change, the VAS preserved traditional,
socially conservative values. As the state expanded its responsibility for
welfare provision, the VAS represented continuity with a strand of
‘liberal’ thought that suggested the state should be only one among a
number of service providers.
Kevin Cummings, a professional loss
adjuster who has given many years of service to the BRCS, evoked in
his discussion of the BRCS in County Durham during the later 1970s
and 1980s continuity in the liberal ideal of paternalism and social
responsibility, with the able and privileged giving time to voluntary
and charitable organizations.
I’m from the generation that was just used to having a voluntary
role, to doing voluntary work. It was just part and parcel of what
you put back in. I mean, all of my friends did something, or still do
something ... The tradition in Durham was that the manager of
Barclay’s Bank in Durham was always our treasurer. The service was
provided at no cost ... You also had at branch president level, most
were what we would now style leading people in county. Lord
Barnard here [County Durham], in Northumberland we had the then
Duchess of Northumberland, over in Cumbria there was Mrs
Strickland. On council I sat next to a Lady from Devon – these were
the types of people who were involved. This worked well because
they had the connections to make these types of things happen ... ...
It was a continuation of the end of the immediate post-war
generation ... People were more likely to wish to be involved in a
voluntary organization ... there weren’t the distractions there are
now. There were still far more people around who, whether they had
a cold or whatever, however they felt they knew that at 7 o’clock on
Wednesday they got themselves there ... it was an unconscious thing
... you just had that commitment’
But it is also likely that less deferential and more horizontal ideals of
community service, rooted in traditions of working-class mutuality in
industrial areas, informed and motivated some volunteers, particularly
in SJA. As the preamble to the organization’s 1972 publication The
Industrial First Aider claimed, the first-aid movement in Britain had
begun in industrial areas with ‘longstanding traditions of solidarity and
self-sacrifice in times of accident and emergency’.
As late as the 1960s
Margaret Simpson, Interview with the Author, 17 February 2017.
Lowe, Welfare State, 12–13; Colin Rochester, Angela Ellis Paine, Steven Howlett,
Volunteering and Society in the 21st Century (Basingstoke, 2010), 69.
Cummings, Interview with Authors, 23 February 2017.
TNA:PRO, BK 2/1416, St John Ambulance, The Industrial First Aider—A Guide (1972).
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and 1970s, SJA could draw on the kinship networks and strong sense of
place and duty within working-class neighbourhoods to supply
members. For example, Mark Hoggard was born in 1955 in
Dewsbury and grew up in an area still characterized by heavy
industry, including mining. He joined the local SJA brigade cadets in
the 1960s because his father, a lathe turner, was a member (in turn
encouraged by his brother). Thirteen members of Mark’s family were in
one unit, including himself, his father, his three brothers, wives,
children, and an uncle, as well as friends:
We used to be able to go and do fairly decent sized units just as a
family ... I was always in the same division. That bond is less now –
we don’t see as many family units as we used to ... ‘cause families
move away now, it’s like a lot of things, because the culture is, your
family in those days used to live fairly close by, but now your
families move away.
Though this kind of testimony suggests some continuity of earlier social
and cultural patterns across the three post-war decades, the VAS
evidence can also be read as supportive of those scholars who highlight
important social and cultural shifts across the same period—including a
decline in the kind of deference towards institutions, hierarchies, and
social norms which had underpinned a certain strand of VAS appeal to
Volunteering in this period and indeed, in earlier periods,
could be ‘less about groups and duty and more about personal identity
... less about altruism and more about forming an exchange
It was a long-standing practice in some workplaces to
pay a small bonus to staff who voluntarily acquired first-aid skills
through joining SJAB.
Indeed, one Hull SJA Corps officer, speculating
on causes for the decline in Ambulance Brigade membership in the
immediate aftermath of the Second World War, commented that if
employers’ payments were withdrawn the membership of some
divisions ‘would fall away rapidly’.
Furthermore, we should not
underestimate the appeal of VAS as simply something to do. They
provided structured, sociable activity which appealed to many young
people from homes with more limited means in the mid-century.
Some interviewees pointed out that it was the opportunity to learn first
aid that attracted them to SJA or BRCS above other youth groups they
Hoggard, Interview with Author, 13 June 2017.
Florence Sutcliffe-Braitwaite, Class, Politics and the Decline of Deference in England,
1968-2000 (Oxford 2018).
Rochester et al.,Volunteering, 129.
TNA:PRO, SJAA OFASC, BK2/1416, ‘First Aid Organisers Discussion Group’, 1971.
Private Collection, Minutes of Hull West St John Ambulance Division, Annual
General Meeting, 10 February 1953.
East Riding of Yorkshire Museums Service (ERYMS), Interview with Arthur Douglas.
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might have joined, again reflecting the idea that personal interest rather
than any sense of duty could underpin volunteering. John Whittles left
the Scouts for SJA Cadets as an adolescent in the late 1940s, and
recalled that, though many of their activities were similar (St John
Cadets earned badges for camping, map reading, and other activities),
it was the medical aspect that particularly appealed: ‘I liked studying
the human body. I liked the bandaging ... I was always interested in
medical things’.
Similarly, Christine Healey joined a SJA cadet
nursing division in Hastings in 1971, after becoming fascinated with
first aid in the Girl Guides.
Kevin Cumming’s childhood interest in
first aid led to him joining Houghton Le Spring (County Durham) SJAB
Division as an adolescent in 1969, and then to a long connection with
the BRCS from the later 1970s. Regular, structured activity was also
attractive to many adults. Declining fertility rates (and hence a decline
in the proportion of the life-cycle spent child rearing) and shorter
working weeks opened up free time for leisure for many in the post-
war period.
This was reflected in the kinds of appeal that groups
might make for volunteers, which, as Matthew Grant has noted in
relation to post-war Civil Defence Corps recruitment material, often
placed an emphasis on leisure and sociability rather than duty.
Indeed, one SJA member recalled that a division she joined in the 1970s
was effectively ‘a social club’.
Figure 4 shows the rise of girls’ (age:
11–18 years) involvement in SJA during the post-war period. It appears
that the chance to acquire, and to exercise, first-aid expertise could be
valuable to this group, since learning first aid as a member of a VAS
could be a step towards a career in the NHS. Between 1938 and 1976,
employment in health services grew by 142 per cent, and by the early
1970s, the NHS employed 300,000 nurses.
The BRCS and SJA were
asked to run pre-nursing training courses, paid for by Local Education
Authorities in the early years of the NHS, to encourage young people
into nursing.
So, the conservative tone of the VAS in the post-war decades was
fitting for their role as representatives of Britain’s liberal tradition of
voluntary engagement in welfare provision. The political dimensions to
Whittles (Pseudonym), Interview with Author, 27 April 2010.
Christine Healey (Pseudonym), Interview with author, 23 May 2017.
Bedarida, A Social History, 253–73.
Matthew Grant, ‘‘‘Civil Defence Gives Meaning to Your Leisure’’: Citizenship,
Participation, and Cultural Change in Cold War Recruitment Propaganda, 1949-54’,
Twentieth Century British History, 22 (2011), 52–78.
Healey (Pseudonym), Interview with Author, 23 May 2017.
Lowe, Welfare State, 191–3.
BRCMA, Branch Circulars 1947, W. J. Philips, Secretary, to County Directors and
Youth A.C.D.s, ‘Pre Nursing Courses’, 27 September 1948.
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this are complex, however—as Sutcliffe-Braithwaite has pointed out, an
antagonism to the Welfare State could be rooted in a strain of left-wing,
working-class self-reliance as well as in more right-wing anti-statism.
At the same time, many members had their personal reasons for
volunteering—cadet groups offered some excitement and adventure for
the young; for adults, the social pleasures of membership, the chance to
acquire skills, and the occasional honorarium were important, perhaps
reflecting a world in which personal choice and self-fulfilment were
increasingly emphasized over duty and community as guides for social
action. However, VAS members rarely narrated their involvement in
such groups purely in instrumental terms. Most were keen also to
accentuate the humanitarian dimension of joining a voluntary organ-
ization focused on providing first aid. The altruistic dimension gave
voluntary activity meaning for participants, as Joe Greendale, who
joined the SJA in the 1970s, recalled: ‘People used to ring up ‘‘can we
have an ambulance tomorrow?’’ and we’d say, ‘‘well, we’ll try—can’t
promise, but we’ll try’’... we just enjoyed going out and helping
To some extent, the continuity of VAS in the post-war era reminds us of
the unevenness of social change. Just because a new supposed social
democratic consensus suggested that the welfare of the individual
would now be entrusted to the state, this did not mean that older
traditions of voluntaristic self-sacrifice to a greater communal and
national good, an instinct and ideology that had recently come to the
fore in the war effort, would simply disappear. Indeed, as James Hinton
has pointed out, ‘the rapid expansion of statutory services during the
1960s and 1970s served, as in wartime, to stimulate rather than to
displace auxiliary voluntary service’.
At an ideological level,
organizations like SJA spoke of a conservatism that was deeply
ingrained. An ethos of duty, hierarchy, church, and state continued to
underpin the VAS, and many of their membership shared such
assumptions. But the VAS seem also to have offered opportunities for
leisure, learning and self-development that had broad appeal in an age
in which individuals appeared less bound by traditions of deference,
service, and community mores. VAS were able to offer solutions to
evolving needs and desires—we have highlighted here the increased
Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, Class, Politics, 65.
Joe Greendale (Pseudonym), Interview with Author, 13 February 2017.
Hinton, Women, Social Leadership, 236.
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demand for first-aid training in the workplace, the need for first-aid
cover in a more leisure-oriented society, and a huge growth in SJA
Cadet membership across the mid-century. Nonetheless, the VAS’
training of individuals in the skills of first aid has an existential
dimension that can be seen to transcend political and social consider-
ations. As BRCS volunteer Kevin Cummings pointed out: ‘In a first aid
situation, you don’t know when it’s going to happen ... can I do
something or can I not?’
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Lack of laboratory staff was an important obstacle in scaling up covid-19 testing. Jordan Skittrall and colleagues consider how we can be better prepared in future.
Expectations about the contribution that volunteering can make are at a new high. This book aims to meet this interest by bringing together in one volume what is known about the phenomenon of volunteering; the principles and practice of involving volunteers, and the enduring challenges for volunteering in today's world. © Colin Rochester, Angela Ellis Paine and Steven Howlett 2010. All rights reserved.
For most of human history, the care of the wounded in war or the sick and injured in the community was not of great concern to generals or those in civil authority. Exceptions existed, but these did not lead to a general movement towards the provision of ambulance services on the battlefield or the street. Then in 1792, a surgeon in the Napoleonic army designed the first threefold system of good military ambulance practice, treating the wounded in situ, speedily transporting them from the place of conflict and providing a safe facility for aftercare. In 1866, a doctor in New York organised the first civil ambulance service which was summoned by telegraph, thereby completing the four features upon which modern ambulance services are based: dedicated teams, standby vehicles, reception hospitals and electronic communication. After slow and uncertain beginnings, ambulances began to save increasing numbers of lives using ingenuity and technological innovation.
In the early cold war, the British government founded a voluntary civil defence service designed to protect the nation and the population from the effects of enemy attack in the event of war. Although civil defence was a site of massive voluntary effort-around 500,000 people joined-it was also considered a 'failure'. This article examines the propaganda utilized to recruit these volunteers in the 'atomic age', and argues that the messages used reveal a range of concerns about the conflict, patriotism, and voluntarism in the early post-war years that existed in tension. In particular, it analyses the tensions between duty and service on the one hand, and leisure on the other, symptomatic of the wider debates surrounding citizenship and participation in the period. It also explains the importance of the Second World War and the gendered perceptions of civil defence in attempting to mobilize potential recruits. The article concludes that civil defence propaganda succeeded in mobilizing significant levels of participation, but was perceived as a failure due to an understanding of patriotic citizenship rooted in the cultural context of the Second World War. In a period of cultural change, propaganda began to emphasize leisure as well as duty, but struggled to reconcile the two messages in a way capable of convincing recruits in large enough numbers. © The Author [2010]. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
1. The Context. 2. Homes and Houses. 3. Growing Up -- Relationships with Parents: Getting a Job. 4. The Opposite Sex. 5. Family Planning and Role Relationships in Marriage. 6. Marriage -- For Better? For Worse?. 7. Married Womena s Paid Employment. 8. Changing Attitudes to Child Care. 9. Attitudes to Social Conditioning and Education. 10. The Extended Family. 11. Neighbours and Neighbourhoods. 12. Conclusion.
  • Dorothy A For Example
  • Rand
  • St Members
  • John
For example, Dorothy A. Rand and Members, St John Ambulance Consett 1909-2009. A Centenary Souvenir (Consett, 2009);
The Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Venerable Order of the Hospital of
MOSJ, The Grand Priory in the British Realm of the Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (BROSJ), 'Report of the Chapter General for the Year 1937';
The Official Record of the Humanitarian Services of the War Organisation of the British Red Cross Society and Order of
  • P G Cambray
  • G G B Briggs
  • Red Cross
  • St John
P. G. Cambray and G. G. B. Briggs, Red Cross and St John: The Official Record of the Humanitarian Services of the War Organisation of the British Red Cross Society and Order of St John of Jerusalem, 1939-1947 (London, 1949), 684.
Durham County in the Twentieth Century
  • Martin Bulmer
Martin Bulmer, ed., Mining and Social Change. Durham County in the Twentieth Century (London, 1978), 240, 22.