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Caring on the Home Front - Volunteer memories from World War Two


Stories » About St. John Ambulance and the British Red Cross

About St. John Ambulance and the British Red Cross


The history

The Order of St. John traces its traditions to the original Knights Hospitaller, founded before the First Crusade of 1099 by a group of monastic brothers in Jerusalem. Henry VIII suppressed the English branch in 1540. A 19th century attempt at revival resulted in a new British Royal Order of Chivalry, founders of St. John Ambulances in 1877 with a mission to train the public in first aid and provide a regular voluntary ambulance service.

The British Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, inspired by Henry Dunant. The British National Aid Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War was formed in 1870 and gave aid and relief in wars throughout the late nineteenth century under the protection of the Red Cross emblem. The organisation became the British Red Cross Society in 1905 and received a Royal Charter in 1908.

The present

Since its formation in 1877  St. John Ambulance has been providing relief of sickness and the protection and preservation of public health through first aid, transport and care. Its mission is to provide first aid and medical support services; caring services in support of community needs; and education, training and personal development to young people. It is now England’s leading provider of first aid training and first aid provision at public events. There are currently 44,000 St. John Ambulance volunteers, half of whom are under the age of 25 years.

Visit the St. John Ambulance website for more information.

As part of the largest humanitarian organisation in the world, the British Red Cross helps provide immediate assistance in conflicts and in natural disasters. In the UK it responds to emergencies such as fires and floods, provides first aid training and first aid teams at public events, and helps vulnerable people at home or in hospital. It also gives practical and emotional assistance to vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, as well as restoring family links of those separated by war or disaster.

Visit the British Red Cross website for more information.

The Joint War Organisation

The Order of St. John and the British Red Cross Society first came together in the 1914-1918 War, to provide help to the Armed Forces Medical Services. Their work ranged from setting up temporary hospitals to answering enquiries about prisoners of war. Members also joined Voluntary Aid Detachments as nurses.

The two organisations maintained a Joint Committee after the War, and when the Second World War  broke out in 1939 they formed the Joint War Organisation.

Members of the British Red Cross and St. John Ambulance met a very significant part of the nation’s medical and welfare needs on the Home Front during the Second World War. They joined Voluntary Aid Detachments, ran auxiliary hospitals and convalescent homes, served as welfare officers, delivered emergency aid during the Blitz, packed Prisoner of War parcels and gave Air Raid Precautions (ARP) and first aid training on the Home Front.

The website

The Joint War Organisation relied entirely on dedicated volunteers. Their contribution is a neglected area of the history of the war and both young people and adults may know little about it.

This website will help people understand the role of the two organisations and give the wartime volunteers recognition for their contribution. The memories of some of those members, together with images from both organisations’ museums, show the range of activities and the sheer scale of the Joint War Organisation’s work. They also give us an idea of people’s everyday lives and what they had to endure.

As well as providing a unique insight for casual visitors into life on the Home Front, the website is a fantastic resource for teachers of 7-14 year olds. The integrated Teachers’ Centre offers project ideas and classroom resources to support history and citizenship teaching.

The project

The Caring on the Home Front Project sees two great modern charities joining together to celebrate and commemorate their wartime volunteers. It is about remembering ordinary people whose tireless dedication was indispensable to the success of the war effort.

The project has been centred round the collection of oral history interviews with these caring heroes. We have developed this website, a commemorative book and four display panels. If you would like to borrow the display panels or find out more about it contact us.

We have not been able to use everyone’s memories. A few stories have to represent the thousands who have not been recorded. Our focus has been the Home Front, but we also remember those members who worked all round the world in the relief of human suffering, and not least, those who lost their lives. We also remember our veteran members who survived the war, but are no longer with us.

Remember, too, that St. John Ambulance and the British Red Cross still need volunteers today, to help with their work in the relief of suffering.