Ron Davis’ cadet uniform gave him a sense of bravery. It also gave him a duty. On a summer day, he walked home in uniform. A Flying Bomb spoilt the peace, its force destroying nearby homes. Childhood curiosity almost overtook Ron, until his uniform reminded him that duty must come first.
How did you become involved?
“I joined the St. John cadets at the age of 11 in September 1942 during World War Two. Cadet divisions were starting up all over London as it was the ‘in’ thing in those days to belong to a uniform organisation.
Any special memories?
“One particular incident stands out in my mind.
It was during the time of the flying bombs, the V-1s as they called it. And we’d finished a duty, we were in uniform and we were walking home. And the air raid warning went. Well you got rather blasé about flying bombs. Unless the engine cut out overhead, you didn’t worry too much. So we just carried on walking.
We heard one coming towards us and all of a sudden, to our horror, the engine cut out more or less overhead. Peter ran to one side of the road and lay flat by a wall and I went to the other. There was then a deadly silence…
…followed by a terrific explosion a few streets away.”
What did you do?
“Now don’t ask me why. Instead of going home to our mums which we should have done, we just ran towards [the explosion] in our uniforms, our St. John uniforms.
On the way we passed people with blood coming from various parts of their body.
Peter and I felt very proud standing there in our St. John uniform, which in those days was a grey V-shape shirt, grey trousers with a tie, haversack and a black beret.
Eventually the rescue services came so we made our way home and [passed] all these poor people that were covered in blood and were being treated.
I often think back; how we just ran past those poor people and didn’t render first aid. We just went to the seat of the explosion.
Listen to Ron’s story
In 1942, St. John Ambulance decided to rename its girls’ and boys’ cadet divisions. While girl divisions adopted the title of ‘Nursing Cadets’, boy divisions became known as ‘Ambulance Cadets’. The uniforms followed the same colour scheme of black, grey and white. Nursing and ambulance cadets both wore the black Balmoral beret. Differences did distinguish the ambulance cadet uniform from that of nursing cadets. Ambulance cadets wore a V-neck vest, trousers and a tie. Nursing cadets wore knee-length dresses, starched ‘frillies’ and collars, and frequently a veil. Find out more about St John Ambulance Cadets.
The spate of V1 rockets in 1944, also known as Doodlebugs, came twelve days after D-Day and tempered festive moods on the Home Front. Hitler deployed these new weapons with hopes of maximum British civilian losses with minimum German casualties. Although shaped like a small plane, the Doodlebug was actually a warhead of 1,000 kg high explosives that needed no pilot. Find out more about the Bombing of UK Cities.
As in the 1940 Blitz, London again bore the brunt of V1 attacks. Londoners grew accustomed to the buzz that warned of an attack: a low rumble, a squeak and then silence as the engine cut out, followed by a huge explosion. The 10-second silent fall to earth is described as terrifying by most people, who simply hoped that their name ‘was not on it.’ 2,419 V1’s fell on London area between mid-June 1944 and late March 1945, killing 6,184 civilians.