As millions of people across the UK prepare to mark Armistice Day, St John Ambulance Cymru is remembering all those whose dedicated service on the battlefields of Europe led to the formation of Wales’ leading first aid charity.
On August 4, 1914 over 800 St John Ambulance men and women were in training camp near Aberystwyth. They were quickly mobilised to fill vacancies left in hospitals by medics who had departed for the Front Line. Many more were deployed to serve on hospital ships and trains.
The 130th (St John) Field Ambulance Unit was made up of St John Ambulance-trained men recruited from coalfields across south Wales. It was the only WWI unit allowed to call itself St John, and to wear the St John insignia as part of the uniform.
The men served at some of the most important battles of the First World War including the Battle of Mametz Wood in July 1916 and Pilckem Ridge during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917.
Between them the men of the 130th unit won 25 military medals for gallantry, two Distinguished Conduct Medals, two Croix de Guerres and three Military Crosses.
Tragically, 11 of them were killed or died from wounds sustained in battle.
St John Ambulance Cymru was founded in 1918 after volunteers, who were recruited into the Division, returned from France where they’d helped treat soldiers on the battlefields. It was the hard work and dedication of those volunteers, at home and overseas, that earned Wales its very own St John Priory, based in Cardiff.
After the war, St John Ambulance Cymru volunteers continued to provide first aid treatment, including taking care of the war wounded and assisting with the rehabilitation of returning volunteers.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross formed the ‘Joint War Organisation.’ It provided vital support to the Armed Forces Medical Services, and St John youth members were drafted in to care for part of the nation’s medical and welfare needs.
Throughout the Second World War, the global response by St John Ambulance took in the care of prisoners of war, displaced persons, the wounded and missing, ambulance transport and, of course, the training and provision of medical volunteers. St John Ambulance Cymru also stepped in to help on the home front, saving innumerable lives.
The Prior for Wales, Sir Paul Williams, OBE KStJ, DL said:
“We wish to pay our respects to all those, past and present, who have served in armed conflict throughout our history. We acknowledge those who have died and those whose lives were changed by their experiences.
We especially give thanks for the 130th (St John) Field Ambulance Unit whose dedication and service during WWI helped establish St John Ambulance Cymru. We remember them with respect and gratitude, their selfless dedication continues to inspire us in our mission to provide first aid for everyone, anytime, anywhere.”