Today’s object is a rather fine certificate issued during the Second World War by the St John Ambulance for completing a course of instruction on Air Raid Precautions:
The St John Ambulance had been founded in 1877 to offer volunteers first aid training and by World War II was an important addition to ARP and health services up and down the country.
Harry Down recalls being in the St John Ambulance:
My name is Harry Down. I was born and bred in Wrexham in 1921.
In 1932, I joined the St John Ambulance Brigade. Being only 11, I joined as a cadet. Of course, by the time the war came, I was old enough to transfer from the cadets to the adult division at the age of 17/18.
In the early part of the war years, we were trained in air-raid precautions, which latterly were called civil defence. When I left Grove Park School, my first job was at Wrexham Gas, Coke and Light company. In those days they made gas from coal, and Wrexham being surrounded by coal mines, they used to bring the coal into the gas works, first of all in the early days by horse and cart, and then by lorries, which couldn’t carry very much, and they used to do regular journeys backwards and forwards, from the coal mines to the gas works, to deliver the coal, so that it could be turned into gas.
As a young boy, and being in the St John Ambulance. I was involved in first aid in the works. During the early part of the war, the gas company, in liaison with the authorities, had a squad of main layers, who were on standby to be called out in case bombs were dropped and gas mains were damaged and had to be cut off. The main layers used to do a routine of so many nights available, and so many nights off. On the other nights, when they weren’t working, a lot of them, including myself, were involved in the Home Guard, because the Home Guard used to do patrols around the borders of the gas works, in case any of the foreign people got in and caused damage- sabotage, in other words.
So my early war years were involved in the Home Guard, then I was on the squad with the Main layers, and I was also involved in the Civil Defence and ARP with the St John Ambulance Brigade. And just bear in mind that I was doing all this and I was only a young lad at the time.
Sydney Herrington, another member of St John, recalls one amusing incident from his time with the Ambulance:
I was a member of the St John Ambulance Brigade and one of our number was so proud of the copy of the badge he had painted on his tin helmet. Caught in a raid, he and his colleagues dived under the ambulance for protection. A bomb bursting nearby threw up a deadly shower of debris, effectively sand blasting his brand new badge clean off his helmet.