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St. John Ambulance

Related subjects: Community organisations

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St John Ambulance vehicle in a London street.

St. John Ambulance is a common name used by a number of affiliated organisations in different countries dedicated to the teaching and practice of medical first aid and the provision of ambulance services, all of which derive their origins from the St John Ambulance in England and Wales founded in 1877. Each national group falls within the charge of a Priory of the Venerable Order of Saint John in which each Priory ranks alongside the others.

In several priories St. John Ambulance has commercial sections or subsidiaries operating to generate surplus for charitable activities, these are structured much like other commercial bodies. The membership aspect of St. John Ambulance is largely ranked, and members fall into a hierarchical structure of command. St. John Ambulance ranks run from Corporals, through Sergeants and Officers all the way up to high national ranks. Ranks vary between Priories, however, and it is hard to generalise the structure too much from an international perspective.

Most members of St. John Ambulance are not themselves members of the Order and vice versa, so a major presence of the Order does not dictate a major presence of St. John Ambulance. Most notably, the Order of St. John is a Christian organisation, whereas St. John Ambulance is keen to ensure there is no allegiance to any particular religion or denomination, so as to remain available to all. St. John Ambulance works on a more geographical nature than the Order, and has to contend with the differing national laws, medical practices and cultures of countries.

National and regional

The legal status of each organisation varies by country, in both England and Wales the resident St. John Ambulance organisations are simultaneously but separately registered as charities and companies; differently, St. John Ambulance South Africa (for the sake of example) is a distinct entity registered as a Public Benefit Organisation.

Due to the significant differences between St. John Ambulance in different countries, separate articles are provided for each independent presence:

  • St John Ambulance Australia
  • St. John Ambulance in Canada
  • St. John Ambulance in England and Wales
  • St. John Ambulance in Hong Kong
  • St. John Ambulance in India
  • St. John Ambulance Brigade of Ireland
  • St. John Ambulance of Malaysia
  • St John New Zealand
  • St. John Ambulance in Singapore
  • St. John Ambulance in Sri Lanka
  • St. John Ambulance in Germany

Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem

Another foundation the Order of St. John maintains is the Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem, which provides comprehensive patient care and nursing treatment to sufferers from eye disease in the Jerusalem region.

Name and motto

The unusual name of the organisation has been known to cause confusion to members of the public, and many people often assume that the "St. John" prefix indicates a church related organisation. In fact, in its modern form, the prefix refers to the Order of St. John (which in fact is a religious organisation) and is used as an adjective. However, it is often assumed to be used as a noun, and this leads to the organisation being frequently incorrectly termed "St. John's Ambulance", a long standing source of irritation to some members. This is further perpetuated since members on duty are often referred to collectively as "St. John's". In terms of the Order, the original allegiance was to John the Baptist; this allegiance is not however inherited by St. John Ambulance.

The order's mottoes are Pro fide (For the faith) and Pro utilitate hominum (For the service of mankind). The 'Priory of England and the Islands' has recently replaced the Latin mottoes with a single English sentence: "For the faith and in the service of humanity", which some see as a controversial move. However in December 2006 it was agreed by Priory Council that this move should be partially reversed and the Latin mottoes were reintroduced in the Cadet Code of Chivalry (Cadets are members of St. John aged 10-18).

Structure of the Order

The order is not to be confused with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta or other members of the Alliance of the Orders of St. John. There are also " copycat" organisations using the St. John name which are not generally recognised by members of the Alliance of Orders of St. John.


Falling under the direction of the Order of St. John, St. John Ambulance mirrors the structure of the Order. The Order is divided internationally into Priories, reflecting the monastic history of the original Knights Hospitaller. However, these modern priories are not monastic in nature and are used purely as terminology within the organisation. Eight priories are prescribed by the Order of St. John Regulations:

  • The Priory of England and the Islands
  • The Priory of Scotland
  • The Priory in Australia
  • The Priory of Canada
  • The Priory in New Zealand
  • The Priory for South Africa
  • The Priory in the United States of America
  • The Priory for Wales

The Priory of England and the Islands is the home priory of the Order, and any country which does not belong to its own dedicated priory is assumed into this home priory. Most of these are small Commonwealth islands, or countries in which there is only a minor presence.

That said, the relationship between the Order of St. John and St. John Ambulance is not directly paralleled. This explains somewhat why a breakdown into Priories may not be tantamount to a breakdown of St. John Ambulance.

Key dates

  • 1511: The young King Henry VIII was named protector of the Order .
  • 1540: The English branch of the Order of St. John, the Knights Hospitallers, property is confiscated by Henry VIII.
  • 1826: An idea to re-establish the Order within England is put forward by some remaining French Knights of the original worldwide Order.
  • 1841: The "St. John's Day Declaration" is prepared, seeking official recognition of the new English Order by the original Order, now known as SMOM.
  • 10 July 1877: St. John Ambulance Association formed to teach first-aid in large railway centres and mining districts.
  • June 1887: St. John Ambulance Brigade is formed as an uniformed organisation to provide a First Aid and Ambulance services at public events.
  • 14 May 1888: English Order of St. John is granted royal charter by Queen Victoria.
  • 1908: By mutual agreement with St. Andrew's Ambulance Association, St John Ambulance Association ceased operating in Scotland but the Order continued to operate.
  • 1999 The Order of St John celebrated its 900th anniversary worldwide
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