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St. John Ambulance

St John Ambulance
File:St John New Zealand logo.svg
St John Ambulance logo
Countries with national organisations affiliated to SJA
Abbreviation SJA
Motto Pro Fide
Pro Utilitate Hominum
(Latin for For the Faith and In the Service of Humanity)
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Purpose Medical care, humanitarian relief, youth programmes
Headquarters Priory House, 25 St John's Lane, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 4PP, England, United Kingdom
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42 national organisations[1]
Parent organisation
Order of St John
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Formerly called
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St John Ambulance, branded as St John in some territories, 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 Association founded in 1877 in the United Kingdom.[2] The active uniformed first-aiders known as the St John Ambulance Brigade were introduced in 1887.[2][3] There are now more than 500,000 such volunteers worldwide.[2]

Each national group falls within the charge of a Priory or National Council 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. Ranks run from corporals, through sergeants and officers all the way up to high national ranks, but there is significant variation between Priories 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 primarily, although not exclusively, 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, whereas St John Ambulance South Africa (for the sake of example) is a distinct entity registered as a "public benefit organisation".

The presence of St John Ambulance is different between different countries:

Johanniter International

In the aftermath of World War II, British soldiers established Saint John brigades in Germany. In cooperation with the Johanniter Orden (the Protestant German Order of Saint John), the Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe was founded in 1952. In recent years, more national Saint John societies, not directly linked to the British St. John Ambulance, have been founded in Europe, notably in Austria and Poland

At the international meeting of the governing bodies of the Orders of Saint John in the course of celebrations to mark the Order's 900th anniversary in 1999, the idea to cooperate more intensively within Europe was born. As a result, Johanniter International today links sixteen national Saint John organisations all over Europe.

Name and mottos

In the phrase "Order of St John", St is an abbreviation for Saint, and corporate and national logos began to reflect this as a change from St. (with the dot) in 2006-7.[citation needed]

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 Christian 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 Johns". 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.

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 of Jerusalem. 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.


File:St John Ambulance Edmonton Alberta Canada 01A.jpg
The St John Ambulance building in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

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. Ten priories are prescribed by the Order of St John Regulations:

  • The Priory of England and The Islands (including the Commandery of Ards in Northern Ireland)
  • The Priory of Scotland (where the Order operates but St. John Ambulance Brigade ceased to operate in 1908)
  • The Priory in Australia (Victoria, including the Commandery of Western 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 St John Kenya
  • The Priory of St John Singapore

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

  • 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 a uniformed organisation to provide a First Aid and Ambulance services at public events.
  • 14 May 1888: British 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.
  • 1974 The St John Ambulance Association and The St John Ambulance Brigade were amalgamated to form the present St John Ambulance Foundation
  • 1999: The Order of St John celebrated its 900th anniversary worldwide

St John Ambulance in popular culture

The St John logo appears on the right door of several models of TARDIS in the long-running British series Doctor Who.

See also


  1. ^ St John International website
  2. ^ a b c The Difference - newsletter from St John Ambulance, (Nov 2014) p4 "A Brief History of St John Ambulance"
  3. ^ M Durrant (1948) American Journal of Nursing 48 (12) pp763–765 "St. John Ambulance Brigade"

External links