St John volunteers in 1947 — despite the antiquity of this photo, the order had been in existence over 900 years at the time

A history of service

by Andy Bryenton

It’s a strange but true fact that the modern ambulance service, which operates in 21st-century New Zealand, can trace its roots back to the Middle East in the year 1070. Just four years after the founding of modern England, monks and knights in Jerusalem established a hospital, a revolutionary idea at the time.

Using the best healing arts from both the east and the west, this organisation grew to encompass the defense of pilgrims and was eventually relocated to the island of Malta, where the Knights Hospitaller or the Knights of St John as they were known established a medical school and healing centre that was to stand until the Napoleonic wars. The transition to a modern order came in 1888, with a decree by Queen Victoria recognising the ongoing charitable work of the ‘Knights of Malta’ in Britain.

It was, in fact, a few years before this date that St John came to New Zealand, and from 1885 onward emergency first response and medical transport have been the most well-known focus of the organisation here.

Today, up to 90 per cent of the population relies on St John for ambulance services. Additionally, this largely volunteer-run order helps out in other ways throughout the community, including educating kids about first aid, helping out with large scale outdoor events, concerts and parades, calling elderly folk to prevent isolation and loneliness, and running health shuttles to get patients to their appointments on time. Few organisations have such a depth of history committed to service. That long-standing focus on health and wellbeing is still very much the cornerstone of St John’s mission today.

For this fact, and for the ongoing commitment of those volunteers who make such good works possible, we can not be anything less than thankful.