Westergate-based Brian’s volume, which has come out through Woodfield Publications, is entitled Handcart to Hanlon – West Sussex Ambulance Services 1885-1995, featuring 170 images to help tell the story.
The dates in the title are key.
1995 was the year the East and West Sussex ambulance were merged to form the Sussex ambulance service; 1885 was when the St John Ambulance Association was formed, forerunner – as Brian says – of the country’s ambulance services.
“One of the first was at Bognor,” Brian says, “but across Sussex, it varied from about 1895 when the St John Ambulance Brigade started, right through to the late 1920s, when it reached right across West Sussex.
“And it was not just St John either. Other people used to run the ambulance services as well. There was a bloke at Pulborough that ran the ambulances. In Worthing, the police ran the ambulance service, and the same in Horsham. They owned it, and the ambulances would be driven by police officers, but crewed by members of St John who had had the training.”
There was also town council involvement: “Bognor Town Council ran their own ambulance service. Most of them used St John to do it for them, though Bognor was Red Cross and so was Midhurst. It was not until the NHS came in that it became a statutory obligation for somebody, usually the county councils or a city authority, to provide an ambulance service. Some of them started up their own ambulance services and ran them directly, but certainly in this county it was all done on an agency basis. The county council hired St John Ambulance Brigade to provide the ambulance service, except at Midhurst, which was Red Cross.
“But the council had no direct control over what St John was spending. All they did was reimburse St John, and in 1963 they decided in West Sussex that they should do something about that. By 1966, the county council had a chief ambulance officer and transferred it all across as a directly-managed service.
“It was inevitable that the county council would want financial control, but at the time it was not very popular. St John was highly regarded. There was a bit of a demo at County Hall at some of the meetings. But it went ahead, and there was a big old handing-over ceremony at County Hall. After that, of course, the county council had to have its own ambulance stations. For a couple of years, most of the county council ambulances were housed in temporary accommodation until 1968 when the last ones to be built were finished.”
As for Brian’s own career, he joined the ambulance service in 1975, becoming a paramedic in 1992 and leaving the service in 2000.
“I just got interested in the history, talking with the old-timers around the old crew-room table. I got to hearing tales of derring-do and of jobs that no longer were, and I just started collecting stuff and stories. My intention was to build an archive in the hope of putting it together as a book at some time. I left the service because I had a back injury. I got over that and came back to work a couple of years later as a paramedic, working for myself. You don’t have to work for the NHS. But I am now officially retired. In 2010, my eyesight got the better of me – glaucoma. I lost my driving licence through bad eyesight, and that was the end of me working as a paramedic.
“But it gave me time to write this book.”
The book is currently available from Kim’s Bookshops in Chichester, Arundel and Worthing, or online at Amazon.