Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: August 25, 2018
Webpage updated: September 01, 2018




In 1877 the British Order of Saint John set up the Saint John Ambulance Association to provide this training in First Aid.  In 1887 this was taken a stage further by organising the volunteers into a uniformed Saint John Ambulance Brigade to provide First Aid and an ambulance service at public events.  The famous black and white uniform thus came into being.

On November 4th 1910, at the request of some of the young men attending the George Street Baptist Chapel, particularly a Mr R Charles Jean, one of the congregation, Mr Hugh Hedley Vicars Miller, began First Aid classes in the Sunday School building.  He was "raw" and inexperienced at the time but had a great deal of help from Doctor T G Vawdrey. 

Hedley, along with his brothers, Wilfred Spurgeon Lucas Miller and Walter Wingate Miller, had the idea of setting up the George Street Ambulance Corps.  They used some rooms at the Chapel as their headquarters, where members waited to be called out to accidents or to transport a patient, and basic First Aid could be given to members of the public.  The Corps adopted the motto 'Prepared to Help'.  The average age of the officers and and members was just 16 years.

They started with a simple stretcher given to them by Hedley's mother (it had cost two shillings to purchase) but were presented with a two-wheeled canvas covered handcart in 1913.   This was donated by the Chapel congregation.  It proved very useful and patients were transported all over Plymouth, and beyond.  Indeed, it is reported that on one occasion it was taken by ship to Ireland in order to transfer a dying lady to her home.

Devonport was not left out and the Devonport Borough Council minutes for January 20th 1910 record that Councillor Roberts had requested that a wheeled ambulance be provided at Ford.  The Chief Constable of Devonport had supplied such a vehicle and it was kept at the Corporation Store, Ford.

Likewise, East Stonehouse must have had an early form of emergency carriage because in January 1917 it was going to be purchased by Plymouth Borough Council.

Plymouth's first motor ambulance was built locally by Messrs W Mumford Limited and was presented to the Corps by the Mayor of Plymouth, Mr J P Brown JP, at a special ceremony on Wednesday March 6th 1918.  Heavy rain prevented the ceremony from taking place in Guildhall Square and it took place inside the Guildhall instead.   The ambulance was dedicated by the Reverend F J Miles, DSO, the Senior Chaplain of the Australian Imperial Forces.  At that time the President of the Ambulance Corps, which had 80 male members, was  Mr W S Knight, a partner in the firm of Messrs Butt, Vosper and Knight Limited.  The ambulance plus its equipment had cost 605 10s and Mr Miller, the Corps' Superintendent, announced that at least 70,000 people had contributed towards the cost. 

A second motor ambulance was presented by the Mayor of Plymouth to the Corps in another ceremony on Saturday December 7th 1918, when a new Ambulance Station at number 28 Tavistock Road was also officially opened.

On May 17th 1920 nearly thirty members of the Corps, under Superintendent Miller, attended a large fire at the Admiralty's Naval Store in North Yard.

The Corps held its first "Flag Day" on Saturday May 29th 1920.  In spite of calls to attend Bere Ferrers, Millbrook and Saltash, the Corps raised at least 400, with the Saint Andrew's and Vintry Depot raising nearly 90.  The "Flag Day" was organised by Mrs Thorne and Mrs Andrews in Plymouth and Miss Friend at Devonport, with collections being made as far out as Crownhill and Saltash.  90-years-old Mr Courtenay spent from 8am until evening collecting and Messrs Lucitt and A  Stephens perambulated the principal streets with a hand ambulance with a mock patient.  Superintendent Miller, Second Officer Pengelly and the Corps' Treasurer, Mr W Thompson, were in charge at Ambulance headquarters, assisted by Mrs Ford, Mr A Davey, Mr Dodd, Mr F Mardon, Mr Ponsford, and Mr Willdern.

Although it was known officially as the George Street Ambulance Corps, it also seems to have been known by other titles.  In August 1920 it was the Plymouth Ambulance Corps and Torpoint Nursing Association, of which Mr Miller was now Divisional Officer, which held a "Flag Day" in Torpoint; and in January 1921 the Royal Marine Band held a concert in aid of the 'Three Towns' Ambulance Association (George Street Ambulance Corps)'.  Photographic evidence, though, shows that the motor ambulances were marked "Plymouth and District Ambulance Service".