A most enjoyable afternoon was held at the Selwyn Library on 1st October 2017 when representatives from AFS and St John brought artefacts used to ferry the sick and injured in the past.
Nina Crawford Spoke about the American Field Service organisation. This started in WWI when American soldiers, some in their teens, wanted to help, and the volunteers continued during WWII in Burma, India, Egypt, etc. In 1947 Stephen Velatti, a volunteer, wanted to see more arise from the War service and called a meeting of ‘tinkers and drinkers’. To form a legacy for the future they set up the student exchange programme which is now 70 years old. The programme started with US hosting students from nine different countries, NZ being one of these right at the start.
At the 50th anniversary of AFS it was decided to restore an ambulance as an icon, and in 1995 a 1917 truck was restored as a replica of an ambulance. This was launched in 1997 in Invercargill and driven/shipped right up to Kaitaia.
Four young German people arranged for the ambulance to be shipped to Hamburg for the German celebrations – they worked for the Ford Motor Company who sponsored it and donated the scholarship for NZ students. The ambulance has travelled up and down NZ for the past many years. The person driving the vehicle needs special skills as there is no gear lever but plenty of pedals!
AFS is the oldest and largest exchange company in the world.
Guy Marks then spoke about the Order of St John which can be traced back to 1099. Gerard the Blessed started a hospice to help the needy, sick and injured. In 1880’s St John in the United Kingdom was almost lost, but the French Order of St John encouraged people to continue. The main purpose is to teach first aid. In 1885 St John doctors arrived in NZ to teach first aid, and those who learnt it formed groups that became the St John Ambulance Brigade. In 1920 St John started to get involved with ambulances and by 1932 had taken over responsibility for ambulances in Auckland.
Peter, a retired ambulance driver, described what it is like to drive an ambulance. In the early days, the vehicles were Austin Elans and had to be crank-started and there were no front brakes. The next make used was Buick, and a number of different makes have been used through the ages (Daimler, Dodges, Chev Sierro – 170km/hr easily up the Bombays!, DAF Leyland – the worst vehicles to drive, Mercedes Benz, Rolls Royce). The tyres gradually improved to give a more comfortable ride until finally air tyres were used. During the War mudguards were painted white so that they could be seen at night. Frames and panels were aluminium to keep the weight down. Women drivers started in 1982. The new yellow/black colour scheme was introduced in 2015. Ambulances cover 100,000 km in the city before going to rural areas for a further 4-500,000 km, and then they are decommissioned.
The Ashford Litter was so called as it was produced by a doctor from Ashford in Kent in 1906. It cost 2s/6d for each ‘ride’ carrying people up to Auckland Hospital.