Speaking at a special event held in Glasgow on 5th March 2022 to celebrate St John Scotland’s 75th anniversary, Chair of St John Scotland, and Prior of the Order in Scotland, Eleanor Argyll, said:
As we reflect on our 75th anniversary, we naturally look back at what we have achieved since 1947, providing services which have made a real difference to individuals and to communities. A lot has changed since those early days, but Scotland’s communities still need us. St John Scotland, through the work of our dedicated volunteers, has a valuable part to play in creating a caring Scotland, where more of us will survive a health crisis to live longer, and better.
St John Scotland members and volunteers have also spent time reflecting on their experiences within the organisation, as shared throughout this project. When asked to sum up their favourite memory of their time with St John Scotland, the responses were reflective and heart-warming, and when asked to sum up their hopes for the organisation as it moves beyond its 75th anniversary, their answers were considered and thoughtful, with every one of them hoping that St John Scotland goes from strength to strength over the next 75 years. Here are some of those responses.
I’ve probably had quite a few [happy memories]. I think my most enjoyable time was when we spent four days, two years running, at the Highland Show, and everybody laughed at me in my blue wellies. I must admit it was hard work, but it was very enjoyable… Also, having the honour of being able to go to London to go to the Queen’s Birthday Parade and being able to shout to Peter Phillip and saying what a wonderful job he’d organised. I spoke to Princess Anne’s husband, because the whole family sort of split into the different groups in the Mall, and I thought, ‘Okay, we had to pay for our own tickets for that, but it was still an honour to be there, representing Scotland.'
One of the [CPR training events] we did, it was a few weeks ago now, it was a parent came along and she brought her kids, and she asked if it was okay for them to come along, they were ages maybe seven to ten years old, and we said, ‘Certainly, they can come in and they can go through the training as well.’ They were kind of shy… the mother took a try on the manikin and the defib and we got the boy to do it, and as we were going through it you could see the boy was a wee bit apprehensive, but what we did was, we turned it into a kind of game between him and his sisters to see who could compress the manikin the most, because you’ve got to compress the chest down to get the compressions in. So, the boy did his and then his sister came and did it, and you saw at the end of it that they both turned round and said how easy it was to do it. They thought it would be really hard. CPR can save somebody’s life and was a really traumatic thing, but they realised that even though they couldn’t do the compressions the same as an adult, any compressions at all can save somebody’s life. Even from a child it can save somebody’s life, so that was one of those moments you could say, ‘Well, they’ll go away and tell their friends’, so a sevenyear-old is teaching another seven-year-old first aid and CPR on a manikin. That was a good evening that, I enjoyed that one.
Everybody comes with a different reason. Some people enjoy the social aspect of it, that they meet each other and they’re doing things together. Everybody wants to be doing something for other people, they all want to impart their knowledge, they’re all very passionate about CPR. Some of that may come from knowing somebody or losing somebody, you know, ‘If I’d known I could’ve done’, or just, ‘This is something I like doing’, and there’s quite a group fall into that category. I enjoy the social aspect of it; I like bouncing in front of people and being able to talk to people and talking to strangers and being able to feel that I’ve given them a skill that might just make a difference. I very much feel that the CPR Lead role is empowerment, be that to your learners or the volunteers that you’re bringing with you.
As a journalist I moved around Scotland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and in London so I’ve been involved in St John in Glasgow principally in my early life in Aberdeen, to begin and conclude, and so working with the Area Committee was always interesting and then in 1999 there came a call would I serve on Chapter additionally and that was both an honour and an onerous task and not one anyone would wish to shirk. You meet some very interesting people, and you get another glimpse of life. I’m old enough now to think back to 1967, my first ever St John Festival, and know that in those days it was top drawer, it was old family, it was slightly stuffy, but the Order has itself modernised. It hasn’t had modernisation thrust upon it, you’ve only to look at today's office staff who run the executive side to realise who we are, a very modern 21st century organisation with a substantial balance sheet and you compare it to on the chivalric side and you see the welcome new blood that comes in. This is not to knock old family in the slightest. Our new Prior, Eleanor, Duchess of Argyll, is a delightful addition, we make her most welcome, and she is the Head of the Order, and she will sit and chair board meetings now, she will have a lot of work on her hands, but it’s delightful to have someone like her with her own business background on board.
At our second civic reception, I decided not to make it the same way as the first one, so I brought together [eight] cardiac arrest survivors, and actually brought them together with the person who saved their life… And we presented the person that saved their life with a certificate of appreciation. But what I found really nice, was the eight men got together and they’ve now formed their own little group, because they range from about 38 on, and until you go down that road you don’t know what’s going through their mind. And good for them to be able to talk to each other. One of the survivors, Michael, wouldn’t mind me telling the story, he bought a winter jacket, and he’d been fitted with an internal defibrillator, and all of a sudden, he thought the house alarm was going off. He took his jacket off and said, ‘Oh, I don’t feel great’, so it ended up he phoned his cardiologist, and the jacket had magnetic bits at the back of the zip and it set off his internal defibrillator! So, of course, he was then telling the other seven men about it and they all went, ‘I didn’t know that!’. So there again, the education, you know, out of somebody’s near tragedy came a wonderful thing. There’s a picture we have of the eight of them all together and their eight rescuers behind them and I think that’s my favourite moment, that is my favourite moment.
I think the big Garden Party, it was a lovely day, so it was terrific. I also enjoyed visiting Toronto with Sir Malcolm [Ross] and his wife and my wife to attend the Grand Council Meeting there. Obviously, I enjoyed being Inducted into the Order as a Knight, that was in London 2012, and I got a medal for 32 years’ service as well.
My favourite memories? My wife and I attended the Queen’s Garden Party in Holyrood in 2008, that was a highlight. Another highlight was in Haddington this year, when I was invested as a Commander of the Order, which I was very, very, proud of. I remember one time we, the Chairman and I, were in Wester Ross, in a place called Inchnadamph, which is the headquarters of the Assynt Mountain Rescue Team, when Colonel Stirling presented the team with a Land Rover, and that was a memorable day. I have many happy memories of the Order, of days out and functions. I am really enjoying my time as a member of the Order. I am hugely proud of the work we do in the Highlands.
I think my favourite memories are probably about my own St John soirées at the [Ross] Priory, which were all so nice. And my Investiture as a Dame must be a favourite memory; and I can remember Dr Morrow speaking to me after that, he was the Lord Lyon at the time, he was lovely. He was such a cheery person. It was a great eventful day.
From the start of the project, in 1975, from building this purpose-built home [St John Court, Partickhill], to the handover 34 years later I just thought, ‘Very few people know why it was built, who built it, how it was run, what an example of foresight with people who didn’t want to be bothered with the Government; they got on with the job, rolled their sleeves up, built it, ran it’. And it was a lesson for these sort of projects that may never be able to be returned again, but it just shows you how. We think we’re so smart nowadays, but these were people with great foresight, they should be praised, and of course, many people don’t realise that now. They were doing it for their own satisfaction, nothing else, and it was a great project to be involved in. I was happy to ultimately chair the committee, and I’m proud to have played my part.”
There are so many [great memories], and there’s so many for different reasons. When you pull something off and you get a result, that’s fantastic, and there’s a sense of achievement . When we raised what we raised at that tombola stall ten years ago; there was a sense of achievement when we got some funds to put a couple of defibrillators in Waverley Station. There was an unbelievable sense of achievement when we got the cardiac arrest survivors together at the City Chambers and let them meet, for the very first time, the people who’d assisted them.
There are so many. I suppose seeing Nelson Mandela was probably one my key memories of being with St John and meeting the people down in London in Clerkenwell. The Honourable Bruce, Lord Elgin’s son, was being knighted at the same time I was, but the memory of seeing Nelson Mandela addressing the hall was a special memory, really amazing.
[My investiture as a member of the Order of St John], it was lovely, and it was just a super day, it really was. Everybody that was involved in organising it made me feel so at ease, so welcome. They went through everything that would be happening, and right from the very minute of getting the letter through to say that you’d been put forward for it, and would you accept, it was just a bit of a buzz and thinking ‘Oh, I’m so pleased to be able to go on and do more for years to come.’ And when I actually had my insignia pinned to my top, I was just so proud, I really was so, so, proud, and it was a really nice day; everybody was an equal, it didn’t matter who you were or what you had done or what you were planning to do, you were just a Member. You were there; it was lovely… There were a good few hundred people there, I would say possibly a couple of hundred, certainly it was a lot because I know when we do an investiture here in Inverness, I know how many people roughly attend.
Kirsty Fullerton, Gwen’s daughter, also has wonderful memories of her investiture:
It was really nice, a nice time with my folks. My Aunt came up from Newcastle and it was actually on my birthday. I was invested on my 30th birthday, so I had a round of applause when we were sitting. All the postulants [people being invested or promoted] were being told how we were being seated in the church and the order of that, and our pins added and this and that, and I got a “Happy Birthday” from everybody. It was all a bit of a blur because you had to concentrate so much on getting it right, not making a fool of yourself, and not tripping on floors and things like that in high heels, making sure you are in the right place at the right time, but I always remember the people organising it just being so calm and saying, ‘Right, here we go’, and ‘We’ll do this,’ and passing you on to the next person. And while it was exciting and quite a buzz, it was very calm as well, and just very practised and fluent and lovely. Really, really nice.
[My most vivid memories are] just, from the very first moment of being totally committed to the objectives which we have, and it’s been an absolute delight to see how they’ve expanded and developed and how they’re very much appreciated; and I’m still involved despite my ageing years… Memories, yes, I suppose seeing the Queen, albeit she didn’t speak to me when she walked through the new [palliative care] unit. Seeing the new unit up and going was a great achievement. The opening of the Mountain Rescue Service at Newton Stewart was good because they do a fantastic job… I’ve been to quite a few of the annual festivals now, and that’s certainly very much a religious thing; it’s nice meeting other people and I’ve always found them very friendly and cordial. My wife has accompanied me on a few occasions, and my daughter, in fact, came along and was suitably impressed. These have been the highlights I suppose.
My favourite memory is having the honour of representing West Lothian at Her Majesty’s Garden Party at Holyrood. I’ve done that on a couple of occasions. That’s one of the highlights of my activities with St John Scotland, although I did represent West Lothian Industry at one time. As well as the Garden Party, I also had the wonderful experience of attending the memorial service for Sir Malcolm Ross in St George’s Chapel, in Windsor, which was a daunting experience as well, having never been in Windsor Castle or in St George’s Chapel. It was very nice to represent St John there.
We’ve always had a few laughs. My local garden fête, I remember there was a couple of our people tumbled into the pond trying to catch the goldfish with the kids. We used to do the ducks in the pond and we had the ducks down the stream, and it wasn’t uncommon for the people who were running the ducks down the stream to end up in the stream! I always remember the lad who was doing the hamburger stall, he tried to have a shot at one of the ducks and he went head first into the stream, it was one of the highlights of the day! Liam Hackett was always a regular visitor at our fêtes; Liam would come along with his Irish pipes and at the end of the afternoon, he’d play the pipes and our local Order piper would come and play us some music in the afternoon.
So many, so many memories. Everything was quite nice, I have to say. Friends who are not now here. I had a friend Nancy Leask, who sadly passed away… At the launch of the ‘Getting You Home’ DVD, with Strathcarron Hospice; I organised that with the help of the NHS and Strathcarron. Strathcarron did all the acting and everything, and set up a room with a bed like a hospital room, and [the instructional video was about] caring for a terminally sick person at home. It was quite relevant, how to care for a person, how you would get them in and out of a car, in and out of bed, all that kind of thing. We had a launch in The Park Hotel, Falkirk. Anyway, there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with the NHS and Strathcarron over the time it was being made, and we went to Forth Valley Hospital on a couple of occasions and had chats there, with them giving their points of view. At the launch, we had a meal with invited people, and there were speeches and things like that, and Nancy Leask, her husband was in Strathyre and he ran Strathyre House, which was a holiday home which they had, anyway Nancy came on three buses from Callendar to get to this event. I thought a lot of her for that; it was very nice. At the launch, we flew the St John flag on the hotel’s flagpole all day. It’s people who make things special.
[With Patient Transport] it’s unfortunate that people just can’t get to [hospital]. And it doesn’t matter if they’ve got a Rolls Royce sitting up the drive, we’ll still take them, because it’s the hassle of getting there and getting back, and sometimes they wouldn’t be allowed to drive anyway. So, nothing like that comes into it. It doesn’t matter who the people are, if they need transport and we can give them it, we’ll give it. [I would] just like to say, I really appreciate being involved, and I’ve enjoyed being involved in West Galloway Branch, and I’ve enjoyed being involved with the meetings in Edinburgh. And it’s a good kind of family thing to be involved in, and just doing that little bit of a thing to help somebody that needs it.
Every organisation says, ‘You know, our profile isn’t high enough, how do we expand it, how do we get out there?’ The curious thing is every organisation does think this, but in our own case, I think perhaps we could have a higher profile. There is an old cliché we apply to ourselves here in Scotland, that we are Scotland’s best kept secret, but there are nearly twenty-five thousand registered [charities] in Scotland, of which we are just one, but I think we are in the top eight hundred. We deserve to make ourselves better known… We are embracing new technology in trying to get ourselves out there, and the dinosaurs who say, ‘Oh, I don’t have email’, well… we are getting out there slow but sure. When I mention St John, the first question people ask is, ‘Oh, what’s your website?’; in fact, youngsters don’t mention it, they simply Google it while you’re speaking to them! So, these are the factors we have to take into account. My abilities in public relations are now of the stone age; my old discipline has moved on gigantically. The same with the fact I am a born print journalist; I had my career in print at the best time. Who reads newspapers nowadays? We newspapermen are a dying breed, so don’t let St John be a dying breed. St John is adapting in modern times and using the best of the IT at its command. The only way to that is to have a staff that are ‘tech savvy’ and who can guide the present membership and the membership of the future through recruitment.
Patient Transport is a good one because it doesn’t necessarily involve specific medical responsibilities like First Responder does. It’s also needed all the time because, as I understand it, the NHS Ambulance Service is happy to rush you to hospital to get treated but they don’t want to use an ambulance to bring you home once you’re better, so someone else has to do that. And people need regular treatments, and so on and so forth. We don’t necessarily need people who are members of the Order to do this work, what we need to be is facilitators to enable them, and that’s what stage we’re at in Dunbartonshire , trying to get enough people together to say we can now put forward a local entity that is doing this and is adequately staffed and organised. That’s the objective.
My hopes are that we are better known and we get more public support, and through the public, enough members to properly discharge the objective we seek for ourselves.
Absolutely, more so probably because with society today, the calls on charity organisations are increasing rapidly. It is very difficult with the economic climate for governments to support everything. The Highland Hospice is supported by charitable efforts, and I find that very sad, that charities should have to support the Hospice, but that is the reality. So, the work of [St John Scotland] is tremendously important to this country and internationally… I would hope that we can raise the profile in such a way that we are a household name and continue to support the charities that we do support and it would be nice if we could support more. That’s our aspirations in the Highlands.
I think that what we’re doing at present to broaden the base of St John activities, by CPR and Public Access Defibrillator training, we in West Lothian have been struggling a bit, but we’ve got a few outlets that are coming to fruition. We have about seven [CPR] volunteers at the moment. We’re trying to set up… dialysis transport to St John’s [Hospital in Livingston] for the patients there, so that’s all in the offing.
[My hope is that St John Scotland] continue to evolve the way that it’s been happening, perhaps speed it up a little. But I believe, and hope, that our new Prior will have a completely new set of eyes, and will have her own ideas of how and where we should go change, and if she wishes to have change, I would totally support her. If she says, “No, we’ll have to stay as we are”, I will still support her, but I will be disappointed.
The main challenge is being recognised for who we are. As has always been said for the last few years, we are the best kept secret. St John’s is an exceptionally good secret organisation, not because they do anything secretly, but because people don’t know who we are at all, and it’s trying to get the name out there… For a long while now I’ve thought, and said at committee meetings, that we need to have information boards, so that whenever we have an event, irrespective of where it is or what it is, as people come into that event, we’ve got information of who we are, what we’ve done in the past, what we are trying to do in the future, things like that, and plenty of pictures. I really do think that is one of the big, big, things, so any event that we have, if it’s something formal or something else, whatever it is, wherever the venue, it’s something we can take with us. And [people] can have a really good browse and have a look at them, and I think that would be one really big area where we could make a big difference, because it’s not something they’ve heard and forgotten, it’s visual and it’s better, much better indeed. I’m a great believer in events as well.
Brian Gibson, lead CPR trainer, was asked if there were other services he would like to see promoted in his area
I would like to see more, predominately in schools, teaching the kids, maybe secondary schools doing more CPR and defib training. A lot of schools do have CPR and defibs in there but they don’t seem to concentrate a lot on it. The session we did the other day [in a school] was phenomenal. A lot of the questions we were getting asked were from sixth formers leaving the school, going into their adult life and career, and they can carry that forward. So, it’s something, hopefully, we’re going to promote, and talk to more local school authorities to see if we could get into schools and promote it better.
I have always been surprised at how little the Order demands in terms of feedback, payback, for the contributions it’s made [to Scottish Mountain Rescue]. Apart from vehicles carrying badges, and we’ve got our sign on the door, ‘Order of St John’, I don’t think it gets enough back. I’m not really sure why that is, it’s certainly not because of a lack of appreciation; it’s maybe just a lack of thought, actually, that we should be doing more to make sure that the Order of St John looms large, not just in our thinking, but in what we say to people, and what we put out there in terms of ourselves. I certainly am very aware, and I do a lot of talks to groups, whether they are hillwalking clubs or Probus groups or whatever, that I always make the point that the Order of St John, certainly in terms of the Aberdeen Team, has been a hugely important factor in terms of the creation and development of the team over many years. Now this is not an organisation that has come in and done a one-off contribution and then bathed in the goodwill that’s come from that; the Order is an organisation that has consistently come up with the goods for rescue teams and asked very little in return for that, and maybe that’s been a mistake, I don’t know.
I would say [to volunteers], St John could not exist without you. Everything you do, whether it’s exciting and sexy like saving somebody’s life, or whether it’s rattling a can, or whether it’s running a coffee morning or whatever, everything you do is contributing.
I hope that the Patient Transport service and the palliative care unit continue to get the support that they deserve. We are in a society where there are more and more demands for money, and more and more charities with very worthy causes. So just making sure we can keep things going. Perhaps a more direct challenge is trying to motivate youngsters to become involved. Inevitably, the Committee is perhaps… people that are getting on in life; however, I would like to think that we would maybe manage to get people whose motives are very good. What we are really wanting is young sensible people, who appreciate the objectives that we have and for them to carry on the management of that, and ensure it is preserved for the benefit of the community.
Ian Clarke, Patient Transport driver, was asked what he would say to anyone wishing to volunteer with St John Scotland.
It’s the best thing they could do. It really is the best thing they could do. They’d get a lot out of it, a lot of benefit out of it themselves, meeting people and understanding some of their problems, and feeling that you’ve done something worthwhile to help somebody; it’s a joy. So, anybody that can drive and can drive safely and properly, it’s the biggest worthwhile cause, the biggest charity that’s going, and they can help - they’ll see something at the end of it. Where, if you’re manning a table for [a charity] or something, you do it because you want to do it, but I don’t think there’s any job satisfaction out of it, whereas in St John’s, there is the satisfaction that you know you’ve helped because they couldn’t get to the hospital without it. It’s the best thing since sliced bread, as they say.
I’m very much for the education, I think the more people know [CPR is] easy, and it’s within them and their hands to save somebody’s life, you know, not just to step over somebody, then I’ll feel that I’ve achieved what I’ve always wanted to. Both Andrew’s [Smith] father and my father died of heart attacks. Andrew’s father was a cardiac arrest years and years ago, and so when we, as an area, were speaking about CPR and defibrillators, it really touched a chord with us. And, as I said, meeting the cardiac arrest survivors - their stories are unique because you don’t know what’s happened; one minute they’re out jogging, two days later they’re in hospital thinking, ‘What’s happened?’; or they’re coming off a train and have a cardiac arrest. So, you meet these people, and you know from what we’re doing, and the other charities teaching CPR as well, it is making a huge difference. And it’s just the young volunteers as well coming on board, wanting to do the same. We’ve got a young girl busking down at The Meadows; one of her grandfathers died of a cardiac arrest, so she went out busking because she wanted to put a defibrillator in the area where her grandfather died, and from that her school picked up on the project she did, so they then did a fun run in the park and raised enough to put up another two defibrillators! We’ve had quite a lot going out now in memory of somebody who has passed. So, it’s really nice when you walk by and you see it; it’s a proud moment to see a defibrillator out. We are very fortunate in Edinburgh, we’ve got quite a lot of volunteers, and they say that, when they’re passing and they see the defibrillators out, it’s like a proud moment for them, which is great. I feel I’ve done what I should have and it’s with the help of everybody else. We’re a team, a big team, which is good.
Andrew Smith, who as well as being a volunteer in Edinburgh is on the Board of St John Scotland, was asked what the challenges are for the organisation moving forward:
It’s growing, and as an organisation we need to be there to enable volunteers to do what they do. Like anything in life, if it’s difficult people will avoid it, but if you can provide them with the right volunteering opportunity, so that they can spend their precious free time to do something constructive and life-changing for many in their community, then the organisation has the responsibility to make that as easy for them as possible, providing them with support, emotional support, technology and systems that will enable them to do things easily. As our numbers grow and as projects grow, then we need to make it easy for people for the time they can give. Time is a precious commodity. Money is fantastic; time and giving people service, that’s priceless.