Founded as Scotland was emerging from the Second World War, the Priory of Scotland of the Order of St John was established to help the sick and vulnerable, and provide services not yet readily available on the fledgling NHS. Whilst the Order had some big plans, it needed funding and volunteers to actualise them. It already had an eager membership, and the Order’s long and laudable reputation quickly attracted many new volunteers.

Fundraising started immediately, with members across Scotland arranging social events, flag days, sales of work, and by seeking legacies. As the decades went on, Aberdeen and Edinburgh opened gift shops, and these proved a valuable source of revenue. Monies were used to support a host of national commitments and the Hospital in Jerusalem, but time and effort were spent on discovering how each committee could cater for the sick and vulnerable in its own area. Many of these projects were small-scale, but collectively the Order continued to fulfil its aims and obligations.

As time went on, members continued to raise funds by these tried and tested means and also experimented with new and creative ideas, some of which succeeded, some others less so. That passion to raise funds for St John Scotland’s services remains vibrant and energetic. Read on to learn more about these activities.

Charity Ball at Wishaw to raise money for the Foundation Hospital, March 1947

I was introduced [to St John Scotland] by Mrs Ellen Hay, who was the Chairperson of Leven Branch, who asked me to join as they were needing help with a project in Leven… In 1976 I started working as a volunteer, providing home baking and spending time with the elderly residents in the care home in Leven. At Christmas we would give the residents a Christmas present and an extra special event with carols and homemade mince pies. We used to have coffee mornings twice a month in Ellen Hay’s home to raise money for Fife projects, as well as social evenings and sometimes coffee mornings, at Mrs Jean Bingham’s home in Newburn. [I enjoyed the] satisfaction of being able to chat with the elderly people in the care home and see their faces smiling, and to learn what a hard life it was for them when they were young. Some had husbands who worked in the local coal mines. Most of all, it brightened up their day and they looked forward to the next week’s coffee morning. I also enjoyed working with the local Leven Branch members, with some becoming good friends.

Mary Speirs Gilmour, Fife

We would do bucket collections at football grounds. We had two premier league teams, one in Dingwall and one in Inverness, who very generously allowed us to have bucket collections at their games; so, we would do these every year. Sadly, [with Covid], that’s not been possible, but we would like to do that again. We’ve had fashion shows organised by Mrs Fullerton. She took command of that and did an excellent job. One of the national department stores in Inverness allowed us to have the fashion show there and she had the local TV news reporter to come there. She did very well, and it was successful. We’ve had ‘Antiques Roadshow’ evenings where a local antiques expert would give a talk on some of his antiques and also encourage members to bring along an antique and do a valuation on it. That was very successful. We’ve had musical recitals. We’ve had one of the eye surgeons from the hospital in Inverness, who served in the Eye Hospital in Jerusalem; he worked there with his wife, and they’ve come back to Inverness; and they gave talks on their experiences in Jerusalem. We had an evening where a military colonel gave a talk on his experiences in the army… We’ve had various fundraising events. One of our members had a stall at RAF Lossiemouth on their Open Day and that was very successful. So, we try to vary our activities to raise money.

Alex Craib, Highland

In Aberdeen, Sheena MacBride recalls the St John Association raising funds by holding coffee mornings that were quite well attended, and some of the members went to the St John Hospital to ensure that the older people enjoyed a lovely Christmas Day; they looked after them and presented them with treats.

We also had a musical evening at the Bridge of Don Barracks, and we had ‘The Doctors of Swing’, who were all doctors, and they had jazz, and then we had Gardeners’ Question Time at David’s house, and we had a strawberry tea afterwards. We had carol services in Torry Church, cinema evenings; we went to see ‘The Last King of Scotland’, it was a private viewing of it. We go to the [Highland] games, and Banchory Show, and Friends of Duthie Park, and we have raffles, prizes for the kids, lucky dips for the kids.

Sheena MacBride, Aberdeen & NE

One of the things, when I was most active, was that I spoke to Valerie Dunbar’s husband, Pete, about having a Scottish Concert Night, because obviously, the Fiddlers’ Rally had run out of steam; so he agreed to organise the Scottish Concert, this was in 1995. It’s a bit sad really, because I got a date for the 1st of September from the Council, and in June, Pete had a heart attack and died. And I said, ‘Well that’s it, just forget about it.’ But then Valerie phoned me up and said, ‘I’d like you to go ahead with the concert. I will organise it and we’ll dedicate it to Pete.’ I thought this was very nice. So, we did that, and one of the things that happened was free publicity on this, as the Alexander Brothers were coming along, because Valerie knew them, and they’d been in the Pride of Scotland, and Pride of the Clyde, and things like that. So, we had Peter Morrison, Valerie Dunbar, and the Alexander Brothers. So, they were top of the bill.

David Waddell, Central

St John had a meeting in Edinburgh; we all got notice. I believe it was in Princes Street, and it was to be about fundraising, and my husband and I went along and were talking to people about how we raised funds, and Glasgow area were there talking about the Annual Art Exhibition. I said to David, ‘We have a big space, and we have car parking, we could do this, we’ll have an art exhibition.’ So, we did have an art exhibition in the MacRobert Restaurant [at Archibald Russell Court], which had been all converted. It’s amazing what you can do. I put an advertisement in the Falkirk Herald, inviting people to display their work. I contacted Falkirk Art Club, because it dawned on me that all these pictures would need to hang up and I’d been at their exhibitions before. Anyway, they kindly lent us all their stands for hanging pictures. We had a huge number of paintings; everything had to be catalogued. We did sell quite a lot of paintings.

Charlotte Waddell, Central

St John Association Gift Shop, No. 24a Albyn Place, Aberdeen

It was the beginning of the [19]90s and that’s when I got involved
with working in the [St John] shop at the hospital. I was asked if I’d
like to work with a Miss Sheila Smith. She was something else. She
was really a nice lady but if you didn’t do what she wanted to do,
it wasn’t done that way. So, we worked in the shop on a Monday…
I think we started about 10am and then people dribbled in and
out. We sold china, glass, table covers. Sometimes somebody
brought something in that someone worked out was quite
expensive, so, Daphne Boyle, I think it was, would take it away and
get it valued and if it was worth more, it was sent to the auction
house or something, so that it wouldn’t go for a £1 or whatever in
the shop… The shop closed when the hospital closed, around
1995, and by that time, I was part of the Association.

Sheena MacBride, Aberdeen & NE

In those days [1980s and 1990s], we could run a race night in Helensburgh and have three hundred people at it, and there was raffles and things; and we raised quite a lot of money that way. We also had the usual can collections. One of the Order Committee members’ wives had a connection with the fashion industry and she ran fashion shows and they made a lot of money. We ran fashion shows in Helensburgh, too, in my time as Chairman of the Association for Dunbartonshire. A very nice lady, Pamela Lyons, sadly deceased, she ran them and we made a lot of money and it was a very popular evening. We’ve done various things; we’ve had Bridge Nights and we had a garden party in the grounds of a large house in Helensburgh and it was a very well supported thing in the summer. It was one of those houses with the grounds that went down to the sea, so there was a lot of people there and we were able to do stalls and spinning wheels, all the usual stuff… We also raise money, and have for many years, through what we call ‘The Hundred Club’; you pay £12 a year and you get a number, and if you pay £24 you get two numbers, and basically, we have four draws a year for £10, £10, and £50, that’s £70 four times a year. Basically, that’s the reward people get if they’re lucky enough to win.

Douglas Dow, Dunbartonshire

My favourite event was a good while after I was enrolled in the Order. I organised three fashion shows, three years running, because we had been to a meeting and heard about a lady who worked in the Children’s Ward in Raigmore Hospital. They’re actually called ‘play therapists’; it sounds as if all they do is play with the children, but they don’t, they do an awful lot more than that. They were struggling to be able to provide things for the children and [we] decided that St John would support the Children’s Ward for three years. I think we raised over £3,500 in the three years and that was great fun, it was absolutely brilliant, it really was. You’ve no idea the people that I had to model clothes, everyday people. My husband worked at the garage at that time, and he had some of the mechanics and salesmen were doing the male modelling, the women in the offices were doing that. I worked in the hospital; I had nurses, male nurses as well, doing the modelling; it was great fun… My own hairdressers came and did the girls’ hair, and friends did their make-up, everything. People were so willing to do it and do it for nothing, because it was for charity. It was really, really, good, super fun.

Gwen Fullerton, Highland

A lot of them were the bucket collections at football because, I think, some of the gentlemen had connections at the two football teams, Caley Thistle here and Inverness Ross County further north, especially as Ross County were getting higher up the tables and up into the higher leagues… We tend to do a couple of small [events] and a big one. Over the first few years my Mum organised fashion shows and things like that. We’ve also had daffodil teas. A lady who lived up on the hills just outside Inverness, she opened her garden up for a daffodil tea one afternoon and we had stalls, and she actually opened up the ground floor of her house as well, and there were stalls with baking and there were chairs outside where people could sit and have their tea. It was always that we would try and do one big event if possible, and put a lot of focus on that and get as much as we could, and then do a couple of smaller ones like a bucket rattle in the high street, things like that. So, there’s always been something.

Kirsty Fullerton, Highland

We’ve had collection cans in the whole area. I put quizzes into some of the shops. At the cattle shows, we’ve had stands but, sadly, although it’s a charity, we are still actually charged for putting a charity stand in at some of the shows. I have gone out to various organisations in the Machars, and when people get to know what you’re involved in, they’ll say, ‘Will you come and talk to us Guilds, or Women’s Guilds’, so we go along and give them a background of what we do, and very kindly they give a donation at the end towards it. And it’s amazing when you do these talks, how many people didn’t know about us. We also have leaflets, so we put them into doctors’ surgeries and some of the shops take them too, and it gives them the details of what we do.

Liz Hamilton, West Galloway

Other than the last thing that I did, which was standing outside Tesco with a can in my hand, was the Glamis Extravaganza. The Glamis Extravaganza was held every year, until Covid came along, with its vintage motor vehicles; and it’s in the grounds of Glamis Castle. And we always had a stall and people came along and we told them a bit about CPR and defibrillators and handed out flyers. That was on a Saturday and Sunday, once a year you were doing that. It was very well organised, and we all took a share of four hours each on the stall, and it was lovely; we nearly always had sunshine.

Bill Harvey, Angus & Dundee

The fundraising activities in Glasgow were social events, like dinners, and a lot of things like tombolas, raffles, and things like that, to make money for Glasgow… A great deal later we moved here [Dunbartonshire]. So, I organised a St John soiree every year at Ross Priory, and I had one this year; and that’s dinner and professional musical entertainment, and people came to that. I had fifty-two [guests] at it this year, which is really remarkable, and it raised a lot of money for St John. I paid for everything myself. I feel that as a Dame of the Order I can’t sit back and do nothing. I want to do something and I’m very keen to do this, and they all love it; Jim Bingham, and Douglas Dow, and all these people come to it, they all love it. So, it’s nice, very satisfying for me. So that’s what I’ve done for several years now, apart from giving money myself to St John in Edinburgh. And if I’m not going to the Festival, I would send them a cheque for £100 to help with the organisation. I do that regularly.

Katharine Liston, Dunbartonshire

For our first [art] sale in 1999, we were fortunate to hire what seemed an ideal venue just off the city centre. The display area was a spacious room with large north facing windows giving excellent light. Although one floor up and with no lift, we set to carrying all the equipment and paintings to our area, then set to laying out the display. Strangely, we noticed that the permanent staff working in the building were not that welcoming. With our setup almost complete, I was summoned to the manager’s office to be confronted by him and the workers’ union representative who was threatening to close the place down by calling a strike of his staff. The building was the headquarters of St Andrew’s Ambulance, and the staff were under the impression that our presence was the start of a takeover bid by St John. It took much discussion to convince the union representative that our choice of venue was based solely on the available space and north-facing light source. Eventually, all was settled, and our first sale could go ahead. It proved to be successful, achieving a substantial profit.

Charles Munro, Glasgow

I think we’ve had some fascinating fundraising events… We’ve had ‘Beating the Retreat’ with pipe bands, which are normally two pipe bands, and the Army Training Core have been very good at providing one, and in Aberdeen, the Robert Gordon School has another; they have their own school band and seeing the two put together and playing the traditional ‘End of Day’ has been wonderful. It’s a kind of different event where people will come, and I would always say that the money that is extracted is extracted painlessly, and they very happily give up and help us.

Stuart MacBride, Aberdeen & NE

Keith Stirling, Chairperson, West Lothian Area, has for many years been involved with Torphichen Preceptory, of which St John Scotland now has custodianship through Historic Environment Scotland. The West Lothian committee maintains the premises and offer tours and admission each year between April to September. Around twenty-five volunteers assist. The venue also is available to hire for weddings.

I took on the sort of fundraising and the publicity side [of St John Scotland’s work in West Lothian] and also the Preceptory rota. During the summer months we spend quite a bit of time there, but I tend to keep myself to the sides as a stand-in, in case there are any hiccups; and what we tend to do between Ian [Wallace] and I, we cover the Preceptory rota and also any tours or weddings that take place. We are trying to increase the wedding activity and we’ve had quite a few enquiries recently, and they seem relatively positive - because we get £500 income from that, which is a nice cash generator. And then with Historic [Environment] Scotland, we get the key-keeping fee for that, which is approximately £2,500 a year. So, it’s quite nice to have that; it’s a nice money-spinner. We have some interesting visits from various groups. We had the 700th Anniversary, we had the Clan Wallace people from America, and then we had groups from Australia, and then on a regular basis we have all sorts of people coming from China, America, the Far East. It’s a very interesting thread of visits, and I think possibly, when Dan Brown wrote the Da Vinci Code and the Rosslyn Chapel thing, it generated interest in our part of the world as well, because invariably, we get quite a number of people who have been to Rosslyn Chapel and then come to Torphichen.

We regularly ran cabaret evenings with a guest artist, and stuff like that. We ran a Whisky Trail Exercise for a £1 a go, and you can raise a couple of hundred pounds in that direction. Up until Covid, we had a regular Robert Burns Tribute Evening, and we had Christmas Eve activities, and at my previous house, The Beeches, we held an annual garden fête, which was a nice fundraiser and which we will be doing at the farmhouse, here, in the future, when things settle down a bit better. [Keith explained that] The Whisky Trail Exercise is basically a card, with one hundred malt whiskies [instead of numbers], and it costs £1; you might sell 200 or 300, sheets raising £300; and the winning prize is a £40 bottle of malt whisky… The Cabaret Evenings can generate from £600 upwards, and the garden fêtes can raise almost £1,000.

Keith Stirling, West Lothian

Because I was involved, I ended up with my daughter and my husband becoming involved, just through helping me, and Susan started off helping in the [St John Association charity] shop [in Stockbridge], especially when we were doing the Saturday, unpacking goods that came in, or displaying them. And this friend… was able to tell Susan how to display things on the shelf. So, she got a flair for that and for doing the window, because we had a shop window, so we were able to display goods.

Margaret Balfour, Edinburgh

Obviously, Covid has restricted our activities quite badly, but that’s for the future, and we have about five projects that we intend to do for our 75th Anniversary. We’re going to have a ‘Wine Tasting’ in the Preceptory; I’ll be doing a garden fête; we’ve got our Lord Lieutenant who’s going to do a sponsored walk; and we’ve got our local Committee member who’s also our local Councillor, and he’s going to be doing Ben Lomond; and my new fundraising officer, he’s going to be doing Hadrian’s Wall. So, there are quite a few things in the pipeline that should create quite a bit of activity. And also, there are three civic weeks in Bathgate, Linlithgow and Whitburn, and we intend to set up St John’s stalls there on their particular days to do St John activities and a bit of CPR, and generally promote the activities of St John Scotland.

Keith Stirling, West Lothian

A page from David Waddell’s fundraising scrapbook