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Arthur Drew - Police Ambulances and First Aid

The day you joined Exeter City Police Force, you also joined the Police Division of the St John Ambulance Brigade, this was the case right up until amalgamation. We had to take, and pass, the First Aid examination every year. By the 1950s Exeter City had become national champions in First Aid competitions, culminating in 1960 by winning the Grand Priors Trophy, the ultimate in world ambulance competition.

I was never engaged in the competition field, my involvement in First Aid was restricted to the usual things that policemen have to deal with. Before 1948 the police were responsible for providing emergency ambulance cover. The City Force had its own ambulance. The routine ambulance service was provided by voluntary effort and run by the St John Ambulance Association. But the emergency service was provided by the police.

The reserve PC who worked in the Station Office was also the ambulance driver, if the occasion arose. Any incident the police were called to, which required an ambulance, it would be the police ambulance that attended, driven out by the office PC. who picked up another constable en route. On arrival at the scene you did your best, hoped that it was not too messy or gory, you loaded the casualties on to the very basic canvas stretchers, and rushed off to the RD & E, with the PC in the back of the ambulance holding the patient down, with re-assuring comments, or giving them a fag!

It was always your greatest fear that, when the St John Ambulance was closed down, you may be called to a pregnant woman who was near to giving birth.

The inevitable happened one night, I was sent to collect a woman who was close to giving birth, I picked up John Proctor on the way, he was complaining that he knew nothing about pregnant women or first aid - I gave him all the reassurance and told him he would soon learn!

We got the woman aboard and set off for Mowbray House Maternity Home with all speed, the woman got closer and closer to the big moment, I don't know who was making the most noise, the woman or John, we got there in the nick of time as the woman gave birth.

I think it frightened John so much, that he got really involved in First Aid matters and for many years was the leader of the Police St John's Division."

When the NHS started, the St John Brigade became professional in Exeter and took over the emergency ambulance service we had provided.  The police ambulance was given to the new service. The Ambulance service for the city was based in premises that had been the “Bull Inn” and adjoining the rear of Waterbeer Street police station, when we moved to Heavitree Road, the Ambulance depot came with us, and is still in Gladstone Road.

Arthur Drew joined Exeter City Police in 1939. He spoke to Peter Hinchliffe who edited his memories.

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