It was extremely strict. The length of your dress was measured with your shoes on, and it had to have so many pleats round.
My father was a miner and he was a First Aider at Bigges Main. He said everyone should learn first aid and I was interested in it, but my mother was squeamish and couldn’t do anything, but I did. When they had a pitfall and all this dirt was in their backs, we used to take sheets of pink lint, cover it in vaseline and then clap it on their backs and wrap it up.
When my father had a pit accident, two of his mates were killed, and his arm and leg was badly broken, so he came out of the pit.
I tried to join the St John’s but you weren’t allowed to join until you were 18. So, I went to night school to do home nursing and first aid. The teacher was a nice old lady, a doctor’s widow – I forget her name. She taught first aid one year, home nursing the next and the year after, then first aid again. After three years you took your Bronze Medallion.
As I was always tall and thin, I could get away with being older – so I kept trying to join at St John’s. They always asked how old I was, and I was turned down. Then one day they didn’t ask, so when they asked me if I’d done any first aid, I told them that I’d got my Bronze medallion – so they said ‘fair enough’ and they joined me then, and I was in.
St John’s was all voluntary and you had to provide your own uniform. The dresses were really expensive and so were the aprons. They had the Maltese Cross on the front – on the bib. Then we wore a band round our necks with our medallions on. Once you got your medallion you were in trouble if you didn’t wear it. It was extremely strict.
The length of your dress was measured with your shoes on, and it had to have so many pleats around. Your belt had to have the correct studs in. We bought studs with wing-backs, as they matched the ones on the cuffs. The collars were very, very uncomfortable, especially in hot weather. Our hats were expensive too – they were made to a standard in fur felt, specially made. They were lovely.
But I enjoyed it. St John’s was my hobby and I did it every moment that I could.