By Arthur Woodgate
Each year we in St. John, had an annual dinner, when it was organised just to have fun, so we proved. The old saying “That all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Being store keeper, it seemed it was my job to organise the dinner, so I did my best to do so. We used The George Hotel. My job was more than just finding out what would the favourite menu then get an estimate and collect the amount wanted from each member. I had to arrange the speakers and who else to importance sat at the top table and then the entertainment at the top table we had in the middle, our president Mr Suren, the head of the Nerus Brick and tile company. Some of the time Mr Peter Swan was vice president. He was the head of the Swan electrical company who made the “Swan” electric appliances. He lived in “The White House” in Watchbell Street. Mr Swan was a very nice old gentleman especially as he was the leader of one Britains industrial manufacturers I did a job on the next house to “White House” and he was pleased by the way I had left it, that he invited all of us on the job, to tea with servants and silver crockery. The day I was to come out of hospital after an appendix operation, although my sister was getting ready to fetch me in my car, he insisted in bringing me home in his posh car. A few years after that I built an air raid street shelter in his front garden and he did not object, whereas, some lesser mortals did object if we built a shelter too close to their house. He was an extraordinary man and now his wife and he are both gone, the white house has been renamed “Swan House” and that pleases me no end.
At other times we had Joe Burnham, the boss of Burnham and sons the builders. He was quite kind too, and although he could be funny to work for, he gave two of his employers a piece of ground, with the footing in, for them to build their own homes on. Nobby Clark and Joe Vincent were both friends of mine. It was on the Rye side of the steps leading up to “Salt Cod Street” (now called New England Lane) I helped them because neither of them were bricklayers.
Next on the top table was Staff Area Commissioner F.A. Trott OSJ. He would be on the District Commissions Staff in charge of our district that is Kent, Sussex and Surrey. So D.O.Trott would have been our top man in Sussex. The George removed the carpet in the dining room. Most such gatherings would nearly always end in a dance. But I had to find some more entertainment so I used to engage an entertainment group led by William Budd from Camber, who used to give us a variety floor show. One of them included an Indian club swinger. At the end of his act he did a turn with burning flames on the end of his clubs. Some of the fuel from his torches dripped on to the floor. The George management banned us from using their services ever again and said they would prosecute us, for damaging their floor it so happened that the wife of one of our members had found a piece of glass in an ice cream. This I put in a match box and in my pocket, so when they called me into their office I produced my piece of glass and when they told me of their threats I asked them what they were going to do about that. Nothing it seemed as I heard no more, but we did something about the floor, it also happened that our cadet officer Reg. Hollands was a french polisher by profession so I showed him the marks on the floor and he said that he could get them out, which next day he did. We used this dinner to present a present to my father on his retirement as superintendent in Rye.
As he was losing his sight he bought him a Braille gold watch and this was presented by Staff Area Commissioner F.A.Trott. O.St.J. We still used the George for some years after this but the annual dinner was our only organised fun event. We did, however, get a little bit of fun whilst on our rota turns of duty, those who like football could have a lovely ninety minute of fun. Injuries are not always taking place. I’ve already written about the Cricket match played every one hundred years at Wittersham. That was quite fun but can’t be seen again by the same people. Then when we got a decent new cinema, we were asked to do duty in there which we did some people might say (and have said) how lucky we were to have free entertainment, were we? Think about it. We had to pass an exam every year to remain active. Some of the films we sat through were not much and rather boring and could drive you to sleep if you weren’t careful that’s why we would often be standing behind the back seats I said “Think about it” well I must say it to myself now. The more I think about fun and entertainment and wonder where it stops I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t unless you stop it yourself. So when the sheep jammed in a doorway with a loaded stretcher. It caused quite a bit of fun every time we think about it. I think now I’m the only one of our old ambulance crews left, I can say it was quite fun when we had babies born in them mostly about three in the morning and this could be exciting.
Sometimes when we took a casualty or sick patient to the Royal East Sussex Hospital we would help the nurses to them settled in even to the extent of helping to bath them. When they were settled down there was always some tea ready for us in the staff room. For a good bit of the time we three vehicles and a blackboard message on the other two to show where we were and the time left so we didn’t upset the service in the same way if we took a patient to London or any other long distance we could stop at a cafe for tea and not upset things. I remember we went to Brighton just for fun to take part in a county social in which we took part as a family in a fancy dress competition, didn’t win anything, but one of our two cars broke down on our way home, and we spent the night in Cake House at Dicker whilst the cars were being sorted out. Some St. John divisions had their own brass bands, our local cadets had one for a while, and no doubt some still do, although now some would play a different and more modern kind of music so there is some fun. Not just first aid all the time. When I was a cadet, our cadet officer Fred Alcorn tried to give us a variety of activities on practice nights, but all he seemed to come up with was O’Grady. But it was a change from all first aid. First aid exams and competitions can be fun, especially competitions, but I only ever won second prize. Once when I was in Edinburgh I visited a meeting of the Scots branch of the St. Andrew ambulance organisation, they asked me to help judge a first aid competition because, they said the St. John training was better than St. Andrew. So be it but we had a nice social evening together. I would say that our local St. John divisions have lots of competitions we also enjoy inspections now just bear in mind that all our officers however their rank, were just like the rest of us volunteers. When we had an inspection we met some of these people and heard what they had to say about us. We had No 8 district commissioner David Brice O.St.J. and his area staff commissioner. Which included area staff commissioner F.A.Trott and all sorts of district officers and it was fun to meet them from time to time.
“Rye’s Own” November 2009
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