St John Ambulance in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War

Three Johnnies, as the St John Ambulance Brigade men who came to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War were known, are buried in the Karoo. Casualties suffered by the SJAB in South Africa from 1899 to 1902 were discussed by Professor Kay de Villiers and P Beighton in an article in the Military History Journal, Vol 10 No 5. They point out that the Order of St John was founded in Jerusalem during the Crusades in the 12th century. It was a religious order dedicated to taking care of the sick. “Thereafter, the Knights Hospitaller of the Order had a long and eventful history and established links in many countries. The British order was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540 and only revived in the 19th century – in 1877 – when a military surgeon, Major Peter Shepherd and his colleague Colonel Francis Duncan started teaching First Aid to lay persons. This became St John Ambulance Brigade. There was great enthusiasm for this brigade in the coal mining and industrial areas where there were frequent accidents. SJAB skilled personnel and ambulances saved many lives. The brigade thrived within police forces fire departments and the railway. Victorian values, discipline and altruism played a major role in its development. Soon after the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, it became obvious that the Royal Army Medical Corps would not be able to cope with the casualties from wounds and disease. St John Ambulance Brigade called for men to volunteer to serve six months in South Africa. Volunteers came forward in large numbers. The first 23 sailed on November 3, 1899. In time, about 1800 SJAB volunteers came to South Africa and approximately 60 of them died here from enteric fever (typhoid) which they contracted from their patients. Buried at Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein in the Karoo are Private Joseph VL Barrett, Great Western Railway (attached to the Metropolitan Corps) who died on August 6, 1900, and Sgt Charles E Wilmore, National Fire Brigades, who died of double pneumonia on January 1, 1901. Both were 21 years old. Another SJAB volunteer, Pte George Pickels, of the Hebden Bridge Corps, is buried at Noupoort. He died of enteric fever on May 8, 1900.


© Rose’s Roundup, vol. 2, no. 76, January 2010

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