Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 9, May 1968


As one of the inaugurators of the Paeroa Branch in 1932, the other being the Rev. Charles Bush-King, I have been asked to record its condensed history. We were ably assisted by Mr. Ben Gwilliam (Sen.) and Mr. Wattie Smith, and finally registered as a Brigade in 1934. Subsequently Mr. Gwilliam was gazetted Cadet Superintendent and Mr. Smith, Superintendent Men's Division. Other Foundation Members were: Mesdames V. Furton, Homer, Andrews and Misses K. Tarrant, Gwladys [Gladys ? – E] Gwilliam and Baird.

The Ladies' Division was incorporated with the Men's Brigade until 1941 when the Paeroa Nursing Division was registered on May 17th and Dr. Haslett was elected "Divisional Surgeon", followed at a later date by Dr. Bartrum. The writer was elected acting Superintendent about a year later when the appointment of "Lady Divisional Superintendent" was confirmed in a letter of congratulation from Lady Ursula Copeland-Griffiths, Lady Superintendent in Chief of St. John Ambulance Brigade, London.

During World War II, it was my responsibility to train all women students, and travel once a week to Hikutaia and Netherton to give lectures. In Paeroa a special band of women was trained for the Emergency Precautions Scheme, which was inaugurated because of fear of raids on the coastal districts. The course included: First Aid and Home Nursing.

At this period a "Horse Patrol" was parading from Coromandel to Bowen Town Heads, and road blocks were set up throughout the Coastal area of New Zealand. One aspect of the training was the E.P.S. emergency call. At any time during the night the siren would be sounded, and all men and women of the E.P.S. and ambulance divisions had to answer the call, making their way at once to headquarters, women to the Paeroa Maternity Hospital, men to the Drill Hall. All the women gathered at the Hospital so that they would be ready to go anywhere required, and attend any emergency. Fortunately the only times the siren sounded were practice occasions, although the personnel would not know for sure until they reached headquarters. One week-end, a two day camp supervised by Superintendent Smith was set up for practical work up Maratoto Valley.

During the writer's term as Lady Divisional Superintendent, she was helped by various people with lectures and demonstrations. For a number of years Miss Gwladys Gwilliam was Lady Divisional Officer, until she was transferred to Mount Maunganui School. Others to help with Home Nursing lectures were: Miss Lois Slyfield, Sister McCracken (now Mrs. Fitzhenry); Mrs. R. Clarke, Mrs. Mary Graham and Mrs. Evelyn Evans, who also examined the many Home Nursing students trained each year. The two Sisters Moore lectured on emergency maternity work. Mr. Charles Blackwood, dentist, also gave some very valuable lectures and demonstrations. The first lectures were conducted in the Croquet Pavilion, until the present building was acquired from Mr. Gee by Superintendent Ben Gwilliam. The Doll Factory held a social and dance, and donated the proceeds to the brigade to line and put a floor in the building.

Before an ambulance vehicle was acquired, the writer used and drove her own Studebaker car to convey emergency and ordinary cases to Thames Hospital, travelling over 8,000 miles, over a period of fourteen years. For serious and stretcher cases the Thames Hospital ambulance was called. Through public subscriptions, street stalls and donations, sufficient money was collected in 1952 to purchase our first ambulance - a Chevrolet. As it was bought with public money, Superintendent Ben Gwilliam proposed:- "That it be registered THE PAEROA AND DISTRICTS AMBULANCE, the proposal was carried, and subsequent vehicles have been so registered, not as a "St. John Ambulance". Ambulance vehicles are supposed to be replaced every seven years, an Austin was bought in 1960, and since 1967 a new Leyland 20 has been in use.

A roster of qualified men and women members accompany any patient to either Thames, Waihi, Waikato, Greenlane, or Middlemore. This is all voluntary work, including the driving, not necessarily confined to ambulance members. Duties are divided into day (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.), night (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.) and week-end. One person to merit mention is Mrs. Gifford Spinks - our Evie - for her devoted service in attending patients enroute to the various hospitals from 1954 to 1966. In early days of transport, the writer attended to the washing of all blankets and linen for some years, until Thames Hospital undertook it. For the maintenance of the ambulance vehicles, Mr. Ben Gwilliam and his son, descendants of Superintendent Ben Gwilliam, were responsible and they were kept in excellent order at his motor repair and engineering workshop which was in Belmont Road, Paeroa.

In 1954 the writer asked to be relieved of her position of Lady Superintendent and placed on reserve for a time, owing to prolonged illness in the family, and other duties, but kept on with ordinary St. John work, and transporting patients to hospitals. She recommended that the position be taken over by Mrs. Sims who held it until 1966, when Mrs. Trevor Marshall, who was Cadet Superintendent girls' division, was appointed "Lady Divisional Superintendent". Miss Nola Lindsay was the first Lady Cadet Superintendent (now Mrs. N. Coventry).

Mr. Murray Lind, formerly of Cambridge Division, was Men's Superintendent for some years but relinquished his position to take charge of the Air Force Squadron. At the present tine the Men's Division is short of Members but short meetings are faithfully attended, and Mr. R. E. Sims has done much work in arranging duty rosters. Mr. Les Cullerne is Divisional Superintendent and trains Cadets, Monday being the meeting night. For years classes were held in our old building in Marshall Street but through the efforts of the Paeroa "Lions" £2000 was raised, and with a £4,000 grant from Auckland Headquarters a new building is now in the course of construction on the old site, so a new era is opening for the Paeroa St. John Ambulance Brigade, now a Sub-Station of Auckland. A new committee has been appointed with Mr. Kevin Simpson as Chairman, Mrs. Wheeler (Borough Representative) and Messrs Lind, Paul, Warburton and Pringle.