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2. The Revival Years (1945-1956)

Revival of Association and Brigade

When the British Military Administration (BMA) took over in September 1945, all government departments and institutions were reorganised. Attempts were made to revive the work of St. John Ambulance in the same year. The British officers such as Dr. Robert Barr MacGregor (the last Commissioner SJAB Malaya before the war), Dr. Hopkins, Lieut.-Col. Douglas McGawne, Mr. C. E. Robless and Capt. Goodman Ambler who served the organisation before the war were instrumental in the revival efforts. Efforts were made to regroup those who served before the war and revive the movement in each States. On 10 July 1947, a public meeting was called at 5 p.m. at Kuala Lumpur Town Hall (now Panggung Bandaraya) This meeting can be said to be the most important meeting for St. John Ambulance in postwar Malaya; the meeting which set the ball rolling for the reconstitution, on a proper basis, of SJAA and SJAB nationwide.

St. John Ambulance from Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Perak, Pulau Pinang, Kelantan, Pahang and Singapore sent their representatives to the public meeting besides representatives from Army Medical Service, Railways Department, Education Department, Police Department and Civil Medical Service. There was a fairly good attendance from the general public.

His Excellency Sir Gerard Gent, Governor-General of the Malaya and Singapore was appointed SJAA Patron and his wife, Lady Gwendolen Gent, as Patroness. Besides being the first official meeting of the St. John Ambulance in post-War Malaya, the meeting also set the tone for the movement as well as the direction it ought to take. The involvement of St. John Ambulance
before 1941 was mainly in preparation for war which the members were trained for.

At that meeting, Dr. MacGregor also defined the future work of the Association under the motto ‘For the Service of Mankind”. He elaborated that “the service is directed particularly to render first aid to the injured and sick, to train as many people as possible to be able to give this service, and to organise them so that their
skill and willingness to help can be applied in the most useful way”.

He also reminded those present that the work of St. John Ambulance does not, and cannot conflict in any way with the work of the doctors, or of professionally trained nurses or hospital assistants. The St. John Ambulance work can never rival that of the professional men and women and it was not intended to be. Dr. MacGregor’s reminder was indeed a stern message, if one may view it that way. Thus, St. John Ambulance work especially the Brigade has since been in the auxiliary support. 

Subsequent to this meeting, the first SJAA Central Committee was held at the same venue. In addition to the above representatives, the meeting was also attended by Major-General Douglas Bluett (Malaya Command), Mr. John Owen Sanders (General Manager, Malayan Railway), Ms. M. Lomas and Mr. J. M. MacLean representing the Director of Education
and Commissioner of Police respectively, Dr. E. A. Struthers, the Deputy Director of Medical Service and seven other nominated members.

At this meeting, the Committee decided the formal split of the St. John Ambulance in Malaya and St. John Ambulance in Singapore under separate administrations. Both organisations were to continue to cooperate closely.


After the meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Branches in various States began to spring up. North Borneo (Sabah) had its first revival meeting after the war in 1948. Much work has been done to rebuild the movement in order to assist government’s effort restoring the health service network within the community. Colonel Sir James Lewis Sleeman, SJAB Chief Commissioner, visited Malaya on 15 February 1949.

The Commissioner-in-Chief brought along a message from Countess Mountbatten of Burma, who praised St. John Ambulance in Malaya for its service during the war. On 30 January 1952, Lieutenant-General Sir Otto Ludd, SJAB Overseas Commissioner-in-Chief visited Malaya and North Borneo (Sabah) to review the progress of the revival. In the same year, the Federal Government initiated programmes to promote health awareness and improve the health services in the rural areas. As
part of the effort to fight a psychological war (Backend War) during the Malayan State of Emergency against the Communist Insurgency, Sir Gerald Templer,British High Commissioner to the Federation of Malaya requested the St. John Ambulance Headquarters in Britain and Australia to send twenty five welfare teams to resettlement areas in Malaya. Two sisters, Ms. Majorie
Miller (team supervisor) and Ms. Nancy Miller of Ipswich were the first to fly-in from London to train the villagers to work in hospital reserves, perform home nursing and conduct training. The work of the welfare teams were arranged and managed by the Chief Secretary of Malayan Government, Sir David Watherson.The rest arrived in batches. They were Ms. Lucy Car, Ms. Margaret Halward, Ms. Irene Joseph, Mrs. Sheila Barrow,
Ms. Irene Gribble, Mrs. Frances Curle, Ms. M. Donavour Hickie, Ms. Da Ramage, Ms. H. M. H. Longhurst, Ms. H. Thorn, Ms. Emily Ward, Ms. D. E. Roberts, Ms. Ivy Agnes Richer, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Roland Millar, Ms. Irene Mary Checkley and Ms. K. Gambier. Many of them later took the post as State Organisers attached with the St. John Ambulance in the States. Ms. Irene Checkley was the last Federal Organiser.

Dr. MacGregor was succeeded by Mr. George William Somerville (1951), Mr. Daniel Ross McPherson (April 1952), Dr. H. M. O. Lester (July 1952), Dr. Rober Erskine Anderson (1954), the last British to hold the District Commissioner post, served until 1956. Dr. Chang Hoey Chan, who was acting SJAB Malaya District Commissioner during 1956-57 transition, officially assumed the post in 1957.

SJAB held its First Federal Conference-cum-Investiture at the Majestic Hotel in Victory Avenue (now Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin), Kuala Lumpur on 29 July 1955. The conference was officiated by His Excellency Sir Donald MacGillivray, who was accompanied by Lady Louisa MacGillivray. In 1956, the membership of St. John Ambulance reached about 4,000. Before Malaya gained its independence, much work was done by the organisation to prepare itself for the new challenges ahead. Many officers and members who were then British servants left for the United Kingdom before and after 1957. It was at this juncture that senior officers from London Headquarters such as Countess Mountbatten, SJAB Overseas Superintendent-in-Chief,
Ms. Ivy Richer and Ms. Irene Checkley (both Federal Organisers) travelled frequently throughout Malaya and North Borneo to help the Brigade and Association to review their progress and to brainstorm the future direction of the St. John Ambulance movement.


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