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(This section is largely derived from "The History of the Ambulance Service in Hungerford", by Richard Amphlett, Feb 2005.)

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- Hungerford's first ambulance, a Bedford De Luxe 2-Stretcher, 1935

- The Ambulance Brigade, Jubilee 1935

- The Ambulance crew in 1937 - (L-R): Archie Allen, Mr Hobbs, Mr Eatwell, Mr Wells, and Ted Smith.

- The Ambulance crew with Divisional Officers, in Barr's yard, c1937

- The Hungerford Ambulance Brigade with one of Archie Allen's "Ambulance Cabinets". Back row L-R: ???, ?Fred Jessett, ?? Middle row: Charlie Rosier, father of Nellie Harris, John Dore, Dr Starkey-Smith, Mrs Starkey-Smith, Hunt (Station-master), Willie Sperring (9 Church St), Clements (Bill's father), Front row: Harry Buxey, Redman, Jack Cousins, Jack Phillips, Slade, Annetts.

- The St John's Ambulance Brigade during the march past, 1952

- The St John's Ambulance Station, Station Yard, Jul 1981

What is the connection between the Great Western Railway and the history of the Ambulance Service in Hungerford?

The GWR ("God's Wonderful Railway") was very safety conscious and had a good record. They encouraged their staff to learn First Aid, and, indeed, had its own St John Ambulance Division within the railway network.

One of the members was Archie Allen, whose son, John, has kindly helped me with this subject. Archie had already set up a Railway Ambulance Division in Hungerford at a time when the people of Hungerford had to rely on ambulance cover from Marlborough or Newbury.

John Allen told me that he seems to remember that there was a van in Hungerford that was sometimes used to take people to hospital - perhaps older residents may remember this. This was a worry to Archie, so he approached local business people with the idea to raise money to buy Hungerford its own ambulance, and start the town's own St John Division.

In 1932, it was decided to hold a carnival to start the fund off. This was such a success that others were held until 14th September 1935, when there was enough money (£450) to buy the ambulance - a Bedford Deluxe 2 Stretcher model (a vehicle which at today's price would cost around £25,000-£30,000). (It was delivered to Norman's Garage on the Bath Road, and John, as a small boy of eleven, went off with his father to collect it for the official presentation at the Town Hall. Thus, he was the first person to ride in it - a proud moment for a small boy!)

A garage was found for the vehicle in Barr's Yard in the High Street, as it was central to the town.

The Hungerford branch of the St John Ambulance Brigade soon grew to about 40 members who were then able to cover the area on a 24-hour call out system of volunteer drivers and attendants.

Another of Archie Allen's ideas was to place First Aid boxes around the town - I can remember one outside the Cafe on the Bath Road, now Chapel Court, but there were others placed at the Town Hall, at St John's Mission Hall (now the Flats at the bottom of Tarrants Hill) and outside the Post Office. Volunteers would replace items once a week and check that there was sufficient stock in them. (Access could only be obtained with a key kept in a glass-fronted case beside each box. The boxes disappeared after the war).

The town was fortunate in that the work places where these people worked allowed the crews to respond to calls whilst at work, which could mean them being away for up to 2-3 hours.

One such employer was the builders, Wooldridges, (on the site of which Canal Walk was built) who seem to have had a large St John staff, including the Director, Albert Martin.

In the event of an ambulance being required for an accident, the initial call would be via the Police Station, who would then telephone the Duty Driver, who in turn would fetch his attendant and continue to the incident. Should the local doctor need the ambulance to take someone to hospital, he would call the Duty Driver direct, giving details of who to pick up and where to take them.

Due to his tremendous enthusiasm, Archie Allen became the Superintendent of the Hungerford Ambulance Division, which was now separate from Newbury and Marlborough. This continued from the early days up to his sudden death in April 1939 at the young age of 47 years when the position was taken on by Albert Martin.

Marjorie Eatwell was also deeply involved in the service and became the Nursing Superintendent. Her husband, Alfred Eatwell, organised the blood donor service, and during his administration, the number of donors grew from eight to two hundred. They had to transfer from the St John Headquarters to Croft Hall due to lack of space. (The donor sessions now [2010] take place in the Corn Exchange).

This is the system which operated from 1935-1948, when the National Health Service Act came into being, making the local authority, Berkshire County Council, responsible for the running of the Ambulance Service, but retaining the use of the St. John Ambulance.

In the larger towns throughout the County, full-time Ambulance crews manned the Berkshire County Council stations, whilst the St John and Red Cross manned the smaller stations, much the same as they had previously done, except that now the County Council had placed everyone on the telephone making call-out quicker.

Mention of the Red Cross should be made here. Although there was a detachment in Hungerford, their task was more to assist in the local hospitals at Newbury and Marlborough, carrying out ward duties, much as they had done since about 1915, during the First World War, when some of the larger houses in the area were used for the convalescence of wounded soldiers.

When the National Health Service took over the ambulance in 1947, the St John Ambulance men (and women) of Hungerford still gave their services, being on duty each night from 6pm until 6am, in addition to Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

From 1948 until 1964 little was to change within the operation of ambulance cover in Hungerford but at sometime in the late 1950s radios were fitted to the vehicles, which would now be in constant touch with the Newbury control centre for West Berkshire.

This would have been a major help in calling for additional help at accidents along what was becoming a busy A4, with traffic increasing.

In 1964 major changes took place when the Berkshire County Council decided to employ full-time staff to operate the ambulance during the day-time, with the help of St. John Ambulance personnel. The full time staff, Bill Dukes and Bert Cooper, would cover the day-time hours and St. John would cover nights and weekends.

At that time the St. John Ambulance headquarters was at the rear of the Croft Hall, now Church House, in the Croft, and the full-timers would take the ambulance from its Barr's Yard garage to the Croft HQ. where they would be called out by telephone from Newbury Ambulance Station.

There was a short period when the ambulance was based at Hungerford Hospital, now an estate, and the staff had a small office with a telephone there.

The new St John's HQ, 1970:

Major changes took place again in 1970, when a new St. John Headquarters was opened in Station Road, with help from a grant from Berkshire County Council for the use of the garage and office space as a permanent ambulance station (see photos on this page). The new home for the "old" ambulance service was opened (by Lord Rootes, then of North Standen) on 10 May 1970. At that time the only driver of the original team, having served for 35 years, was Mrs Marjorie Eatwell, of 76 Priory Avenue.

Further dramatic changes took place during April, when it was decided to employ additional full-time staff at Hungerford, who would now cover the Lambourn area as well, thereby replacing the St. John Ambulance altogether as far as providing medical aid to the area.

The Royal County of Berkshire Ambulance Service was now the full time ambulance cover for the town and surrounding western end of the county, with Bill Dukes now Station officer, covering at that time about 144 square miles of the county west of a line north to south from about the Halfway Inn on the A4 and up to the Oxfordshire boundary and south to the Hampshire / Wiltshire border.

It was a sad time for those who had given freely of their time for so many years, and were to receive little or no recognition for that service.

The number of staff employed full-time was 5, but by the October of that year this had increased to 7, providing cover 24 hours a day 7 days a week, covering nights by a stand-by system, whereby the duty crew was called out by telephone between the hours of 10.00pm to 8.00am.

A second ambulance had also been stationed at Hungerford.

With the sudden death of Bill Dukes on 1 August 1970, Richard Amphlett became the new Station Officer, and was to remain in this position until 1992.

Soon work was to start on the building of the M4 Motorway in this area, and the importance of the Hungerford station was soon apparent as the volume of traffic began to build up as heavy lorries moved into the area.

Weeks before the motorway was finished combined exercises with Police, Fire and Ambulance Services taking part tested everyone's ability to work safely on three lanes of fast moving traffic.

The training of ambulance staff had changed to meet the needs of a new style service. Members were now attending the Southern Area Training School at Bishops Waltham in Hampshire for a 6 week course followed by 2 weeks advanced driving skills.

New resuscitation equipment was now being introduced and new skills were required to operate these advanced items.

Pain relief was now available by the use of Gas and Air units, which had been in use in maternity wards, and was an immediate success hi the treatment of fractures and medical conditions.

The services of the St. John Ambulance were still required in the area and continues to this day providing First Aid courses and medical aid at public functions, where it has been joined by the reintroduction of the British Red Cross into the community, helping to carry patients to various centres for the elderly and infirm, thereby helping them to get out of their homes for a few hours a week to meet others of their age socially.

The work of the full time service continued to grow, as with the motorway opening in 1971-72 Hungerford became a commuter town, and housing increased almost overnight as estate agents opened on Sundays to cope with the sudden influx.

New homes meant new families, and many will remember the ambulance runs to Savernake Hospital on Mondays and Wednesdays each week to the maternity clinic. I know many friendships started on these runs as mothers would meet following the births of their children. Some being delivered en route to hospital by members of the Hungerford station.

It was always nice to meet these mothers and babies at the clinics which were held in the hall above the ambulance station where the watchful eyes of Mrs. McDougall, Nurse Cable and others, advised mothers.

By now the work load in Hungerford was such that the second vehicle was exchanged for a sitting case type, introduced to help with the outpatient transport and capable of carrying wheelchairs for very infirm patients.

Hungerford now had a Day Centre for the elderly, in what was the Kennet Ward of the Hungerford Hospital, looking after some 20 or more patients a day from the Hungerford and Lambourn area.

For the next few years this was to be the regular daily routine, and was in some ways a rest from the emergency rota so that 2 out of the 6 weeks on clinic work could mean regular meal times and finishing work on time!!!

The office and garage in Station road was always too small for the needs of the ambulance service, and plans were put into place to build a new station even as the motorway was being built.

The problem was where to build it so that it served both Hungerford and Lambourn as well as the M4. Suggestions of Great Shefford and Membury Service Area were put forward as this would give the Lambourn area better cover. The old Bennetts Yard on the A4 Bath Road, now Bearwater, was also suggested.

The matter was solved when the Royal County of Berkshire Ambulance Service became part of the National Health Service, and land then became available on the Hungerford Hospital site, the new station being built in 1982. (See "Go-ahead for new ambulance station" - NWN 21 December 1978, "Ambulance Station begun - at twice original estimate" - NWN 14 Aug 1980, and "Team proud of new station", NWN ?1981.

The years up to 1992 were, for me, perhaps the best years as we now had our own station with excellent vehicles and men and women to operate them. By now paramedic skills were becoming standard within the ambulance service as staff were acquiring these.

19 August 1987 sadly put Hungerford on the map as Michael Ryan carried out his murderous attack in and around Hungerford.

The crew from Hungerford were the first to be called to this incident, not knowing the full extent of what was happening. As the ambulance reversed up South View it received two gun shots, one smashing the wind screen the other embedding itself in the nearside door well, missing both crew members, who escaped from the immediate area and tried to contact their control to warn other crews who were now racing to the town.

Later they were in a position to be able to remove patients to Princess Margaret's Hospital in Swindon and quickly return to Hungerford. The following day they were both back on duty for their normal shift, as were all the other staff.

Off duty staff rushed to assist as they realised what was happening. One, Michael Jennings, receiving wounds to his leg that would put him off work for over a year.

The ambulance service was to receive commendations for the way its staff carried out their duty that day, the highest going to Linda Bright, (who was on her first duty at Hungerford covering annual leave,) and Hazel Haslett, the first crew on scene, both receiving the Queen's Commendation from HRH Prince Charles.

Sadly we were to hear that the future of Hungerford Hospital was in doubt, and with it the Day Centre which provided most of our outpatient work. This closed on the 25 June 1989, but Berkshire County Council Social Service took over the running of the day centre, providing its own transport service.

It was soon realised that the outpatient work in the area was not sufficient to maintain a crew at Hungerford, so it was moved to Newbury Ambulance Station.

At the same time the full night shift that had been introduced at Hungerford some years earlier, was moved to Newbury, who would now cover Hungerford at night.

This was probably the beginning of the end, as over the next few years internal rumour suggested that the future of the station was in doubt, as it was considered that cover could be provided from the Newbury station.

My own time at Hungerford Ambulance Station came to an end, as 27 years of lifting had affected my neck and back, and I could no longer safely lift. I retired hi September 1992, when the station was then put into the hands of Neale Marney.

A long battle took place between the council and the health authority, but in the end the station was closed during February 1997, the hospital having already been pulled down to make way for house building and the station would go the same way. See "Trust to lose its ambulance station", NWN 1996. Staff were moved to Newbury Ambulance Station, and cover is now provided from there.

Recognition of long service by some members of staff was seen by the Ambulance Service in the awarding of the Queen's Award for Long Service and Good Conduct to Richard Amphlett, Derek Whiting and Sidney Cripps, on the 26 March 1996.

Even as we start this new millennium a helicopter has now been introduced into the Berkshire service to provide more effective cover in this rural area.

The work of the voluntary organisations, the British Red Cross and St. John Ambulance, continues within the town, providing First Aid cover at events and transport to hospitals and clinics as well as locally run clubs.

Hopefully they will be able to carry out this valuable work for years to come as long as volunteers come forward as they did back in Archie Allen's time.

Richard Amphlett
February 2005

Further notes by Mrs Marjorie Eatwell (1.12.1997):

When the first ambulance was purchased, there were no regular drivers and the vehicle was garaged first at Norman's and later at Stradlings. Stan Coe drove it at times, also George Willis, Harry Barr and Stan Pine. The Brigade later worked out a rota of drivers, including Ernie Franklin, Alf Eatwell, Ned Smith, Sidney Foale, Leslie Wilcox and Edward Eatwell.

Other members acted as aids, and had to be collected because only the drivers had phones supplied.

Mr Barr had one of his garages altered to accommodate the vehicle and it was garaged there until the Brigade built their new HQ near the railway station. This was built on land acquired from Mr Richard Bartholomew, and was designed by John Wells. It was opened by Lord Rootes, who was the President of the Brigade at the time.

When the service was nationalised, the HQ and vehicle were used until the new station was built in the grounds of the old workhouse. This was a much larger building and had several ambulances.

In addition to running the ambulance (for which the team were paid 2/= a time) they also took over the Blood Doning Service, holding sessions first in the Corn Exchange, and later in their HQ until the number attending became too many and the Oxford Doning Service took over and arranged meetings in the Croft Hall. When Mr Eatwell took over there were only 8 donors. When he gave up there were 236 on the panel.

[When the Hungerford Division of St John Ambulance took delivery of a new ambulance in October 1991, it cost £32,000. £12,000 of this was raised by numerous local efforts, and the balance came from the 1987 Tragedy Fund.]

See also:

- Obituary of Mr A J Allen, 1939

- "Go-ahead for new ambulance station" - NWN 21 December 1978

- "Ambulance Station begun - at twice original estimate" - NWN 14 Aug 1980

- "St John Ambulance completes project" - NWN 24th August 2006