The origin of St John Singapore dates back over 900 years to Jerusalem. In the 19th century, around 400 years after Henry VIII ended the medieval Priory, a determined group set up the British Order of St John to care for the sick in the Hospitaller tradition and the suffering of workers was one of their main concerns. The movement quickly spread to Britain’s overseas colonies including Singapore.
Prof. J.S. Webster, OStJ
Radiology Professor at the King Edward VII College of Medicine and Radiologist with the General Hospital (present-day Singapore General Hospital), 1935
Efforts to establish the SJAB locally was taken on by Prof. J. S. Webster, a radiology professor at the King Edward VII College of Medicine and a radiologist at the General Hospital (present-day Singapore General Hospital).
In 1935, Prof Webster began organising first-aid lectures in Singapore with several doctors and friends to recruit members to form a brigade. Thanks to Prof Webster’s enthusiasm, he was able to rally a sufficient number of first-aiders to form the inaugural division of the uniformed body by September 1938 – and the SJAB was officially established in Singapore.
Six months after the SJAB’s formation, Webster retired and left Singapore for England.
In 1935, Dr. J.S. Webster, OStJ, a radiologist with the Medical Services of the General Hospital (now Singapore General Hospital) organised First Aid lectures in Singapore with a few public-spirited friends and brother doctors. The first headquarters was located one desk in Radiology Department of the General Hospital, Outram Road (now Singapore General Hospital). After Dr. Webster himself left Singapore on retirement, the Director of the Medical Services, Singapore, was prevailed upon to take over the responsibility of Director of the St. John Ambulance Association, Singapore, and he very generously transferred headquarters to his Board Room, which was on the 4th floor of Fullerton Building, Singapore.
In September 1938 sufficient number of First Aiders was recruited to form the first division of the uniformed body of the Brigade. Before the outbreak of war in Malaya, the Government incorporated all St. John personnel to form the nucleus of the Medical Auxiliary Service which was part of the Passive Defence Services of Singapore and Malaya. A transport Section was formed, and 28 First Aid Posts were organized and manned in the city.
During the war from 1942 to 1945, our members conducted themselves magnificently throughout the air-raids, and bomb shelling. Many acts of bravery and heroism were performed and many laid down their lives on duty before the fall of Singapore. Others were imprisoned, but they still continued to help with the training they had previously received, without the aid of medical equipment denied to them by the enemy.
In September 1945, Lady Superintendent-in-Chief, the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, C.I.G.B.E., D.C.V.O., Lld., met over 400 St John members in Singapore at the then Government House (Istana). At that gathering St. John in Singapore was re-born. In February 1949 – 1957, the temporary Headquarters was located at St Peter Church at Stamford Road, adjacent to St. Andrew’s School. It was demolished and later became the site of National Library.
Temporary St John HQ at St Peter’s Church, Stamford Road (2 April 1951)
In 1952, the St. John Council was formed in Singapore. The Council comprised a body of senior and professional Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents who were willing to give their services and specialized knowledge in an advisory capacity to assist and co-ordinate the St. John Ambulance Association and Brigade in its work.
In March 1957, St. John Ambulance Headquarters was again transferred and temporary housed at Gilstead Road. The current St John Ambulance Headquarters at Beach Road was officially opened by late President of Singapore, H.E. Enche Yusof Ishak on 24 June 1960.
In October 1969, a Sub-Centre of the St. John Ambulance Association was formed in the industrialized area of Singapore. With the assistance of the West Area of the Brigade, this Sub-Centre gives lectures in First Aid and Home Nursing to many factory workers. It is now known as Jurong Centre.
In June 1978, the Brigade was reorganised and upgraded to National Headquarters level. This brought our organisation status at par with St. John Ambulance organisations in other independent nations. The Brigade was structured into 4 Districts and 10 Areas. In 1996, the Brigade was again re-structured. The District level was removed, and the Brigade became simply structured into 10 Zones.
On 11 January 2014, St John Singapore reached a new milestone when the London headquarters elevated St John Singapore to that of a Priory in the Order of St John. This elevation placed St John Singapore on par in status with the then nine existing Priories, among which were those of England, the United States, Canada and Australia. It also implied that Singapore would be represented in the Grand Council in London, the governing body of the Order, and would therefore have a voice in charting the future direction of St John internationally. St John Ambulance Singapore was also thereafter renamed as St John Singapore.
The Inauguration Ceremony was held on Saturday, 11 January 2014, at the British High Commission. The then-Lord Prior of the Order, the late Professor Anthony Mellows, OBE, GCStJ, was the officiating dignitary. Prof Mellows and other Priors, Chancellors, Chairmen, CEOs and Sub-Priors from all over the world flew into Singapore for the auspicious occasion. H.E. Antony Phillipson, the British High Commissioner to Singapore, was present as well.
In full pomp and pageantry, the ceremony celebrated the achievement of our island state. The ceremony observed traditional English customs – with Prof Mellows knighting our first Prior, Dr Teh Peng Hooi, KStJ, on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Sovereign Head of the Order of St John. At the same time, the ceremony also strived to reflect the multicultural nature of St John Singapore, and the occasion was blessed by the Spiritual Counsellors of the four major faiths in Singapore, with Mr. Shiva Sri U Sundaraj Kurukkal, Ven K Rathanasara, Ustad Sofyan Yadi and Rev Gabriel Liew representing Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity respectivey.
Dr Teh was knighted as a Knight of Justice, and was the first Knight of Justice in Asia.
Today, St John Singapore continues with its work for suffering humanity and it assists the Republic of Singapore whenever called upon in all emergencies such as epidemics, clinic and hospital duties, the St. John Ambulances also carry the sick and needy whenever requested. Brigade officers and members continue to provide first-aid coverage at National, public and other events.
On 11 January, St. John Singapore was inaugurated as the Tenth Priory of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in a solemn ceremony officiated by the then Lord Prior, the late Professor Anthony Mellows, OBE, GCStJ; and held at the British High Commission in Singapore. Dr. Teh Peng Hooi, KStJ, who was the incumbent President (now Chairman) of the National St. John Council of Singapore was made a Knight of Justice of the Order and was installed as the first Prior of the Priory of Singapore.
The St. John Heritage Centre, set up in the St. John Headquarters, was opened on 10 January.
The Board of Benefactors was set up.
The first AED course for the public in Singapore was conducted by the Association in October. The opening was officiated by Dr. Lim Wee Kiak, MP for Sembawang GRC.
The Association obtained accreditation from the Ministry of Manpower as an Approved Training Centre for Industrial First Aid.
The Brigade was further restructured: the 4 Districts were eliminated and the 10 Areas re-designated as Zones.
The St. John Fellowship was inaugurated on 20 April.
The provisional committee of the St. John Fellowship was constituted and held its first meeting on 30 August, chaired by Dr. Phoon Wai Hoong, K.StJ.
The Association conducted its first public CPR course on 11 & 18 November, attracting18 participants.
In April, the Jurong Sub-centre was upgraded in status to a Centre.
With an $18,000 sponsorship by the Rotary Club of Raffles City, the Association embarked on a campaign to create in students, interests in first aid through the screening of first aid films in secondary schools and colleges.
The Association and the Brigade merged into one entity, the St. John Ambulance.
The Association organized a seminar on Emergency First Aid on 6 & 7 January.
The Association commenced publication of its newsletter, the SJAA Newsletter.
In June St. John attained the status of National Headquarters. The Council, registered under the Societies Act 1966 was constituted as the National St. John Council.
On 1 September the Brigade was restructured and upgraded into 4 Districts with 10 Areas and a National Headquarters.
The Association, jointly with the Ministry of Labour, organized the first Industrial First Aid course, the forerunner of today’s Occupational First Aid course which first aiders must passed under the Workplace Safety and Health Act 2006.
The Association’s Sub-centre in Taman Jurong was officially opened on 25 April by Mr. S. Rajaratnam, Minister for Labour and Foreign Affairs.
The Brigade participated in the first Pan Malayan First Aid Competition held at the Happy World Stadium in Singapore, and won the Dato Lee Kong Chian Gold Trophy.
The headquarters moved to the new $400,000 building which was declared open on 23 July by H.E. Inche Yusoff bin Ishak, Yang Di-Pertuan Negara of Singapore.
St. John vacated its Stamford Road headquarters and moved temporarily to No. 25 Gilstead Road, a building provided by the Government.
The Governor of Singapore, Sir Robert Brown Black, KCMG, KStJ, OBE, laid the foundation stone for the permanent headquarters building at 420 Beach Road.
The St. John Council was established. It became the legal entity of St. John Ambulance Singapore, holding its assets and exercising responsibilities over its finances and other official matters.
St. John moved its headquarters to the former St. Peter’s Church building in Stamford Road.
The Medical Auxiliary Service was disbanded and surviving St. John members formed the re-activated Brigade. The Singapore Centre of the Association resumed its activities of organizing courses in first aid, home nursing and ancillary subjects. Successful first aid course participants were recruited into the Brigade.
The war ended on 15 August. Countess Edwina Mountbatten of Burma, Superintendent-in-Chief of the St. John Ambulance Brigade arrived in Singapore on 9 September. On her invitation some 400 St. John members turned up to meet her at the Government House (present day Istana). This marked the beginning of post-war St. John Ambulance in Singapore.