The Basics

St John Ambulance (henceforth SJA) is a global organisation centred on providing First Aid and care in the community. As an organisation is has a military structure, though over the years this have become increasingly bureaucratic and now more closely resembles the structure of the UK police force.

The History

Established at the same time as the first successful crusades in 1099, the Knights Hospitallier combined with the Knights Templar to form a crusading body in the Mediterranean. The two organisations combined are often referred to as the Knights of St John. The Knights Hospitallier provided medical treatment to battle casualties and civilians and were supposed to provide treatment no matter what religion or allegiance the casualty held. Some recent studies dispute this however.

After the initial crusades, the Knights of St. John occupied the fortress islands of Rhodes and then Malta. These islands came under frequent attacks from the Islam Ottoman Empire, but were also used as launch pads for raids in the Holy Lands. During their time on the islands, particularly on Malta (were the famous siege of 1565 occurred), the Knights built hospitals and continued to provide medical care in the community. The organisation today features a Maltese cross on its logo, a hangover from these days.

Gradually, the organisation spread throughout Europe and the globally, becoming increasingly more secular. Although some elements of the modern organisation have a religious basis, this is now often very far removed from the grassroots members who practice first aid.

SJA Today

Note: This typically concerns the UK side of St John’s ambulance, though may be generalised to encompass the broader global activities.

SJA members fall broadly into 4 groups. The youngest members, typically between seven and 12 belong to the Badger units, where basic first aid is taught in a fun manner and only on a very basic level. Members can then progress to the Cadets where their skills are developed. Cadets also go on duties, though they do not have the full operational rights of full members.

At 18 Cadets become full adult members and will typically join an adult brigade. However, in the past 15 years a new type of brigade has been emerging. These brigades, known as LINKS units are aimed at university students and are typically based on campuses at large universities.

SJA members will be a familiar site and many public events, from football matches to motor racing, from air shows to canal festivals. They typically focus on providing first aid and care to crowds so that NHS Paramedics can focus on serious cases and not cuts and bruises. Presently, the standard uniform is a white shirt, with black trousers, tie and sweater with a black and white formal hat and a high visibility jacket or coat. The organisation is now moving towards using standard “greens”, a two piece work overall in medical green, with high visibility strips, typically worn by ambulance crews and response teams.

Levels of Training

All adult members of SJA should hold the HSE First Aid at Work certificate in order to treat casualties unsupervised. Though this covers almost of aspects of first aid, further training can be undertaken to increase skills and move from first aid to higher standard of medical treatment. The courses currently available in the UK are:

  • Medical Gases
  • AED
  • Pre-hospital fracture management
  • Fundamentals of Care
  • Ambulance Completion Module
  • Casualty and Patient handling


  • Experiences as a Member of Loughborough LINKS, a LINKS unit based at Loughborough University and work with other brigades.
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