'I was gobsmacked'

PUBLISHED: 13:55 16 January 2008 | UPDATED: 21:27 15 June 2010

WHEN John Brown steps forward to accept an MBE at Buckingham Palace later this year he will be thinking about the people who encouraged and inspired him to spend 58 years of his life supporting the work of St John Ambulance. A retired BT engineer, John, 6

WHEN John Brown steps forward to accept an MBE at Buckingham Palace later this year he will be thinking about the people who encouraged and inspired him to spend 58 years of his life supporting the work of St John Ambulance.A retired BT engineer, John, 68, of Exeter Road, Honiton, was a pupil at Honiton Primary School when he first joined St John Ambulance as a cadet at the age of 10."We used to meet in Silver Street, where Shoobridge Funeral Services are now," he recalls. "That's where the ambulance station used to be and we used to meet in an old, half moon Nissan hut behind it."You knew what the weather was like outside. If it was freezing, condensation used to run down the galvanised metal."In those days, Honiton accountant SWH Ponsford was the cadets' superintendent.Tony Miller, who became a full-time ambulance driver, was the cadets' divisional officer. He was a great inspiration to Mr Brown, keeping his interest active - even after he passed his 11-Plus and moved from primary school to the former grammar school in Ottery St Mary."He wasn't very old himself, but he was very encouraging," recalls Mr Brown. "He certainly encouraged me."I became a cadet leader when I was 16 and I transferred to the adult division of St John."I went out on first aid duties and crewed an ambulance at night and at weekends until 1975."I was just 12 years old when I went on an ambulance for the first time - with Tony Miller."St John eventually moved from Silver Street to premises opposite Honiton Evangelical Congre-gational Church.While superintendent of the adult division, Mr Brown made it his job to wind up the building's clock."I got off a chair one night after winding the clock up and went straight through the floor. Dry rot! I took the decision then that we needed to find new premises."The late Dr Terry Glanvill, area commissioner for St John Ambulance, had an idea.He advised Mr Brown to contact Lawrence Sweet, managing director of Davis Estates, which had offices in the High Street."Terry arranged a meeting and I went to see Lawrence," said Mr Brown. "He found us a piece of land at Haydons Park and gave it to St John for £5."He rang his architect, who organised the drawings, and even got us planning permission."When it came down to building, Mr Sweet then arranged for gas mains to be installed."St John Ambulance in Honiton owes a lot to Mr Sweet. "His support, at that time, got us what we have got now."Mr Sweet laid the new building's foundation stone in 1980.Now a county staff officer for St John, Mr Brown acknowledges he has probably given "a good 30,000 hours" of his time to voluntary duties over 58 years.Before retiring, he says he was putting in a 40-hour week with St John - while still holding down a job.Supporting him over the past 47 years has been his wife, Pauline."She has been very supportive," said Mr Brown. "In fact, I couldn't have done it without her. She's never moaned, bless her heart."Mr Brown was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours List for his services to St John Ambulance.He was asked if he would accept the award in November last year, being told, in writing, that the offer was in the strictest confidence."I was totally gobsmacked. It was totally unexpected," he said.Recalling his days as a young cadet, when he was growing up in Streamers Meadows, Mr Brown says: "I would encourage every youngster to learn first aid."Everybody should know first aid, especially children."It is amazing what children can do when faced with problems that require first aid. They don't panic. They are so in control."Mr Brown will receive the MBE from either the Queen or Prince Charles sometime within the next five months, on a date to be announced.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Midweek Herald. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Midweek Herald