When the Coronavirus epidemic began to hit London, I was extremely keen to serve. My wife started working seven-day weeks between two London hospitals, and aware of the sacrifices she and others in the NHS have made, I wanted to help.
I have been joining the Army reserves, but Coronavirus stopped my training, so I wasn’t able to help there. I wrote to the police special constabulary and the Royal Navy (who, after all, have much better uniforms, and warships). Everyone was lovely, but no one was quite able to put me directly to work, until I wrote to St John Ambulance.
Their efficiency amazed me: my application form was processed that night, and in days I was in Croydon for socially distanced assessment, interviews, and background checks. A volunteer from Cavan (I also am Irish) took my ear temperature at the door, and soon I found myself marvelling with a New Zealand woman that we were outside our houses, talking in person.
In no time, my uniform arrived by post, with my training dates and opportunities to serve. Other St John Ambulance's volunteers and I have helped in the Nightingale’s North Ward and hospitals like the Royal Brompton, Charing Cross, and Lewisham, taking observations and talking to patients leaving intensive care, and staffing twelve ambulances across London each day. One couple in East London has spent eight weeks crewing an ambulance together.
My local unit is Crystal Palace. For me it feels very much like a Lodge: there are twenty people, a WhatsApp group, terrible jokes, and a great sense of purpose. When I apologised for learning the ropes, the response I got was “you’re already part of the furniture”. It was something you might say to the Inner Guard to put him at his ease and had a similar effect on me.
Many masons have been part of St John. I was encouraged by a friend through masonry, V W Bro The Rev Timothy L’Estrange AMetGM, who also wrote one of my references. Bro Timothy was an active St John Ambulance volunteer for 24 years, ultimately becoming a Divisional President in Sussex.
Interestingly, there once was a Lodge for masons who also were St John Ambulance volunteers, Prior Walter Lodge No 8687, though it surrendered its warrant in 2010. It’s been a pleasure to copy their example. Freemasons have also supported with money, the Mark Benevolent Fund has given £3.3m to St John Ambulance in 2017, to replace 53 ambulances and support vehicles.
Exchanging the trowel for the ambulance, with its blazing emblematical blue lights, has been a fantastic opportunity to practise outside the Lodge a few duties I learned in it. It is an experience I’ll feel grateful for, the next happy day we meet as brothers.
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 41 July 2020 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons - Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 41.