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Interview with Margaret Whiteman (nee Mepham) by Donna Aitken, January 2008
Margaret Whiteman (nee Mepham)

The cadets form their cross with white ribbons Margaret with her award
1945 Cadet Display - Back row: Madge Thompson (Hartwell), Hazel Gibson, Kath Hart, Betty Kisbee (Helsdown), M Whiteman, Middle: Betty Knight (Lack), Edna Ablett, Grace Allen, Front: Jean Loveday, June Braines, Betty Goodman, Mary Cave, Freda Lack (Ward).
Margaret receiving her
Serving Sister award in 1978

Margaret joined the Rushden branch of the St. John Ambulance Brigade at the age of 14 in the 1930's. She began as a nursing cadet and remembers a Mrs Jones as her Superintendent. At 18 Margaret became a nursing member, and then she was promoted to Corporal. Miss Clipson was an officer at that time and was a very strict lady, taking her role very seriously. In 1974 Margaret herself became an officer as the Divisional Superintendent.

The Rushden St John headquarters was situated in Station Road, Rushden. This was actually a wooden hut built on land owned by the local council and the St. John paid a peppercorn rent of one shilling a year. They were unable to purchase the land in order to build a permanent building as it was reserved for possible future development.

The Brigade members were all volunteers and met each week at the hut where they received training in first aid and home nursing which was very intensive. At first the men met on a different evening to the ladies but later they amalgamated for economical reasons.

Competitions were often held amongst themselves and also against the other branches in their Wellingborough area group including Finedon, Higham Ferrers and Raunds. The larger competitions were held at the Northampton County HQ. Mock disaster situations were set up involving casualties and each group were judged on their abilities in dealing with them.

Rushden Brigade set up a band which was run very successfully by Ken Robinson and various fund raising events were held in order to buy the instruments.

One year the nurses organised a flower festival at Easton Maudit Church to raise the profile of the St John Ambulance Brigade.

The branch was very active in attending local events. Members gave up their precious spare time at weekends to help at the carnival, church fetes, school district sports, bonfire nights at the Hall Park, the Historical Transport Society Cavalcades, motorbike scrambles at Wymington to name but a few.

The old meeting hut
Canon Michael Wilson, Mr Frank Roberts, Div Supt (Comb) Bill Rich, Div Supt Margaret Whiteman, Canon J F Wrangham-Hardy (Chaplain to St John's)
Margaret recalled one Sunday she was preparing the family meal when someone rushed round to her house and asked her if she would attend at Santa Pod raceway that afternoon. Due to an oversight medical cover had not been arranged and the whole event was in danger of being cancelled. Margaret was able to save the day!

After 15 years service within the Brigade members are awarded with a medal and then they receive an extra bar every 5 years thereafter.

In 1978 Margaret was surprised and honoured to receive the Serving Sister of the Order of St. John Award. She had to attend a service at St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell, London for the presentation. As the only uniform she owned was a dress, Margaret borrowed a suit from another officer. This award is the highest available within the Brigade.

Their new premises - the old Primitive Methodist Chapel
The old Primitive Methodist Church in Fitzwilliam Street, later the British Legion Hall, now the St John's Brigade meeting hall.
At 3p.m. on 27th November 1982 the hut in Station Road was refurbished and re-dedicated by the St. John Chaplain, Canon Wrangham Hardy from Greens Norton. Sadly only five years later it suffered an arson attack and was destroyed beyond repair. The band's instruments were amongst the items lost. Ironically this happened in 1987, the centenary of the founding of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. However the Rushden branch would not be thwarted.

The Royal British Legion Hall in Fitzwilliam Street, Rushden was up for sale and with the help of a loan from the Northampton HQ this was purchased and is still owned by the Brigade at the time of writing in 2008. This has proved to be a much more suitable property for their requirements.

In June of the centenary year there was a celebration party at Hyde Park which was a huge affair. All the Brigades throughout the Country were invited. The Rushden branch attended and a good time was had by all!

Margaret was a dedicated member of the Rushden St. John Brigade for over 45 years and thinks back on her time with affection. Despite the hard work involved she made a lot of friends and they always managed to have fun together.

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