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From an interview, 15th February 2013, with Kay Collins
John Harley

John Harley
I was born in Harborough Road, number 8, in 1934. I don’t know how long we lived there. Then we moved up to live with a Mrs. Clark in Cromwell Road. We were in rooms there with Mrs. Clark, then we moved up to Oval Road. Then in 1939 my sister was born and I went to Newton Road School. Miss Childs was the first teacher we had there at that time. Miss Bailey was the teacher in the top class. When I was 13 I took an exam and passed to go to Wellingborough Technical College to learn building. That was for two years. After I’d finished that I worked for Arthur Sanders as a bricklayer. Then in 1952 I joined the army, I signed on for three years in the Signals and on the 5th November 1952 I travelled to Catterick to do my basic training. After I did my basic training I went to trade training and joining course in Ripon. On Coronation Day I travelled home on some leave before going to Egypt. That was the day I stood all the way. The trains were absolutely packed with the crowds going down to London to see the Coronation. We then flew from Stansted to Malta where we got off the plane and had a meal, then we got back on the aircraft and flew on to Egypt. I went to Fayid near Bitter Lake and I was attached to the 35 Field Engineer Regiment. I was there and then in 1953 the regiment moved to Cyprus, Limassol. The boat could not tie up out at sea. So we had to transfer to landing craft. The boats were chained up together with about 12 inches between them. We then drove to Polymedia camp about two miles south of Limassol. Under canvas, cold water to wash and shave with. Between the tents carob trees grew, and the locals would come to gather them, and the men rode on donkeys and the ladies walked behind. The 35th Field Regiment who we were attached to were like civil engineering and they were laying water mains to the villages. And this was the time when the terrorist Makarios started up. They put these water mains into the village and then the Cypriots blew them up. In the end he became president didn’t he. Then I got demobbed.

In 1956 I got a job with Rushden Council laying slabs, kerbs and building manholes and anything that needed doing. I went home for my dinner one day and there was a telegram there telling me that I had to be back in the army. I’d already got my papers at home so I went down the Post Office and got ten shillings and took the train to Peterborough and up to Catterick. This was the Suez Crisis. I hadn’t been out long from the November to the September. And I got called up again. We then painted all our lorries sand coloured, got kitted out, shorts etc. then we then moved from Catterick down to a place called Ogborne St. George near Swindon. We moved down there waiting for boats to take us to Suez. We was such a big regiment, signals regiment that we couldn’t fit on one boat and so we were split in half and I was in the second half. The first wave got on the boat then we moved down to Southampton to get on the boat. They signed a truce or whatever they signed and so we never actually got on the boat. We went back to Ogborne St. George. Then we eventually dispersed from there, took all our lorries back to ordnance depots and then I was demobbed just in time to get home for Christmas 1956.

By this time I had met Molly and we got married in 1957. When we got married we moved to Wymington. We lived there two or three years until we felt that we ought to have a place of our own. Harry Cave was building some bungalows at the allotments behind the Windmill Club, Alpine Road. It wasn’t a proper road then but allotments. The chap who had the land next to the bungalow, Jim Billett, worked on the ambulance. At this time I was working on various firms, tarmac firms, doing kerbs, building retaining walls and things like that. I built all the walls down Duck Street at this time. We raised the road by about four feet. You can walk along there now and the path near the butchers was one of the roads I worked on. As I say Jim Billett had this bit of allotment. He was an ambulance man and I used to talk to him. So I joined the St. John and got my first aid certificate and I applied for a job. I couldn’t get on Northamptonshire Ambulance so I went to the Northampton Borough.

John His St John medals
Ambulance Service Uniform
John's service earned him this group of St John Medals

Northampton Borough was a fire and ambulance service as well as a rescue service. We only worked in the borough but we went on the motorway at the request of the Northamptonshire Ambulance. I went for the interview and he said “provided you passed a medical you can start.” So I started in 1969 when I joined the Ambulance Station in Northampton. I was about three years on the roads and then I was promoted to leading ambulance man. But at that time if you were a leading ambulance man you came off the road and went in the control room. At Northampton Borough control room there was like two blocks of telephones and two desks; one the fire brigade and one the ambulance. The ambulance had white phones and the fire brigade had red phones. If there was a bad fire and a lot of calls were coming in some of the calls would be diverted to the ambulance ones. We used to have to take them. I also went on Competitions and I was the runner-up in the Southern Area. All the ambulances in the Southern Area, and just the odd point in it, so I was the runner-up.

1970 Training Course 1971 Ambulance Aid

Ambulance Team No 6 Region

1972 shield
1970 Training Course Attendance Certificate
1971 Ambulance Aid certificate
Runner-up D/A J Harley 1972

Then in 1976 I was promoted to sub-officer like in old fire brigade days - that is what they were called. This is when I went back on the road. Then we moved to a new ambulance station up at Harborough Road. But prior to moving up to Harborough Road the fire service left the borough and went with the County so it was Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service. That was at Harborough Road Station. But while I was at Northampton Ambulance Station we made a video showing youngsters how to dial 999 and that was a great success.

Advanced Resuscitation in 1977
The badge

In 1987 I moved to Rushden Ambulance Station, and lots of things happened at Rushden. We used to go in carnivals, switching on the lights, we had an ambulance in the parades all them sort of things. I can’t remember the date but we hadn’t got a defibrillator at Rushden as it was a small station. They couldn’t afford to put one on the station, so with the help of the Rotary Club and the street collection for the British Heart Foundation to raise money for this defibrillator for Rushden Station; between the Rotary, Rushden station and the British Heart Foundation collection we managed to raise about a thousand pounds to buy a defibrillator for Rushden Station. It is in the archives of the Telegraph. The Rotary used to have a meal every week at the Queen Vic to raise funds and we were invited to a meal one Friday and the defibrillator was presented to us for Rushden Station.

Nags Head fundraisers
The Nags Head at Hargrave held charity events to raise funds and one year they chose to buy splints for Rushden Ambulance Station
We also had open days on the station to raise money for the station. Besides the defibrillator there were small things that we needed. So that’s what we did. Once a year the Nags Head in Hargrave held a charity event to raise money for local charities and one year it was for fracture splints for Rushden Ambulance. I can’t tell you the date. So that is the bit of a potted history of the service and what happened.

I retired from the service in 1995. As I say I was a member of St. John before I joined the ambulance and with that first aid certificate you got five shillings a week extra and you could wear a St. John’s badge on your arm. You were the bee’s knees if you’d got this certificate. When I joined the ambulance service we used to go on football matches, everybody did in them days, man carnivals. I was at Northampton then not at Rushden and I went on duty at the carnivals and all them sort of things. When I moved to Rushden there were about twelve people and I was in charge. I used to do the rotas and overtime sheets for Corby, Oundle, Wellingborough, Kettering and Rushden. So I used to do all the overtime sheets and rotas and what they were doing on sheets. I did this while I was doing all my Ambulance work as well. We wasn’t quite so busy then as we got to at the end. I really enjoyed what I done and everything.

One Sunday afternoon the crew were given the job, not me, to take this chap home and he’d got to go upstairs and I was out on a job and they said when you’re done there is a crew in Britain Road who have got to take this chap upstairs to bed. He’s a big chap and they want a hand So we said yes. When we got there they said there’s nobody here but the doors open. So I have a look round. We thought had we got the right address. Yes we’d got the right address. So I went upstairs and found a bed and we carried this chap upstairs and put him to bed. Well about an hour or so later these people came home and found a strange man in their bed. What’s going on. The police, ambulance service everybody. Well. This was the address that we had been given. So we found the right address and we had to go to the house apologise to the people, carry him down stairs put him in the ambulance and take him to the right address.

We had a 999 call from the doctor. “There’s a man lying on the bathroom floor.” We goes to the address. We couldn’t get in. We had saws and could get in anywhere but we couldn’t get in here. It was like a fortress. So I said “We can’t get in”. We were at the fire station at this time. “Well we’ll send the crew down to you and get the police down to you.” That happened eventually. The fire brigade tried all their methods of getting in. The police arrived at the same time. They were trying things as well. “We shall have to put the door in”.

So they put the door in. They go to the bathroom, search the house; nobody there. Gets back on the phone and the radio. “Can you check with the doctor. We’ve broken into this house and there’s nobody lying on the bathroom floor. There’s nobody at this address.”

So they ring the doctor and the doctor says, “Oh! I’ve given you the wrong address.” So there’s us, smashed all the door down, and it was the wrong house, so then we had to go charging up to the right address. He’d had a stroke. These things all happened.

One day we went to these bungalows - the doctor had given us the address. The lady said “I’ve not got to go to the hospital.” So we said “Well we’d had this job from the doctor”. We said the doctor’s name which I can’t remember. “The doctor said you’ve got to go hospital.” So she said “Well I’d better come then. But I saw the doctor a few days ago but he never said anything about this.” We get this lady on the motor. So we get half way down and they radioed us. “Why haven’t you picked that lady up yet?” We said “We have, we’ve got her on the ambulance.” “You’d better get back up there they’ve given you the wrong number. You’ve got the wrong lady.”

So we had to take this lady back and put the lady that we should have picked up in the ambulance. Fred Karno’s wasn’t it!

Officer certificate
Richard Duke of Gloucester
Grand Prior of the Most Venerable Order of the
Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, to
John Barry Harley, Esquire


Whereas Her Majesty the Queen the Sovereign Head of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, has thought fit to sanction your appointment as an Officer in the said Most Venerable Order

Now therefore I, by these presents, in the name and by the authority of Her Majesty do grant unto you the dignity of an Officer in the said Most Venerable Order and I do hereby authorise you to have, hold and enjoy the said Dignity as an Officer of the aforesaid Order together with all and singular the privileges thereunto belonging or appertaining

Given at St John's Gate under the Signature of His Royal Highness The Grand Prior and the Seal of the said Most Venerable Order this Fourth day of December One thousand Nine hundred and Ninety-one in the Fortieth year of Her Majesty's Reign

By the Grand Prior's Command

John was invited to attend the
Annual Commemoration and Rededication Service
at St Paul's Cathedral in 1990
1989 certificate
Cardiac Monitoring certificate 1989


Name: John Barry Harley A.A.S.I.

Date of Birth: 11-11-34

Vocational Education:
1969 Joined Service
1970 Completed Miller Training
1972 Passed Institute of Ambulance Officers
1973 Hospital Training
1974 Leicester Update
1974 First Line Supervision
1976 Multidisciplinary Course (Beaumont)
1977 Leicester Update
1980 Foundation Management
1981 Officer Updating
1986 Officer Updating
1977 Passed Examination in Theory and Practical Application of Emergency Resuscitation and received an Advanced Resuscitation Certificate.
I have also taken a vehicle maintenance course.

Career Profile to Date:

During my career in the Service I have entered competitions and came runner up in the No 6 Region in 1972. I successfully passed the Institute of Ambulance Officers Exam in 1972. I was promoted to shift leader in 1973 and went into control. On the amalgamation of the Borough and County Services I went back on the road as a shift leader. In 1976 I was promoted to Deputy Station Officer on the Mounts Station, moving to Harborough Road North on the opening of the new station.

I have given talks to youth groups and schools promoting the Ambulance Service and giving First Aid lectures. My hobby being photography, I assisted in the making of the school package, taking and using some of my slides for illustration. I also assisted in the making of an educational video,

I have attended night school for vehicle maintenance and fault identification, as this can be an advantage when faults occur on ambulances.

I am an active member of the St John, holding a Divisional Officer's position with Rushden Combined Cadets Division.

My latest venture is to have the new Crown Badge engraved on glasses and goblets to promote the Ambulance Service.


Organisational: In my capacity as a Cadet Officer with the St John's I organise all kinds of activities from Sponsored First Aid days, Grand Prior Subjects Exercises, making up word searches.

I also work with youth groups (Cubs, Scouts, Brownies, Guides, Girls Brigade) and have assisted in inter-troop competitions and activity days with the Cubs, Scouts, St John and the Girls Brigade.

General Maintenance: Bricklaying, paving and decorating.

I enjoy most general maintenance work.

Hobbies and Interests:

I enjoy involvement with people of all ages, from the Brownies and Cubs to Over 60's Clubs. I am an active member of the St John's Ambulance, holding a Divisional Officer's position with Rushden Combined Cadet's Division.

I am able to use my interest in photography to assist me in my other activities and on winter evenings I show slides of things like Cubado Day at Wymington or a St John's exercise. I have also used photographs to promote the Ambulance Services in the school package.

I do all the painting and decorating and general maintenance around the house. I also enjoy working in my garden and greenhouse. When I want to relax, I like to play or watch a game of bowls.

John also went on several trips with patients to Lourdes - this is one of the ambulances provided by Across Trust specially designed for stretcher cases.

Note the long windows to give each stretcher patient a good view.

Here it is parked in College Street.

It was also known as the "jumbulance".


John also helped with the later part of the History of the County Ambulance Service.

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