St John's Archivists

From Spectrum, 12:10 pm on 28 September 2014

St John The Archives gang at work c RNZ
The Archives gang at work.

Everyone knows the Order of St John in New Zealand, which operates most of the country's ambulance services. But what do you know about its history?

The Order of St John employs two and a half thousand people in New Zealand, along with almost nine thousand volunteers. It cares for four hundred thousand people each year. Every Wednesday Guy and Noeline Marks open the doors of the St John Ambulance archives in Ellerslie, much as they’ve done for the last 17 years. But these days they’re joined by eight more volunteers, to help sort through a mass of material accumulated by St John during its almost 130 years in New Zealand.

St John WW bandage complete with instructions c RNZ
WW1 bandage complete with instructions.

Guy Marks says there’s a lot of institutional knowledge in his team which often helps identify problems. The group’s just finished archiving 120 large cartons from the old St John headquarters in Wellington and Guy has put on a special morning tea to celebrate. To contact Guy go to

St John archivists at tea Guy Marks makes a bit of a speech C RNZ
St John archivists at tea, Guy Marks makes a bit of a speech.

Bruce Tudor reluctantly takes time away from his computer screen, where he is trying to trace St John men and women who served in World War 1. He’s on the trail of St John nursing sister Bessie Ernest from Onehunga, who volunteered to go to war and was later decorated by the Red Cross. Notably, she was 'mentioned in dispatches', something normally reserved for gallantry. Bruce doesn’t yet know what Bessie did and he says it’s very unusual for a civilian to be 'mentioned'.


SOCIAL AT ONEHUNGA. A social was tendered on Tuesday evening in the Coronation Ambulance Ball, Onehunga, to Nurse Bessie Ernest, R,B.C, by her fellow-workers of the Onehunga Nursing Division, St. John Ambulance Brigade. Mr. J. Park, acting as chairman, welcomed Miss Ernest home, and mentioned her career as a V.A.D. in France during the period of the war and her award of the Royal Red Cross. Mrs, C. Smith, corps lady superintendent of the Auckland division, also spoke. Mrs. Basett, lady superintendent of the Nursing Division, then presented Miss Ernest with an address from the members of the division, signed by the officers and suitably framed.

New Zealand Herald, Volume LVI, Issue 17074, 1 February 1919, Page 10

St John Bessie Ernest c rnz

Bessie Ernest lost two brothers in the war and never married. She was welcomed home after her WW1 duties as reported in the Auckland Herald of 1 February 1919.