Galway's First Ambulance?
November 29th, 2007
This photograph of a horse drawn ambulance was taken in 1915 with a group of men who presumably were 'the committee' or those who financed it. This would seem to be the case when the stretcher in front says 'St. Johns Ambulance Club/Class'(?). They are, front row, left to right; M. Lydon , A.Sownian, G. Lambe , Joe Burke , L. Tolputt. In the second row are H. Fisher , J.M.Leech , Dr. Sandys , G.D.Syme , O.Dockery , J.Eustace. Standing are O.Fogarty , M.J.Tighe and P.Garrett. The driver is M.Philbin.
The St. John Ambulance Brigade is a voluntary organisation, non sectarian and non political, existing for the purpose of maintaining, in readiness for First-aid assistance to the sick and injured on public occasions, a body of trained men and women. It was established in Ireland in 1903, and today comprises of c.1,000 trained first-aid personnel, ambulance, nursing and cadets. They work in Dublin, Cork and Limerick, and interestingly, they have no records of ever having been set up in Galway.
There is some evidence that a ladies ambulance corps was set up in UCG during the first world war.We also know that a committee was set up to collect funds to send ambulances to the western front. The first one of these had a plaque on the side with the legend "To the Connaught Rangers from your friends in Galway" and it was sent out in February 1915. Their fundraising was good enough to purchase a second ambulance (which may be the one in our photograph) and it was sent in August 1915.
Before the second World War, there were 4 ambulances based at the Central Hospital, one in Clifden and one in Loughrea.During the war, these services were interfered with due to petrol shortages and maintainance difficulties with no spare parts available, so by 1941, there were 2 ambulancs in the Central, one in Loughrea and a small one on loan from the Red Cross in Clifden.
Petrol for doctors was also severely rationed eg., 8 gallons for a small car for a month which would represent about 2 days consumption if the doctor had a large dispensary district. A detachment of Second Line Army Medical Reserve was organised in UCG by Prof. Murphy, professor of English....the medical profs were too busy with hospital duties. It was intended that this 4th Motor Ambulance Convoy should join the army in the event of hostilities. It had it's own ambulances which were converted buses, each capable of carrying up to 15/20 casualties. Training was carried out on weekends and evenings, with periods spent in camp each Summer for full time training under army conditions.
The Order of Malta held it's first class on October 17th 1937, though it was not formally established until May 12th, 1938. It's foundation was entirely due to Dr. Conor O'Malley. In 1938 the first Ladies Auxiliary Unit was established. These units provided first-aid cover at all sorts of events involving large crowds such as race meetings, football matches religious gatherings etc., particularly to aid and transport invalids.
The Galway units of the order of Malta Ambulance Corps rendered sterling service in helping the victims of the Trans-Canada air disaster on August 15th, 1949, and also the KLM disaster on August 14th, 1958. In July 1952, they assisted in the transfer of patients from Woodlands Sanatorium to Merlin Park, and again in the transfer of patients from the Central to the new Regional Hospital on April 3rd, 1956.
Our thanks to Mrs. McDonnell of Presentation Road for this photograph.
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