A Larne woman’s vast private collection of St John Ambulance memorabilia has found a new home at Inver Museum on Mill Brae.
The items, which have been gathered over the past 12 years by Isabel Apsley, span the history of the organisation with a special emphasis on its role during the war years.
Based next to Larne Masonic Centre, where St John has an ambulance station, the museum has been completely refurbished by Isabel.
“This was an old TA base and has been Larne Masonic Centre since the mid 1990s; where the museum is now was the warden’s house,” she said.
“The refurbishment work started in September 2012 and it took about two years to complete.”
Founder of the Inver branch of the St John Fellowship, Isabel has lived in the town since the mid 1970s.
“I have a background in first aid and I became involved with St John Ambulance in 1994,” Isabel added.
“It was about 2002 or 2003 that I started collecting the memorabilia; I’ve gathered it all up from auction sites, eBay, you name it.
“It just got to the stage where there was too much of it to keep in my house, but I wanted the collection to be somewhere people could see it; the museum is for Larne.”
The collection includes a range of St John Ambulance uniforms from the first and second world war eras, along with an array of medals, badges, first aid kits and textbooks.
Also on display is an example of a World War Two food parcel, which were supplied to prisoners of war by the Order of St John and the British Red Cross, operating as the Joint War Organisation.
One particularly striking piece in the collection is an original two-wheel litter, dating back to the early 1900s.
“This is what they would have called an ambulance in those days; only the canvas and the tyres have been replaced,” said Isabel.
Visitors to the museum can learn more about St John Ambulance’s relief efforts during World War One through the hospital at Etaples, France.
The St John Ambulance Brigade opened the 520-bed facility in 1915, with several members of staff coming from Northern Ireland.
One of these was Larne’s own Rev DH Hanson, past minister of Gardenmore Presbyterian Church, who served as a chaplain at the hospital from 1917.
The role of the Ulster Gift Fund, which had a significant input from members of St John Ambulance, is also highlighted. The voluntary organisation was set up during WWII to provide anything from bandages to clothing for war hospitals and members of serving forces, expanding in 1942 to include prisoners of war and their next of kin.
Meanwhile, several months of painstaking research at the public records office in Belfast led Isabel to the names of POWs from all over the province - including 25 men from the Larne area.
“These were very difficult to find as they were actually filed under the Ulster Gift Fund, but by sheer chance I located them,” Isabel explained.
The museum was officially opened on Saturday by Lord Lieutenant of County Antrim, Joan Christie OBE, and will have two further open days on Friday (6-9pm) and Saturday (2-8pm).
Following the open days, the collection will be viewable by private appointment only.
For more information, contact Isabel on 07511 772 666.