Eighty years ago today, London had faced over eight months of relentless bombardment from Luftwaffe, unknown to them the night of the 10th/11th of May would be the last night of the Blitz but the night would be absolutely devastating.
That night the Germans flew a total of 571 sorties, they dropped 711 tons of high explosive bombs and 86,173 incendiary bombs. The resulting fires meant that in a single night, an area double the size of The Great Fire of London burned.
1,436 people died that night and over 1,800 were seriously injured.
It will have been a busy night for the American Ambulance, however unknown to them the attack would take the life of the first member to be killed in the war. Her name was Marjory Butler, today we look into what happened on that fateful night.
To start we go back to 1858 and the opening of a the Wallace Hotel, Knightsbridge. In 1863 the hotel was sold and re modelled as an opulent hotel which opened as the Alexandra Hotel, Knightsbridge. The hotel continued to offer its high end rooms until it was destroyed in 1941.
At approximately 00:30 on the 11th of May 1941 a single high explosive bomb tore through the roof, detonating in the heart of the building. The resulting explosion killed Officer Ensign Marjory Stewart Butler. We may never know exactly what happened that night but there are two possible theories.
Contemporary reports stated that as the first ambulances arrived on scene, the structure of the building collapsed further and we believe Mrs. Butler may have been caught up in this collapse. Mrs. Butler was based at the American Ambulance headquarters and would almost certainly have been out working that night, with such close proximity to the headquarters it is very possible she went out when they got reports of it.
The second possibility is that Mrs. Butler was billeted at the hotel and was in her accommodation when it was bombed. It seems she was also a member of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry who’s headquarters were just behind the hotel which would fit in with her being billeted there. That said, I would predict that on such a bad night of the Blitz, almost all members of the American Ambulance would have been out on duty. It wasn’t unusual for members to work 24hr+ days where the need was there.
Whatever the circumstances surrounding her death, it was an utter tragedy for the American Ambulance and the FANY. Mrs. Butler’s body was returned to Perth, Scotland where she was buried. Her name is memorialised on the FANY memorial, less than 100 meters from where she was killed.
Well it’s been a while since our last post and in that I promised some more regular posts through 2021. That hasn’t been possible so far however now I’ve got more free time I can get back to it!
We’ve got some exciting things coming up in the next month and hope to be able to keep up the momentum up throughout the year. Stay tuned for some more great original items and documents being shared as well as posts about the project and all other things American Ambulance!
So it’s been a fair while since I last posted but I thought I’d update you all! We’re still very much here however life outside this project has been extremely busy recently and I’ve had little time to sit down and write some posts. While usually we work for fortnightly posts I will be scheduling monthly ones for now with occasional ‘bonus’ posts as that’s better to commit to! We’ve got a few things planned for this year so stay tuned to find out more! I hope you all have a good new year and that 2021 is the year the world starts to get back to normal
For our first post of the year I thought I’d share some information about the most commoney used vehicle of the American Ambulance.
The Ford RO1T ambulance was built in Dagenham, UK, by Ford and was initially designed as part of an order to go to Romania hence the ‘R’ prefix. Ford built 1,702 of these vehicles between 1940 and 1941, initially they were all produced as ambulances however later some of these were converted, by Ford, into a van version.
We’ve been trying to research more about this vehicle but information is quite scarce! I was lucky enough to find an original parts catalogue for the vehicle something which was no doubt common place at American Ambulance garages.
I have found two post war photos of the van version of these vehicles from the 1980’s but it appears there may only be one or two survivors around. I believe there were two ambulance versions (in very bad condition) near Ross-on-Wye until about 2012 however my research seems to suggest they may have been scrapped! If anyone has any information about the whereabouts of a RO1T then please do get in touch!
Since quite early on in this project, something on the wish list was an embroidery machine. A few weeks ago I bit the bullet and finally invested in one.
Despite the large initial cost, due to the large number of varied badges the American Ambulance used, it is by far more economical to make our own than get them from an external company. This way we can make smaller quantities, tweak our designs and make changes to the material we use to try and make them look more authentic.
First we’re looking at the distinctive American Ambulance arm badge, the gallery shows the progression of the embroidery. The machine splits up the colours, white, blue, yellow then red. It takes about 25 minutes in total to embroider. Once done, the slightly tedious task of cutting all the excess thread off the badge. After this the stars are hand embroidered, this gives a more authentic look, and the machine struggles to do these small details. After all this the badge is cut out and ready to sew on.
This series of photos shows the process of getting our designs right, these are the service badges, given to members of the American Ambulance each year. The design and size I’m happy with now. These prototype versions are embroidered on white, I’m yet to track down the authentic looking “service dress” fabric but once I do they will be embroidered onto that!
Two hundred girl drivers of the American Ambulance were being reviewed to-day by the Queen at a stand-down parade at Buckingham Palace. (…) Among the drivers representing units from all parts of England and Wales – are girls with whom the Queen talked during her tours of the bombed cities with the King.
At 3PM on Wednesday the 24th October 1945, around 50% of the American Ambulance drivers and some other staff gathered in London for a very special celebration. The occasion was their stand down parade, they were inspected by The Queen and Princess Elizabeth along with Aneurin Bevan (Minister of Health ), John Winant (American Ambassador) and the American Ambulance Directors.
Drivers from up and down the country piled in the back of ambulances to head down. My great grandmother, Betty Bacon drove her Ambulance (JEV 896) down from Leeds for the occasion, in the front she had Miss Robinson with her, in the back were eight more of Leeds’ drivers! I’m sure it must have been a snug fit but I can’t begin to imagine how much fun it must have been for them.
Below I have included a selection of original press photos. Many of these have never been published online and I have never posted this many photos in one go on here! I hope you enjoy looking through them, they all show the parade in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace with all the dignitaries present.
Back in June, I wrote to various different politicians and leaders of both Great Britain and the United States to tell them about the history of the American Ambulance and that this year marked the stand down of the organisation. Although I haven’t been able to do anything face to face due to COVID I am still keen that this is an aniversiary that is not forgotten. Owing to the current political and health climate I wasn’t expecting a single reply to the letters however hoped that either the recipient or their advisors would at least be able to learn something about the history of the American Ambulance through it. Imagine my surprise then when today, this letter landed on the doormat!!
Today’s the day, 75 years ago today the American Ambulance held a series of celebrations to say goodbye , remember the work they had undertaken and commemorate their stand down.
On the morning of the 24th October 1945, at American Ambulance headquarters Mr. Gilbert Carr received a letter from the Minister of Health giving thanks for the work that the American Ambulance had done and the work to donate their assets to voluntary hospitals. One part of this letter always stands out to me:
The deep and spontaneous goodwill with which, in this country’s greatest hour of need, a group of American citizens living in London conceived and created this organisation, and the remarkable speed with which it was placed at the Ministry’s service, will never be forgotten.
Sadly, as those of you who follow this project know they were all but forgotten by history but hopefully we are changing that slowly but surely.
Keep an eye on the blog for a few more posts today I hope you find them interesting.
Rarely do I know the exact times of the activities of the American Ambulance but today I do know at least one. 75 years ago, at 10:30 am Mr. Gilbert Carr, Director General of the American Ambulance meets with the Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan to discuss he program and finalise plans for the American Ambulance Stand Down parade due to take place in two days time.
By now, drivers up and down the county will be perfecting their uniforms and some of the vehicles in preparation for their Royal Inspection.
Following on from yesterday’s post, today we look at this letter from the 19th October 1945. In this letter, Director General Gilbert Carr invites the Minister of Health to a cocktail party at a top London hotel after the stand down parade on the 24th October.