Soon after the onset of the War, it became obvious to the British authorities that the Royal Army Medical Corps would not be able to cope with the numbers of casualties from battle and disease. A call went out for volunteers from the St John Ambulance Brigade to serve for six month tours in South Africa. The idea was to post these personnel to base hospitals, thus freeing RAMC members for service at the front.
Volunteers came forward in large numbers and, after being equipped at the headquarters in Cripplegate, London, the first batch of 23 St John Ambulance Brigade members sailed for South Africa on 3 November 1899 aboard the HMS Princess of Wales. Groups of SJABs (or 'Johnnies' as they were known) were mobilised for South Africa, and approximately 1,800 served during the period 1899-1902.
Approximately 60 died in South Africa, the majority from enteric (typhoid) fever, which they contracted from their patients.
St John Ambulance Brigade Medal was awarded to these men.