LAST year, during a holiday in Bournemouth, Ivy Sheppard and her husband found themselves in their hotel restaurant next to a family which included an elderly woman.

“I could see that she was choking on a piece of meat. Other members of the family were just carrying on – they hadn’t noticed,” she said.

“I just moved over there, stood her up, thumped her between the shoulder blades, got rid of the piece of meat and sat her down again.”

The family of the elderly woman, whose life might otherwise have ended that night, were so stunned they didn’t remember to thank Ivy until the following morning.

The St John Ambulance veteran has been involved in too many such situations to list.

There was the time during a visit to her sister in Queensfield, for example.

“A chap was knocked down by a car. I went over. He wasn’t breathing, but I opened his airway and he started. I never knew his name because the paramedics took over,” she said.

There have been numerous occasions when local St John Ambulance volunteers have helped at sporting fixtures.

These include Swindon Robins’ meetings, where they have assisted riders with injuries ranging from minor abrasions to fractures so severe they can’t be detailed here for fear of offending the squeamish.

When Ivy is asked to give talks to various groups about St John Ambulance, she takes great delight in asking her audiences which is the older organisation, hers or the Red Cross.

Almost inevitably, people think it’s the Red Cross, which was founded in the 19th century.

They are wrong, because the St John Ambulance movement can trace its ancestry back, in one form or another, to about 700AD.

Ivy’s official years of service are calculated by St John Ambulance from her first meeting, when she was still a primary school pupil.

In truth, her history with the organisation goes back even further than 55 years.

“It was since the day I was born,” she said. “My father, Edwin McGovern, was a founder member in Swindon in 1926. he worked at the Great Western Works. There was a St John Ambulance there but there had never been a brigade in Swindon, so he got together with some colleagues and started one.”

As if this were not enough of a family background in caring for the sick and injured, Ivy’s mother, Gladys, was a nurse.

“We used to meet in church halls, schools and pubs until we raised the money to build a headquarters in Lagos Street,” Ivy said.

“All the members of the family were involved – I was the fourth in a family of six.

I was 10 years old. I was taken to College Street School to be instructed by Maud Hall, who ran an antique shop in Devizes Road, and also Mrs Towerzy.

“The first meetings were just training about first aid, that was the main thing we did. Slings, splints, bandaging and also controlling haemorrhage.“ At 15 Ivy transferred to the adult section of the organisation and has been there ever since.

She met Fred when both were working at the Railway Works, he on the shop floor and she in an office. The circumstances were unlikely.

“It was November 5. A huge explosion went off. He’d thrown a banger in front of me and disintegrated my nylons!” she said.

Later Ivy, uninjured by the unusual ice-breaker, was on St John Ambulance duty at the old Regent dance hall.

“He came sneaking up with a pair of nylons to replace the ones he’d destroyed. I said it was my birthday, so for several years I had two birthdays,” she said.

In her time with St John Ambulance, Ivy has seen many changes. In the old days members went on duty with a bag of basic supplies, such as bandages and slings. These days they’re trained to use defibrilators and other modern medical technology, as well as learning the same basic techniques as in earlier years.

There are currently about 60 members of the local St John Ambulance branch, but more are welcome and full training is given before anybody is assigned duties.

Ivy said: “You get the satisfaction that you’re giving service to the community.”

The St John Ambulance website is