By Keith Marshall

The Eastbourne 999 display is now a regular attraction on the Western Lawns during the summer, and is visited by 1000’s during the weekend. But where did it all start, and why?
The initial idea for an “Ambulance Display” came about in 1994, when two Eastbourne ambulancemen sat down in their restroom with a cup of coffee and discussed ways of showing to the public some of the work covered by ambulance crews.
Ideas were bounced about and discussed, leading to the planning of the first 999 event and the presentation of a draft format for their idea, should permission be given by the Station officer to stage it?
The initial idea was just to show the equipment available to ambulance crews, demonstrate to the public some of the work carried out by the Ambulance Service, and some of the procedures that were in practice at the time.

Also, to allow the public to experience certain things first hand so as to put them more at ease should they ever need to call an Ambulance.
Interest was sought from the crews within Eastbourne Ambulance Station and a meeting was arranged between all interested staff. A request was submitted to the divisional officer, via the Eastbourne ambulance station officer, and the idea was approved with the proviso that only off-duty staff would become involved and no payment would be forthcoming.
Such was the enthusiasm for the project that a large number of off-duty staff willingly accepted the management proviso.
Hand-drawn posters were photocopied and local shops were asked to display them. These posters were also put into the ambulance vehicles and left at the 7 hospitals which served the town at that time
The outcome of all this was that, on one sunny Saturday during the summer of 1974, the ambulance garage was emptied of vehicles, ambulances were parked on the Dursley Road roadside, floors scrubbed, trestle tables set up and a small display was organised and arranged within the garage. This was a very limited affair, due to the restriction of space within the garage area and for the safety of persons attending.

During that day many of the wives and girlfriends of staff supported their partners by helping and did a fantastic support job of running a rota for supplying refreshments to staff and visitors alike. Drinks and biscuits were paid for out of the staff’s own social fund. Following its success, it was agreed that the
display should be staged again the following year, if permission was granted by the divisional officer, and so the first Wish Tower display was planned for 1975
To expand the opportunity of increased footfall, the Eastbourne Ambulance station being a little off the main roads and some distance from the town centre, a request was submitted to the local council for permission to hold this display at the Wish Tower lawns on the seafront. Although this was presented as an additional and free attraction for the town during the summer, and a full explanation of the intentions were laid out, the initial request to the council was met with marked reluctance but, with perseverance, permission was finally given and the display, consisting of vehicles, equipment,
‘Resuscitation Annie’ practice dummy, pamphlets, Blood Donor cards and various “things of interest” duly arrived on the bottom slopes of the wish Tower, near to the old Lifeboat station. Compared with current methods used by the Ambulance crews of today the equipment was very basic and diagnosis was as much down to the knowledge, skill and experience of the crews as to the equipment available.
This second event proved more popular and had a far better attendance from the public.

Along with the previous displays, resuscitation techniques were shown and people were able to attempt a resuscitation on the ambulance practice dummy.
People were stopping to look, listen and learn, and tell of their own experiences. It was therefore agreed to try and get permission to make the display into an annual event.
After a few years, due to the display’s ever-increasing popularity, Mr Douglas Mayne, the Eastbourne station officer at the time, was approached and it was suggested to him that the Police and Fire Brigade might also like to become involved, so as to make the event more interesting and attractive to the public and give a working knowledge of the three emergency services to the public. Mr Mayne agreed and took the idea forward to the Chief Ambulance Officer at that time, Mr Roland Grainger. Wheels were set in motion and, due to natural progression and further development and cooperation with the other emergency services, the final result is the fantastic 999 display that now takes place each year on Eastbourne’s Western Lawns.
So, although the Western Lawns 999 displays have now been staged for a considerable number of years, the original format, conceived in 1974 and possibly the earliest of its kind, means that the overall history of this annual display can be traced back to 50 years ago this year.