Aid to Eastern Europe
A brief history of the trips made so far….
To this -
So far, 48 trips have been made to deliver aid to caring organisations in the needy parts of Eastern Europe and beyond, including 37 ambulances, 3 fire engines and 3 minibuses. Each has been packed full with medical supplies, special equipment, clothes, blankets and even children’s toys.
Ambulance to Armenia:
I had to fly to Amsterdam to buy a left hand drive ambulance because the Armenian government would not allow a right hand drive vehicle to stay permanently. On our way home the ambulance, a Chevrolet, broke down in the south of England. Because it was an American buily Chevy, we had great difficulty getting the parts which meant postponing the trip 3 times. Eventually we left England on 28th October. I don't like leaving it so late in the year because we have some very high mountains to climb in Greece and Turkey, and unfortunatley we ran into thick fog, torrential rain and snow. On top of bad weather we had the Turkish customs to deal with -
We left England on a beautiful sunny through Europe evening from Hull on P&O the very kindly give me Half Price Crossings. Our destination was Marampole. It was a straight forward trip through Europe. When we got to the border to enter Lithuania we were met by the Chief of the border guards, this I thought was not the norm. Well it turned out that he is a great friend of the priest we were Giving the ambulance to. The border was closed for two hours for their lunch break. The Chief took one look at the ambulance which was full of Med supplies and said we could pass, then returned to his 2hr lunch Lunch break. Well all the barriers we down, and I did not feel like waiting 2 hours so I calmly got out of the ambulance opened the barrier, drove through, got out closed the barrier. Much to my surprise we got Away with it. I often think some one up in the sky is looking down and giving me a helping hand. The ambulance will be used to bring in the poor who need emergency treatment in the capital.
Trip 37: Ambulance to Gramsh, Albania
Alison Gill, Donovan Hall and myself set off for the mountains of Albania. We were delivering an ambulance to a priest and mayor of a small town right up in the Albanian mountains. The authorities were demanding $2500 import tax, which of course I didn’t have. We covered up the signs on the ambulance and entered the country as a camper van. It worked a treat! We were through customs in 1 hour compared to the 2 days it took to clear Albanian customs last time. The priest and the mayor agreed that the ambulance would be shared between the local hospital and fire station and that paperwork wasn’t really necessary. It took us 3 days to get home after hitch-
Ambulance to Macedonia:
October 2008 we delivered a Chevrolet ambulance to Skopje, Macedonia. On entering Macedonia we were told to follow an army escort. They took us to the border of Kosovo and told us to leave as we had entered the country by the wrong border. We had to go through the whole process again to enter Macedonia. As we were leaving the capital to catch the plane back to London we had an accident in the taxi, missed the plane, and had to catch another, hours later. As we were flying back we were sucked into the jet stream of a big Boeing 707. This made our plane take a sharp dive. For a few seconds I thought my stime had come! From London we normally catch the National bus to Leeds and we normally get some well deserved sleep. Not any more as they have installed bucket seats with seat belts! Under no circumstances can a man get his head down. I sometimes wonder why at my age I still do what I do.
Ambulance to Armenia:
Delivered a left hand drive ambulance to the Armenian Medical Christian Association in Yaravan, Armenia. The customs were the worst I had experienced in all 34 trips so far into the East. They even scanned the whole ambulance. The machinery must have cost thousands of pounds. It took 3 days of constant harassment before we were allowed into the country, and then they opened the border for us at 3am! I feel I should return because they are doing a magnificent job helping the poor in the outlying villages.
May: Ambulance to Red Cross in Sofia, Bulgaria. It rained all the way, but we were pleased to be able to deliver much needed equipment directly to 2 orphanages in Bulgaria. The condition of the orphanages makes it hard to believe they are in the EU!
October: Ambulance to Poland. The Poles needed a left hand drive ambulance so John flew to Amsterdam and bought one there. As he is a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) he was able to arrange for the vehicle to be filled by them with medical equipment. The drive was scary with very narrow roads and 18 wheeler trucks coming at you at speed with construction right alongside and no barrier!
Ambulance to Prestina, Kosovo
“Delivered to Mother Theresa’s Organisation in Prestina. I reversed over a log and we were stuck on top of a mountain for the night.”
Ambulance to Osipoucichi, Belarus
“On entering Poland we caught fire because of bad roads and too much weight on board. It took us 18 hours to clear customs in Belarus.”
Ambulance to Izmit, Turkey
“We had a police escort all the way from the border to our destination.”
Ambulance to Macedonia
Ambulance to Istanbul, Turkey
“We got a fantastic reception from the Turks. While we were in Istanbul we experienced an earthquake. The corners of houses were falling off. We ran like hell for open ground!”
Ambulance to Elbasan, Albania
Ambulance to Brendisi, Albania
“We delivered warm clothes, blankets and food directly to the refugee camps before leaving the ambulance for CARITAS. Thank God for little nuns! One got us out of the docks without the necessary papers”
Ambulance to Duress, Albania
Ambulance to Lucha, Transylvania.
“Our Russion trip was cancelled 1/2 hour before we were due to leave home. So we headed to Sofia in Bulgaria.
The Yugoslavs refused us entry. So we headed for Romania. It took 18 hours to get through their border. We eventually delivered the ambulance to Lucha, Transylvania.”
Ambulance to Yorensk, Russia
Ambulance to Peshcape, Albania for children’s homes run by Feed the Children
Ambulance to Berate, Albania
Ambulance to Berate, Albania
"Had great difficulty leaving Albania. We had to hike through Macedonia and then get a boat to Corfu"
Ambulance to Berate, Albania
Ambulance to a Caritas owned clinic in Peshkapi, Albania
Ambulance to Murmansk General Hospital, Russia
We were held up at the border for 2 days. For the first time ever, we had to empty the ambulance. The Customs officer did not c
Ambulance to Sarajevo, Bosnia
“The ambulance was delivered to Hope and Home for Children. We had no paperwork at all but managed to talk our way through the borders of Croatia and Bosnia.”
Ambulance to Baku, Azerbayjan
“We had trouble at the border. RH drives are not permitted in Azer. They held a Cabinet meeting to allow special dispensation. I was invited.”
Ambulance to Tbilisi, Georgia
“We were impounded by Turkish Customs for 36 hours. The ambulance was given to CARITAS.”
Fire Engine to Tbilisi, Georgia
This was a first for me, taking a fire engine and ambulance together in convoy. The fire engine was donated to a group of monks called the White Canons to serve a group of local villages and replace a post war Russian vehicle. The ambulance went to Prague to the Knights of Malta, a Christian organisation who look after the poor. We stopped at Colditz for a night on our way down and spent the night in one of the cells. It is now a place for School Trips and other organisations. to learn about what went on. You have to be in bed for 10 well that was no good for us. We stayed out past curfew and got locked out. This meant we had to break in -
This was a very quick and easy trip delivering an ambulance to a Caritas hospital in the capital, Chisinau. The chief of the border guards was a personal friend of the priest we were donating the ambulance to and he had us through the border in record time. Conditions at the hospital are incredibly basic and we will try and help them out with equipment on a future trip.
This was a 1 week trip to deliver the fire engine and train the local municipal staff on how to use it. The trip was smooth after some last minute repairs before departure and some hold ups for paperwork.
April 2013, a year after intended, but delayed due to breakdowns and snow in the mountains en-
September 2013, ambulance to Nigorno Karabakh
This one had been taken to Armenia a few years ago but it subsequently turned out they really wanted a minibus to ferry medical teams out to the villages to run clinics. We helped fundraise for a minibus for them and took their ambulance on over the border into Nagorno Karabakh.
May 2015, ambulance to Ivano-
A contact in Caritas in Ukraine linked John up with a charity assisting wounded soldiers and their families and in-
May 2016, 2nd ambulance to Ivano-
This was a repeat trip to deliver a 2nd ambulance to the support charity in western Ukraine. This time we were trailed by a small film crew and were able to interview displaced families and soldiers in rehab.
September 2017, another ambulance to Georgia.
This time the ambulance was given to a charity called Catharsis in Tblisi, one of the oldest charities inn Georgia. They provide resident and day-
We had several hold ups at customs where we had to unload all the aid from the ambulance.
On arrival, a group of the residents treated us to a singing and dance concert!
September 2019: John flew with his grandson, Max, to Krakow to buy a 12 seater minibus for Father Rus who runs an orphanage in Transnistria. Delivering the ambulance ran into problems at the Ukrainian border over demands for a 5000 Euro bond to drive through the country. Luckily a local border worker heard that a priest was stuck at customs and after 37 hours negotiated them though in quick time.
It was fascinating to see the rural homes that were dug into the ground to protect against heat and cold with only a mound and a chimney visible as we drove by. The minibus will serve the orphanage school and enable many children from the surrounding villages to be collected and returned who currently have no access to schooling.
|2013 Nagorno Karabakh|
|2002 Fire engine|
|Oct 2010 Cricket gear to Lithuania|
|July 2008 Adventures in earthquake country|
|Jan 2007 John's toughest mission yet|
|Aug 2006 Get cracking with fundraising|
|Oct 2005 John is a man with a mission to aid the needy|
|Aug 2005 Bosnia gift turns into charity boomerang|
|2004 Not for the faint hearted|
|Mission not so impossible interview|
|Feb 2003 By hook or bt crook John will get there!|