elephant cartoon

“To Bombay, A travelling circus came. They brought an intelligent elephant, And Nellie was her name. One dark night, She slipped her iron chain, And off she ran to Hindustan And was never seen again. Ooooooooooooo…”

“Nellie the Elephant” written by Ralph Butler and Peter Hart (1957)

Every three years I cycle up to a Scout Hut in Whitton to take a First Aid refresher course. It lasts all day and covers most aspects of basic first aid, from minor cuts, bruises and nose bleeds through to life threatening situations like cardiac arrest, choking and anaphylactic shock.


Part of the time is spent practising CPR, Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, an emergency procedure used to restore and maintain respiration, brain function and blood circulation in unresponsive patients who are not breathing. After catastrophic events like cardiac arrest, electrocution or anaphylactic shock CPR is a life saver.

Having first called an ambulance and checked that the patient’s airway is open, the basic technique is to compress the chest by pumping on it firmly with both hands for 30 beats. Then you give two ‘rescue breaths’, the famous ‘kiss of life’, blowing air into the patient’s lungs. To help “First Aiders’ get the right tempo for the chest compressions (at least 100 ‘beats’ a minute) we were told to do it in time with the old song “Nellie the Elephant”, a regular hit on ‘Children’s Favourites’ back in the early 1950’s…

Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk And said goodbye to the circus Off she went with a trumpety-trump Trump, trump, trump Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk And trundled back to the jungle Off she went with a trumpety-trump Trump, trump, trump

The instructors advised us to keep the singing to ourselves as there is nothing more disconcerting for a unconscious patient than to wake up and find oneself being pummelled and ‘kissed’ by a stranger singing ‘Nellie the Elephant’!

The beauty of the song is the main verse lasts just 31 beats - more or less the recommended amount for CPR. By the time you get to the chorus…

“The head of the herd was calling, Far, far away. They met one night in the silver light, On the road to Mandalay.”…

…it is the precise moment to administer the suggested two ‘rescue breaths’. Then it is immediately back to the 30 chest compressions and Nellie packing her trunk.

Although CPR is easily learned and a proven method for saving life many people are reluctant to take it up. After some research the British Heart Foundation came to these conclusions…

  • Many people were repelled by the thought of ‘kissing’ a stranger.
  • About 1/5 of people asked were frightened of catching an infectious disease from the ‘kiss of life’.

In response to this, on the 4th January 2012, the British Heart Foundation launched a revised CPR campaign telling people to forget the ‘mouth-to-mouth’ bit and concentrate upon the chest compressions. The argument was that in an emergency CPR without ‘rescue breaths’ was better than no CPR at all. In came a TV promotion featuring Vinnie Jones and out went “Nellie” and her trunk…

Vinnie Jones and the Hard and Fast “Hands Only” promotion

“Nellie the Elephant” was thought too old fashioned for this new, modern, hard and fast Hands-Only’… ‘No kissing! You only kiss your missus on the lips!’ promotion so Vinnie suggested a new song - “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees.

This was a bit of a shock for some of us older First Aiders who regard the rescue breaths as an essential part of the CPR process. We know that Vinnie is a diamond geezer and his ‘Hands-Only’ promotion is ‘well nang’ but did his promotion mean that ‘rescue breaths’ were out the window for ever along with our pachydermic pacemaker, Nellie?

Last month at the latest First Aid course in the Scout hut in Whitton we found out. The instructors took us through the CPR procedure as usual ….call for help, check the airway, compress the chest for 30 beats - and then - YES! Two rescue breaths! In fact the instructors told us that our duty of care as first aiders obliged us to use rescue breaths on those we were trained to help. Outside, in the silver light, on the road from Whitton to Mandalay, an elephant was calling…

“Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk And said goodbye to the circus Off she went with a trumpety-trump Trump, trump, trump.”

First Aiders breathed easily - and so did their patients!

Mandy Miller sings “Nellie the Elephant” Oct. 1956

CPR IS EASILY TO LEARN AND REALLY DOES SAVE LIVES. WHY DON’T YOU LEARN HOW TO DO IT YOURSELF? Contact: www.redcrossfirstaidtraining.co.uk/Courses or www.sja.org.uk or ring 0844 7704800 for more information

– from Martyn Day