Student army receives Anzac award

Students rallied in response to the Christchurch earthquake and got stuck in with the clean-up. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Students rallied in response to the Christchurch earthquake and got stuck in with the clean-up. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It is an army that has never gone to war, but it is now being honoured alongside our war heroes.

Christchurch's Student Volunteer Army (SVA), created by celebrated young achiever Sam Johnson to respond to the city's devastating earthquakes, is this evening being presented the RSA's prestigious Anzac of the Year award.

The same award was last year presented to the late Lieutenant Colonel John Masters, who famously saved the life of a Gurkha soldier under heavy fire in Borneo in 1965.

The presentation to the SVA today at Canterbury University - by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae - marks the first time the honour has been given to non-military personnel since being established in 2010 to recognise the Anzac spirit evident in New Zealanders today.

"The young men and women who went out and delivered exceptional support did so in the true spirit of the original Anzacs," Sir Jerry said.

"The Student Volunteer Army's work shows that the values of the Anzacs are not relics of a bygone era.

They are as important to young people of today as they were to the young people - the Anzacs - that landed at Gallipoli 97 years ago."

The SVA mobilised thousands of volunteers to help clean up large areas of Christchurch following the major earthquakes that have struck the city since September 2010.

After the deadly quake in February 2011, 9000 SVA volunteers carried out 75,000 hours of work, working with contractors and others to clear over 360,000 tonnes of silt and sludge from liquefaction - and provided meals, clean water and guidance to residents in need.

Mr Johnson said the Anzac award was "incredibly humbling".

While it would be "callous" to compare the actions of the SVA to the Anzac soldiers, it was a great privilege to be considered to possess the same "values and integrity".

"I have been recognised a lot personally and I have felt a little bit uncomfortable about it because it's not about any individual person," said Mr Johnson, a finalist for the New Zealand Herald's New Zealander of the Year award last year.

Speaking from Gallipoli, RSA national president Don McIver congratulated the SVA, many of whom are the same age as the soldiers who fought at Anzac Cove 97 years ago.

"We are set to travel with a number of young people over to the cove, and among them may be one or two of the 9,000 recipients of this award," Mr McIver said.

"Like those who went before them, they have made a nation proud."

Mr Johnson said the SVA was working on new projects to help its local community, and is planning a major rock concert later in the year - which may feature major American bands - as a reward for those volunteers.

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