Thursday, June 20, 2024

Meet the world’s longest serving St John volunteer

The world’s longest serving St John volunteer is celebrating 80 years of dedication to the

St John Ambulance South Australia’s David Heard (pictured) joined the organisation as a cadet with the Colonel Light Gardens volunteer team while still at primary school in April, 1944.

Now aged 91, the Murray Bridge farmer has ceased operational duties but continues to serve as Treasurer of the St John Ambulance Historical Society.

Mr Heard said he has no plans to hang up his uniform yet.

“I might get tired but I’m not retiring,” he said. “I’m still learning.

“I’ve certainly made a lot of friends over the years. That’s the thing about volunteering – you meet good people.

“It’s also been good for my family. All our four children joined as cadets and my daughter, Lorna, and two of my granddaughters are still volunteering. It’s in our blood.”

The early years saw David delivering first aid alongside adult volunteers at events including
harness racing, picnics, football and the Christmas pageant. However, he says his most memorable was Victory in the Pacific Day in 1945.

“I was on duty as a cadet and we went into the town on the corner of King William Street and North Terrace,” said David, who attended Urrbrae Agricultural High School.

“People were cheering and hugging and kissing – they were crammed in. I’ve never seen
anything like it since.”

In 1950, David began volunteer ambulance work on Friday and Saturday nights. This included attending vehicle crashes and accidents.

“We saw some bad things and we would go back to the station and have a talk about it,” he said.

“The skills I learnt are skills for life. One day I just happened to be going past a motor car crash when the passenger, a woman, had scraped her knee quite badly,” he said.

“I had a fresh laundered handkerchief which I used to bandage her knee. A week or so later she sent it back to me in the post, freshly laundered and ironed thanking me for my help.”

Meanwhile, in addition to his volunteer work with St John, David had become an apprentice
mechanic at Kelvinator, progressing to write service manuals for the company.

After meeting his wife Joy, David went onto help manage her family’s property near Murray Bridge, transferring to St John’s Murray Bridge volunteer team.

He assisted St John at Mannum in setting up a team at Mount Pleasant and Tailem Bend with Meningie. The volunteer teams were the basis for ambulance services in the areas. He also supported the establishment of cadet teams at Murray Bridge, Tailem Bend, Mannum, Karoonda and Mt Barker.

Now a widower following Joy’s death in 2020, David still goes to the gym regularly and is a member and Patron of the Murray Bridge Rowing Club.

Awarded the Order of St John Service medal in 1958, and 10 bars since, he has been honoured by former Governors and the Duke of Edinburgh. He also holds the prestigious rank of Knight of the Order of St John.

St John Ambulance SA CEO, Mark Groote said it was an honour to have David as part of the
volunteer team.

“St John volunteers are among the most special, skilled and selfless people in our community,” Mr Groote said.

“Whether it be providing health and medical services, event support, community care, youth programs, supporting the historical society, or the band, their contribution is exceptional and significant.

“David is the epitome of service. His tireless work and commitment spans almost eight decades. We are extremely grateful for all he has done and continues to do – along with all our volunteers – who support our organisation and the South Australian community.”

The St John Ambulance Association was established during 1877 in England by the Order of St John. The aim of the Association was to address the growing need for effective first aid training to deal with the increase in accidents occurring with the development of an industrialised and urbanised society.

St John Ambulance was established in South Australia in 1885 and will celebrate 140 years next year. The organisation helps tens of thousands of people across the state annually through the delivery of health and medical services at events, first aid training and products, and social inclusion programs.

National Volunteer Week runs from May 20th to 26th.

For more information or to become a volunteer visit: https://www.stjohnsa.com.au/join-
or phone 1300 785 646.

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