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World’s longest serving St John Volunteer from South Australia celebrates 80 years

South Australia’s David Heard, the world’s longest serving St John volunteer, is celebrating an incredible 80 years of dedication to the charity.

South Australia’s David Heard, the world’s longest serving St John volunteer, is celebrating an incredible 80 years of dedication to the charity.

David began his journey with St John Ambulance SA in April 1944, joining the Colonel Light Gardens volunteer team as a cadet while he was in primary school.

At 91 years old, the Murray Bridge farmer has now retired from his operational duties, but continues to serve as Treasurer of the St John Ambulance Historical Society where he remains actively involved. Despite stepping down from the front line, he has no plans to hang up his uniform, continuing his commitment to St John.

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

Over the years, David has created lifelong friendships through his volunteer work, which has also become a family tradition. All four of his children joined St John as cadets, and his daughter, Lorna, along with two of his granddaughters, are still volunteering.

“It’s in our blood,” David said.

David Heard, pictured.

During his early years of volunteering, David provided first aid alongside adult volunteers at different events including harness racing, picnics, football games, and the Christmas pageant. While all experiences volunteering with St John are memorable, a day that particularly stands out for David is 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,” David said.

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

In 1950, David embarked on a new adventure as a volunteer ambulance worker, dedicating his Friday and Saturday nights responding to crashes and accidents. While he witnessed some confronting situations, David learnt that going back to the station and talking it through with his colleagues really helped him; the skills he learnt are skills for life.

“One day I just happened to be going past a motorcar crash when the passenger, a woman, had scraped her knee quite badly,” David 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.” 

In addition to his volunteer work with St John, David pursued a career as an apprentice mechanic at Kelvinator, where he went on to writing service manuals for the company. After meeting his wife Joy, he helped manage her family’s property near Murray Bridge and transferred to St John’s Murray Bridge volunteer team.

David not only had an impact on the Murray Bridge team, but played an important role in establishing St John teams which laid the foundation for local ambulance services across South Australia in Mannum, Mount Pleasant, Tailem Bend, and Meningie. He also supported the establishment of cadet teams in Murray Bridge, Tailem Bend, Mannum, Karoonda, and Mount Barker.

In recognition of his service, David was awarded the Order of St John Service Medal in 1958, receiving ten additional bars since then, and has been honoured by former Governors and the Duke of Edinburgh. He also holds the title of Knight of the Order of St John.

Now a widow following Joy’s death in 2020, David spends his days remaining active, regularly going to the gym and serving as a member and patron of the Murray Bridge Rowing Club.

“St John volunteers are among the most special, skilled and selfless people in our community,” St John Ambulance SA CEO, Mark 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.” 

For more information or to become a volunteer, click here.

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