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.
This is a richly deserved award for the Student Volunteer Army, and for Sam Johnson and the other individuals who were the SVA's driving forces.
It's very easy to criticise today's young generation, but the effort that students at UC put in after both the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes was outstanding. And the Army included amongst its number our Darling Daughter, a student at UC at the time of both 'quakes. At a time when people were overwhelmed by the liquefaction and the damge to their homes, the sight of hundreds of students pitching in to help was a welcome one indeed.