Navy club makes land­locked city home

The Tribune (NZ) - - NEWS - RICHARD MAYS

A land­locked navy club has ex­isted for seven decades in a city with­out a port.

Palmer­ston North is prob­a­bly the last place to ex­pect a navy club, but tucked away in Do­main St, not far from where the his­toric Cafe de Paris once stood, there are a pair of an­chors and an Oer­likon anti-air­craft gun out­side a door that has a brass port hole in it.

Be­hind the door is a snug bar, lined with naval mem­o­ra­bilia, caps, hats, sailors’ tal­leys, badges, ships’ crests, pho­to­graphs, paint­ings, epaulette boards, model ships, flags and mar­itime ar­ti­facts, in­clud­ing an 1875 brass ship’s bell from a ves­sel with the ever-so Gil­bert and Sul­li­vanesque name of SS Pantie.

Royal New Zealand Navy Re­serve Lieu­tenant-Com­man­der David Leese said the club was founded in 1946 as the Ex-Royal Naval Men’s As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand.

Dur­ing World War II, more young men joined the ser­vice from Palmer­ston North than from ei­ther Auck­land or Welling­ton, and the re­turn­ing sailors, stok­ers, gun­ners and of­fi­cers wanted some­where to pre­serve their dis­tinct mar­itime tra­di­tions.

Arthur Lock­wood, now 94, was one of the found­ing mem­bers who set things up in the Club Ho­tel in Church St, now part of The Plaza.

There, the club es­tab­lished an im­por­tant An­zac Day tra­di­tion, the city’s dawn pa­rade.

‘‘There was no dawn pa­rade in those days, just a civic ser­vice. It’s why the city dawn ser­vice is held un­der the aus­pices of the navy,‘‘ Leese said.

In 1954, for £3500 ($7000), the club bought an old rail­way house in Do­main St and has been ad­ding bits ever since. An ex­ten­sion out the back houses the Of­fi­cers Club and the ‘‘Cruiser Wall’’ - pho­to­graphs of all the RNZN cruis­ers, from the con­verted pas­sen­ger ship Monowai to the ex-Bri­tish Navy Roy­al­ist.

‘‘It’s a very good, strong club,’’ Leese said. ‘‘We have 235 mem­bers. When the RSA closed we gained quite a few new peo­ple.’’

As yet, noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar is planned for the 70th an­niver­sary on Septem­ber 18, though no doubt many of the club’s mem­bers will be at­tend­ing tour­ing play The Com­plete His­tory of the RNZN - abridged.

Writ­ten for the 75th an­niver­sary of the Royal New Zealand Navy it docks in the Speirs Cen­tre at the be­gin­ning of Septem­ber.

DAVID UNWIN/FAIR­FAX NZ

Ian Dick­son and Royal New Zealand Navy Re­serve Lieu­tenant-Com­man­der David Leese.

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