Navy club makes landlocked city home
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.
Ian Dickson and Royal New Zealand Navy Reserve Lieutenant-Commander David Leese.