Skip to main content

Navy, Air Force wow at Napier's Art Deco Festival

While the Navy commemorated its historic connection to Napier, the Air Force turned up with punchy air displays.

19 February, 2024

Napier welcomed the return of the New Zealand Defence Force to Hawke’s Bay for their week-long Art Deco Festival, which concluded on Sunday.

The festival, cancelled since 2021 due to the Covid-19 years and the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle last year, regularly invites the Royal New Zealand Navy to commemorate the Navy’s service to Napier during the 1931 earthquake. Royal Navy vessel HMS Veronica happened to be in Napier on 3 February 1931, and after the 7.8 magnitude quake the crew went ashore to aid the city’s residents. HM Ships Dunedin and Diomede followed soon after.

The Art Deco Festival pays homage to the period when the city rebuilt itself in the architecture of the time. People dress up in 1930s clothing and Navy personnel, wearing uniforms largely unchanged since the 1930s, blend in easily.

Like the disaster in 1931, military personnel came to the aid of Hawke’s Bay after Cyclone Gabrielle a year ago, with HMNZ Ships Canterbury, Te Mana and Manawanui berthing in Napier to offload supplies. The NZ Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force achieved access and delivered supplies to rural Hawke’s Bay and East Coast communities.

428628176 829750242525364 5379075139229089090 n
20240217 NZDF G1054717 001
20240218 NZDF G1054717 001
428629278 829750295858692 5240148830742497551 n

HMNZS Manawanui and its crew attended the festival, while a contingent of personnel from HMNZS Te Kaha drove to Napier to participate in events.

Navy personnel worked for two days on community projects in Eskdale, where communities are still recovering from cyclone damage.

Over the festival the Royal New Zealand Air Force aerobatics display team, the Black Falcons, put on three displays above the Soundshell on Napier’s Marine Parade. Saturday’s display mingled with the Vintage Car Display, led by the Royal New Zealand Navy Band and sailors marching from Clive Square to Marine Parade. Members of Manawanui’s crew took part in an historic recreation, riding on a trailer towed by a restored Fordson Model F Industrial tractor – the same one that transported HMS Veronica sailors through devastated streets in 1931.

On Sunday Napier citizens gathered to witness the ringing of the bell of HMS Veronica at the Veronica Sunbay, in remembrance to those lost in the earthquake.

Commodore Mat Williams, attending as the senior representative of the Defence Force, noted that the people of Napier now regrettably know the feeling of being part of an emergency response. Today, the ships are different and both men and women come ashore, he says.

“But it is the same values and work ethic that we see today. It is our people, not our ships, where the true capability lies.”

The sombre part of the festival over, the crowd migrated to the beach for the final Black Falcon’s display overhead.