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Art Deco

"Thank God for the Navy"

On 3 February, 1931, HMS Veronica lay at anchor in Napier harbour. At 10.46am, Commander HL Morgan, captain of Veronica, heard a terrific roar. “The ship heaved and tossed. For about ten seconds I stood still and then ran on to the boat deck. I could see houses falling and roads cracking. Everything seemed to disappear in a cloud of dust.”

The service offered by Veronica’s ship’s company, and later by cruisers HMS Dunedin and Diomede, following Napier’s devastating 7.8 earthquake, has never been forgotten in Napier.

In February each year, the citizens are reminded of that service during its colourful week-long Art Deco Festival, a homage to the period when Napier rebuilt itself in the architecture of the time. People dress in 1930's fashion for the festival and each year, the Navy are invited to share some of the festival’s special moments, dressed in white uniforms largely unchanged since the thirties.

Events include a vintage car parade, with Navy sailors and officers marching up the centre of Napier’s CBD behind the Royal New Zealand Navy band and ahead of over 200 period cars.

The festival’s most formal moment is the Veronica Bell ceremony, attended by a Navy guard of honour, as the Veronica ship’s bell is brought from Napier museum to the Marine Parade gardens. The bell is rung to honour those lost in the 1931 disaster. Following the ceremony, sailors are invited to join families and friends as they spread blankets on the foreshore for an old-fashioned picnic lunch.