It's long, sleek, strong and light - and for 40 years was said to be the fastest eight-man rowing hull in New Zealand.

The Army Eight was rowed in the Royal Peace Regatta at Henley-on-Thames on July 4, 1919, marking the end of World War I. It will be on special temporary display in the re-opened Whanganui Regional Museum, from March 16 until mid-year.

The show will include brief newsreel footage of the boat in training on the Thames, and Union Boat Club member Don Gordon will give a talk about it on Sunday at 2pm.

It was built at Putney in England for the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) by Sims & Son, in three sections. The timber is Australian red cedar, which made it both light and strong.


In that famous post-war race on the Thames there were three Whanganui men aboard - Bill Coombes and George Wilson, with Clarrie Healey as the stroke.

It was a hard-fought race and it was a Cambridge University team that won the King's Cup. When the Army Eight was shipped back to New Zealand later that year the army decided the Union Boat Club would be the most appropriate home for it.

Clarrie Healey, a member of that club, went on to become a New Zealand rowing coach. He took crews and the Army Eight to many races, including the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1938 Empire Games in Sydney.

The last race it won was the eights in the 1961 New Zealand Rowing Championships. It was only retired when fibreglass became a standard material.

It was in a sad state before restoration began about five years ago, museum director Frank Stark said. Detlef Klein and Aaron Roberts of Manawatū Museum Services have been working on it, looking to repair or replace every piece.

It can never go back into the water. When the show finishes restoration will continue and after that it will be for the owner, the NZDF, and the National Army Museum to decide where it stays.

Meanwhile, the NZDF has chosen a team of 11 rowers and a cox to compete in a 100-year anniversary rowing event on the Thames, on July 4 this year, the Henley Royal Regatta 2019.

++Whanganui Regional Museum re-opens to the public on March 16 at 10am, after two invitation-only functions on the previous day.


It has a programme of mainly musical events to mark this. From 10am there will be music from Tahupōtiki Pikimāui and Ben Thompson and at 11am Trish Nugent-Lyne will play the 1829 barrel organ.

Jerome Kavanaugh plays taonga puoro (traditional Māori instruments) from 12.45pm, and at 2pm schools give a kapa haka performance outside.

At 3pm Lisa Reweti will tell the story of Tinirau and the Whale, at 4pm there's live music from Daniel Fitzsimmons and at 6pm Ellen Young (Castlecliff Lights) will play.

The re-opening festivities continue with tours and talks on Sunday.