On January 5, 1940 Whanganui hosted a number of important guests – 400 of the officers and crew of the HMS Ramillies, which was in Aotearoa to act as a troopship escort.
The Ramillies was commissioned during World War I as one of five revenge-class super-dreadnought battleships to be used by the Royal Navy.
This model of ship was developed from the earlier Queen Elizabeth-class battleships, but built smaller and slower to allow for increased armour protection.
The Ramillies measured 620ft (189.2m) long with a 101ft beam (30.9m wide), and reached a top speed of 21.5 knots (nearly 40km per hour). She held eight 15-inch guns and housed 909 crew.
The vessel was built by William Beardmore and Company in Glasgow, Scotland. She was launched on September 12, 1913, but the build was not fully completed until October 1917.
It was the fifth ship in the Royal Navy to carry the name; the first occurring in 1706 when the 1664 ship HMS Royal Katherine was renamed the Ramillies to commemorate the Duke of Marlborough, and the handle was used again for vessels built in 1763, 1785, 1892, and then again in the 20th century.
The Ramillies did not see any active service in World War I but was retained by the Royal Navy, and during the 1920s and 1930s was put to work with the Atlantic and Mediterranean fleets assisting with the Greco-Turkish War and the Russian Civil War.
At the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the Ramillies was assigned to escort duties.
On a visit to London, Peter Fraser, later Prime Minister of New Zealand, insisted that the Ramillies be used to escort the First Echelon of New Zealand troops rather than the Leander as was planned.
The Ramillies arrived in Wellington on December 31, 1939. It berthed at Pipitea Wharf where the public was able to inspect the ship and observe the crew going about their duties, including giving the vessel a fresh coat of paint.
On behalf of the city, Whanganui mayor Bill Rogers invited 15 officers and 385 crew, including the ship's band, to visit. They arrived on January 5, 1940 and were treated to a luncheon, sightseeing, and other local activities including a street parade, where a large number of locals turned out to greet the crew.
The delegation left for Marton at 3.20pm before heading back to join their shipmates, some of whom had been invited to other venues in Wellington that day. That night the vessel displayed a banner reading "Well Done the Achilles", acknowledging that vessel's efforts in the destruction German battleship the Graf Spee.
The HMS Ramillies departed Wellington at 6am the following day. Assisted by the HMAS Canberra, she escorted the troopships Orion, Strathaird, Empress of Canada and Rangatira who carried 4000 North Island troops.
They were joined in the Cook Strait by the HMS Leander, escorting the Dunera and Sobieski who were carrying another 2500 South Island troops. The fleet approached Sydney Heads on January 10, collecting more troops for their journey to the front.
For the remainder of World War II the HMS Ramillies alternated between escort duties and naval support. In 1941 she was torpedoed by Japanese midget submarines but was repaired and prepared for coastal bombardment, performing at the Normandy Landings.
She was withdrawn from service in January 1945 and acted as a barrack ship from the training vessel HMS Vernon, before being broken up in 1948.
• Sandi Black is the archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.