THE 1919 ARMY EIGHT PROJECT
The Army VIII Research Document
Preliminary report on the history of the Army VIII from 1918 to 1934.
Prepared by Kyle Dalton BA Hons (Hist)
1. The history of the Army VIII begins in the English summer of 1918 when several New Zealand Expeditionary Force (N.Z.E.F.) units, camps and depots established rowing clubs in England.
2. The New Zealand Command Depot Rowing Club was formed at Codford Camp.
3. Whanganui rowers made up a largest provincial component of the Codford Rowing Club. These included Union rowers Bill Coombes, Harold Springer, H. ‘Matai’ Prideaux, Bob Forrester, Arthur Trussell, Clarrie Healey and George Wilson from the Aramoho club.
4. The N.Z. Command Depot Rowing Club eight won all six regattas held in 1918.
5. In November 1918 representatives of the various N.Z. military camps and depots in the U.K. elected a Sports Board of Control to organise sports for the N.Z.E.F. in the U.K. and Europe.
6. In late January 1919 the Leander Rowing Club decided to revive the Henley-on-Thames Regatta. Stewards were asked to arrange a ‘Peace Regatta’ to be held in early July 1919.
7. The competition was not for the usual Henley trophies and some events were restricted to ‘armed services’ crews. In response to a request on behalf of the Dominion troops, an eight-oared race was organised; Australia, Canada, and New Zealand agreeing to enter crews.
8. The N.Z.E.F. Sports Board of Control appealed for £3000 from the Federation of Patriotic Societies in New Zealand, to form a track team, a rifle team, and a rowing team.
9. The Union Boat Club (U.B.C.) Centenary Book claims that the Army VIII was built by Sims & Son at Putney in ‘two and a half days’ in January of 1919.
10. The success of the Codford Crew in 1918 would appear to have had a significant influence on the Sports Board of Control’s decision to form a rowing team.
11. The level of commitment to the rowing team by the Board was further evidenced in their decision to purchase an eight-oared boat, the future Army VIII, rather than simply borrow or lease one from an English club.
12. Four of the Whanganui members of the Codford Crew; Coombes, Healey, Wilson, and Trussell were selected for the N.Z.E.F. ‘All Black’ eight-oared crew.
13. The N.Z.E.F eight won the first regatta, an American sponsored event held on the Seine River in Paris on the 27th of April 1919. The boats used were “a gig-type of boat with staggered seating. Very light, in-rigged boats.”
14. The N.Z.E.F. eight also won the next event which was the invitational Marlow Victory Regatta, held on the 21st of June 1919.
15. The Army VIII’s first recorded use in a race was at the Henley-on-Thames ‘Peace Regatta’, held on the 4th of July 1919.
16. Some of the original N.Z.E.F. rowing team had already returned to New Zealand, however, Healey, Coombes, and Wilson were still in the eight-oared crew.
17. In the King's Cup the N.Z.E.F. eight, using the Army VIII, were beaten by Cambridge University, in a race which was described as ‘the finest struggle of the day.’
18. In late July 1919 the final regatta of the season, the Inter-Allied Games, was held on the Seine. The N.Z.E.F. eight, in a gig-type boat, came third to Cambridge and Australia.
19. The Union Centenary book refers to the Army VIII being taken to France; however, in both the regattas held in France the high-sided gig-type boats had been used.
20. Upon returning to England the team received instructions that the Army VIII was to be sold immediately. Hardie, Coombes, and Healey protested and the N.Z.E.F. Sports Board of Control consented to the Army VIII travelling back to New Zealand aboard the Tainui with the returning members of the rowing team.
21. The Tainui arrived in Wellington on Saturday the 20th of September with Acting-Sergeants Healey, Coombes, Wilson, and Trussell and the Army VIII all on board.
22. On the 1st of October 1919, Major Bob Hardie, manager of the N.Z.E.F. rowing team, wrote to the Secretary of the New Zealand Amateur Rowing Association (N.Z.A.R.A.),
“At the final meeting of the NZEF Sports Control Board in London last August, it was decided to present the boat used by the Henley crew to the NZRA with the recommendation that the same should be presented to the Union Club, Wanganui, and for this reason the boat was brought out with the Crew on the Tainui and was landed last week. I would be glad if you would take over the boat and dispose of it in the way decided upon by the NZEF Sports Control Board.”
23. The N.Z.E.F. Sports Board of Control worded their letter to the N.Z.A.R.A. in such a way that the Army VIII was to be handed over to the U.B.C. but it would remain the property of the N.Z.A.R.A.
24. U.B.C. protested that they would be responsible for all the maintenance, insurance, and repairs on a boat they didn’t own. Correspondence relating to ownership of the Army VIII passed between the U.B.C. and the N.Z.A.R.A. for over twelve months.
25. The Rowing Council finally agreed to U.B.C. ownership of the Army VIII, however, they stipulated that New Zealand representative crews would have prior rights to the boat.
26. Over twelve months after the Army VIII had arrived in New Zealand it was transferred from the Star Boating Club’s shed in Wellington to the U.B.C. shed in Whanganui.
27. U.B.C. gaining ‘ownership’ of the Army VIII was significant for Wanganui rowing in that until 1927 there were only eight eight-oared boats in New Zealand, three of them in Wanganui.
28. On the 11th of February, 1925, a composite New Zealand eight-oared crew, stroked by Clarrie Healey, and using the Army VIII, went into training on the Whanganui River in preparation for two regattas to be held in Australia. (REF)
29. The New Zealand crew, using the Army VIII, convincingly won the eight-oared championship of New South Wales and the Challenge Eights at the Riverview Regatta.
30. The Army VIII itself appears to have had a significant impact on the New South Wales Rowing Association. After the Sydney regatta they communicated with Sims & Son regarding the purchase of a sectional eight similar in design to the Army VIII.
31. In 1925 U.B.C. lost the Sommerville Shield to the Wanganui Rowing Club by a canvas. It is likely that U.B.C. used the Army VIII in this race as it was the clubs only eight at the time.
32. In response to a letter from Eugene Crotty (Sen.) regarding the Army VIII’s design, George Sims said there was no difference between the Army VIII and other boats they had built.
33. In 1926 the N.Z.A.R.A. ordered thirteen eight-oared boats identical to the Army VIII from Sims & Son. Mr George Sims personally delivered the new boats to New Zealand in 1927.
34. On the 24th of March, 1928, at Wellington, the first interprovincial eight-oared race was held. Evidence is required as to which Wanganui eight was used at this and subsequent regattas.
35. In 1930 the quality and treatment of the Army VIII was evidenced. “On being overhauled recently the craft was found to have only one split about 4in. long. This reflects great credit on those who were responsible for the handling of the shell during its use and its travels.”
36. In 1934 Union used the Army VIII at the Henley-on-Yarra Regatta and the Sydney Regatta in Australia.