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The Navy recreates the iconic Napier earthquake tractor image, 90 years later

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The original scene of HMS Veronica’s crew on earthquake rescue in 1931 is thought to have been in the first 48 hours after the earthquake. Image / Alexander Turnbull Library

A scene from the Hawk Bay earthquake clean-up in Napier 90 years ago was recreated using a restored tractor and trailer and Navy personnel who had been in town for the Art Deco ceremonies.

The inspiration came from a photo of HMS Veronica crew on the trailer near the intersection of Shakespeare Road and Browning Street in February 1931, and the Havelock Northman Wayne Clark restoration of the 1922 Fordson Model F industrial tractor that towed them.

In the background was the badly damaged post office, land and bond offices, after which the location of the new government offices still exists, but with a variety of tenants and passengers.

The scene 90 years later, at the foot of Shakespeare Road on the hillside town, in 2021. Photo / RNZN

The photo, held in the Alexander Turnbull library, was created last week with the original tractor and trailer, and about 15 officers and crews from HMS Manawanui that docked in Napier Port for their part in the ceremonies.

At the time of the earthquake, Veronica was docking at Ahuriri, having arrived only three hours earlier and effectively becoming the government’s first responder after the earthquake, including establishing important contacts with the outside world.

The retired Lieutenant Commander and former Regional Naval Officer at Hawk Bay Neville Smith said the original photo would have been taken when the crew arrived up the hill from Ahuriri to help with rescue and recovery.

With the cancellation of the Art Deco festival, with the theme “Greetings to Services,” the Manawanoy crew made sure to participate in the replication.

The historical picture has been around for many years, and last Friday’s reproduction included cars of the era, along with people in Art Deco clothing.

Naval Public Affairs Director Scott Sargentina said the Navy and the crew were “extremely happy” to play the role, especially given the cancellation of events in which the Navy could have been involved.

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