Whanganui East Bowling Club to mark its centenary
On the weekend of December 11-12 this year, the Wanganui East Bowling Club will celebrate 100 years since the club was founded. It was on October 27, 1921, that the inaugural meeting was held at the Wanganui East School and the first committee was elected. Prior to elections, the well-attended meeting was given a resume of the work that had been done in preparation for founding the club. A section had been acquired on the south side of Helmore St on land that was part of the Duncan Estate and work was progressing well in the construction of a green that was expected to be ready for play by the following Easter. The officers elected to carry on this role were Mr FA Harkness, president, Mr J Wight, vice president, Mr WW Hedges, honorary secretary, and Messrs A Fretley, E Scrivener, WH Thompson, D McLaren, J Knuckey, TH Rice and WH McCarthy on the committee. The new committee lost no time in applying for affiliation with the Wanganui Bowling Centre, stating that it had 41 members and that their colours would be blue and gold. This was a good move and allowed members to take part in centre events while their own green was under construction. To help with fundraising, a dance was held in the Town Hall Duncan St in early November. The bowlers of the club with no green lost little time getting into action in the New Year. On January 28 two teams went to Gonville to contest the Centre Shield — Harkness, Wight, McLean and Stewart lost to Bourne 20-16 and Scrivener, Rice, McCarthy and Anderson lost to Flower 19-13. Then followed a tournament at Rapanui in February and a match against Taihape on the St Johns green a few days later. Early in March one team went to Waverley and won the Hurn Cup and another took the Keesing Cup off Gonville. March and April were busy months — four teams went to Westbourne and players were asked to take spare bowls with them for use by players who had none — obviously new members. Early in March, the Wanganui Centre hosted a team from Wellington and Harkness, Scrivener and Willis were selected to play for the home team. The end of the season saw matches for the Centre Shield, but Wanganui and St Johns proved too strong. Finally, in early April four teams went to Marton by train, two teams successfully competing for the Senior Shield and two to play friendly games. The season ended with a concert in the Wanganui East Town Hall to raise funds for the club’s pavilion and undoubtedly to celebrate a great start for lawn bowls in the eastern suburb. The opening of the green highlighted the start of the club’s second season in 1922-23. A big day was organised for October 14 with the Queen Alexandra’s Band, conducted by Mr Buckley, in attendance. But the weather was to intervene and the morning turned out to be cold and wet with strong winds causing the band to pull out. The show, however, carried on with new president WH Thompson opening the day and welcoming the hardy members and ladies in attendance. He spoke of the great support from the St Johns Club and their green superintendent Mr AW Johns in building the green, the work of Mr WW Hedges in helping to get the club established on a sound financial basis and especially thanked Mr FA Harkness for his enthusiastic and capable leadership that led to the formation of the club. After a few words from the centre president, George Simpson, Mr Harkness was invited to formally declare the green open for play. Mrs Harkness then delivered the first jack, and during a short fine break, a game of rinks was started between teams chosen by the president and vice president, but only lasted two ends before rain started again. The ladies, however, were prepared and provided a delightful afternoon tea in the pavilion, ending the day’s function. This formation of a bowling club in Wanganui East was not the first attempt to bring the honourable game to the eastern suburb. There is some suggestion that an attempt was made way back in 1906 but I can find no record. The first report discovered was in the Wanganui Chronicle in March 1909. A meeting had been held in the Whanganui East Town Hall, in Duncan St, and a committee was set up to ascertain if enough people would be interested, 50 deemed to be required. Nothing eventuated. Then along came the Great War in Europe between 1914 and 1918 which put a hold on everything. The next attempt was made in February 1918, when a meeting in the Wanganui East School attracted 24 people. It was decided that a deputation should approach the Wanganui Borough Council (Wanganui East having amalgamated in 1913) to secure a portion of the Recreational Reserve (Williams Park) for a green. The meeting was confident of forming a club the following season. It took a little bit longer. A solid group of bowlers belonging to the St Johns Club lived in Wanganui East and it undoubtedly was they who finally got enough support to get the club established. Over the following 100 years, the club developed into one of the strongest in the Whanganui district as the many certificates adorning the walls of the pavilion can testify. And with these go the names of many top bowlers down the years. Heading the list is E Fletcher whose playing career stretched 40 odd years, winning his first club title in 1931 and last in 1967. In all, he attained 23 club titles. During this period also he achieved 19 centre titles, the highest of any club member. Not far behind are Cyril Evans, who is still gracing the green, and JW Cook on 16 centre titles. In total 21 club members have won five or more centre titles. But that is only half the story, covering only the men’s competitions. Up to World War II, lawn bowls was a man’s game, although women had been playing the game in the South Island for some years using men’s greens. In 1941 Wanganui East Club allowed women to use their green on four afternoons a week but this lasted just a couple of years. With the formation of the Wanganui Women’s Bowling Centre in 1947, the women’s game became firmly established and clubs in the district quickly sprang into being, some with their own greens and some using men’s greens. In 1961 the Wanganui East Women’s Club, located on a section in Williams Park, became affiliated with the Centre. And on October 5, 1985, Helmore Park Bowling Club (Women) came into existence at the Wanganui East Bowling Club. The inaugural committee consisted of Marie Pye, president, and June Lints, Diana Loader, Jo Gifford, Alison Evans, Hazel Howard, Betty Elliott, Sadie Head and Carol McAvoy, Committee. With Bowls New Zealand and the New Zealand Women’s Bowling Association deciding on amalgamation in 1997, the women’s and men’s clubs joined forces. Since this time the women have shown they can be very competitive with Maria Klitscher, Sadie Head, Loraine Mangin, Claire Ellen, Diane Martin, Carolyn Broughton, Robin Firmin and Robin Evans being awarded Gold Stars in winning five centre championships. Today the club is in a sound position with more than 100 active members and 21 social members.