One hundred years ago next month railwayman Walter Pengelly died in heavy surf at Paekakariki, but two friends who were in the same boatwreck were saved after a heroic rescue by five other railwaymen.
The incident led to the formation of one of New Zealand’s oldest, and most famous, surf clubs.
And this year the Paekakariki Surf Life Guards are marking Mr Pengelly’s death — and the 100 years’ of life guarding that followed — at the Paekakariki/Queen Elizabeth Park beach.
The local club is now recognized as the first non-metropolitan club and 10th oldest in the country. Over the years, generations of young locals have been trained rigorously by veterans
Members will begin celebrations when a flotilla of club rescue craft assembles off the seaward end of Beach road at 6.30 pm on Monday, February 18.
This is about the time Mr Pengelly and his two railwaymen friends capsized their boat in heavy surf when returning from a fishing trip.
A brief ceremony will be held on the beach while at sea a consecrated wreath, weighted by seashells gathered by club members, will be cast into the surf.
The rescue 100 years ago
In 1913, the five railway colleagues who saw the boat capsize swam to assist.
But with no life saving equipment they had to battle heavy surf for 40 minutes and were almost exhausted before they were able to rescue the other two men..
James Guinnane and Mr Frank Malcon were both saved. But sadly Mr. Pengelly had disappeared when the boat capsized. His body was discovered some days later.
For their courageous efforts, the five rescuers — John Sanderson, Jack Cross, James Glassgow, Thomas Cairns and James Ashley — were each awarded a Silver Medal by the Royal Humane Society of New Zealand.
The tragedy shocked the small community and at a public meeting held on March 2, 1913, in the Railway social hall, when it was agreed unanimously to form a Railway Surf Life Saving Club.
Mr J Foster was elected President and Mr O Lynch JP Vice President.
To celebrate the formation of the club, present-day members will gather at the Paekakariki Railway Museum on the afternoon of Saturday,March 2.
And the Centenary reunion will commence on Labour weekend.
The programme for Labour Weekend is:
Friday evening: Mix and Mingle Paekakariki Memorial hall [former Surf Club hall]
Saturday: Photos and 100th Jubilee dinner (venue, Police College, Porirua)
Sunday: Surf competition and BBQ at club house