Letters From the Front

Benjamin Ralph Mottram aged 20

Benjamin Ralph Mottram aged 20

Letters from  Ben Mottram
Ben was one of my grandfather Gerald’s two elder brothers.  He and Ron both fought in World War I, in the Middle East and in France.  Both returned to New Zealand, but Ben, a school teacher, died at the age of 39 – his illness possibly caused by leg wounds sustained during the war.
Ron was a surveyor and worked for the New Zealand Lands and Survey Department. I believe he surveyed Mottram Peaks.

Rangiotu Camp, North Island NZ, September 26th, 1915

We’re nearing the end of our drill now for we have had a few ceremonial parades with the whole regiment, practicing for a review and inspection by Lord Liverpool, I suppose. The colonel has told us that as far as he knows we will embark on the 9th and sail the next day.   He has received no official announcement but I expect he is right.
Love to Dad and yourself and tell Gerald I”ll write to him when I get a little more time.
From your loving son,  Ben.

Omaida, Egypt, 29th November, 1915

To-day we are experiencing a sand-storm.   The whole surface of the ground seems to be shifting, other fine sand drifts everywhere, it fills my eyes, covers our clothes, drifts into our tea and colours everything in the tent a light yellow.   Even writing on this paper feels like writing on sand-paper.   If we shake any of our clothes in the tent we can’t see the other side.

Ben Mottram Alexandria Camp

Camp at Alexandria

El Omayed, Egypt, 25th December, 1915

The parcels seem to be delayed somewhat, very few come up the line at a time, but I’ve managed to secure one of the parcels you have sent – the one with the cake and pudding in it – so Xmas won’t pass by without a little feasting.   Yesterday we were given a present from Australia, jam, toffee & cigarettes, and to-day we are getting for our Xmas dinner tinned fruit & meat & potatoes which will be as much a treat for us as turkey will be for you.
We had a service here a day or two ago, the Pres. chaplain, the Rev. MacKenzie, it seems odd but he found out my name & asked if I came from Akaroa. I didn’t know what to make of it, till he told me that he had been at Akaroa from ’94 to ’95.   He knew Ron too, for he had sat next to him at mess in Trentham;  of course I had to tell him of all the people at Akaroa;  who was married etc.

Ben Mottram Alexandria MenuIsmailia, Egypt 23rd January  1916

Dear Mother & Dad,
I was very sorry to leave Alexandria for it was such a simple matter to get into the town any time you wanted & make use of the cafes there and exercise a little of my French.
Ben Mottram Alexandria Menu0001I’ll send you a menu of our favourite place &  you’ll see what a ‘choice’ time we had there.   I’ve managed to get a couple of photos of our camp there:  they’re pretty clear so you’ll be able to see what it is like.
I believe they are making this place the base for NZ troops so maybe Ron will be sent here soon.I saw B. Bunny last night too.  He left with the 6th so had about 5 weeks at the Dardanelles.
With love to you all at home,  From your Loving Son, Ben

Ismailia, Egypt 1st March 1916
Dear Gerald,
Tell Mother that I’ve just received another parcel in remarkably good condition;  the cake this time having no whiskers on was soon lost to sight & the other goods received a very severe thrashing at our hands.
Your affectionate brother,  Ben

Somewhere in France, 17th May, 1916
…the country is just perfectly lovely now, all the spring flowers are out, even to the wild violets lining the lanes, everything so calm & peaceful that one would never have thought that there was a war on, were it not for the dull boom of the guns…The front line of trenches whither we are destined to go in a few day’s time, cannot be more than two miles from here.   Judging from all reports it is very quiet there & you are safer there than in the rear lines for you don’t get the shell fire.   “Safe as a church” the captain says so long as you don’t poke your head over the parapet for then it’s an invitation to the snipers across the way.
Your loving son, Ben

France, 29 July 1916
I have just received a NZ mail dated June 7th so I’ll just drop you a few lines to let you know I am still keeping well…Ron is keeping very well too.   I saw him fair frequently last week when we duly exchanged news & I learnt that he also was the recipient of a parcel which he pronounced to be “tres bon” (very good).
I have not seem many of the Peninsula boys just lately but I met one of the Giddens a short time ago;  from whom I heard that B. Bunny had been killed by a shell;  an instantaneous death – that’s the only consolation.
Your loving son, Ben

France, 10 August 1916

I mustn’t forget to mention that we have seen the king, we lined the roadside while on the march here, while he drove past in a motor then we were taken by the cinema having lunch by the way.   We can’t have presented a very prepossessing appearance for we were all dusty &  grimy with the march.

8 thoughts on “Letters From the Front

  1. Michelle I never tire of reading soldiers’ letters from the front. Fascinating. Fancy him writing “whither we are destined to go”. I love those idioms that reveal a different era. Their letters were always so understated: ” had a rum time of it today” then you discover that half their platoon was killed or wounded or they lost a leg or something……


  2. The letters from the young Ben on the front are quite beautiful and show a sensibility and literacy which is so different from today. Beautiful.


  3. what a great webpage – one of the
    Giddens’ mentioned would have either been my gt grandfather Martin Giddens from Little River, or his cousin John Thomas Giddens – who was later killed in WW1


  4. Pingback: Of Akaroa | Cook Clean Make Marry

  5. Pingback: The Remembering | Cook Clean Make Marry

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