The Remembering

Clockwise from top left. Ray Simpson &  my mother Carol Mottram, Ray, Carol & girlfriend Helen, Godley Statue, Ben Mottram, family picnic pre WWII (Ray second from left), Godley Statue from Cathedral spire (1963)

Clockwise from top left. Ray Simpson & my mother Carol Mottram, Ray, Carol & girlfriend Helen, Godley Statue, Ben Mottram, family picnic pre WWII (Ray second from left), Godley Statue from Cathedral spire (1963)

From Ngaire’s journal, 25th April, 1957
‘Warwick went to the Memorial Service at Christ’s College and planted poppies for Ray and Ben in the memorial plot by the Godley Statue. This afternoon I helped Gerald and the men with the picking.’

Reading through Ngaire’s journals is often an unsettling experience. The years fly past, and regular anniversaries seem to come faster and faster. 1957 marked the 15th anniversary of Ray’s death in North Africa.  I can imagine that keeping busy in the orchard would have helped that day, as she remembered ‘my little brother Ray.’

Placing poppies in the Godley Plot was an annual ritual – one for Ray and one for Gerald’s brother Ben, who had a short life due to injuries sustained in WWI. Assuming this was a Christchurch tradition, I expected to find something about it online, perhaps some photographs of poppies around the statue, but there is no mention of it (it’s odd, isn’t it, how we both distrust what we read online, and doubt the validity of what isn’t there). I’d love to hear from anyone who remembers their family placing poppies in the plot.

I  hope my grandparents knew that we would carry on the remembering – I think they did. What they probably couldn’t have imagined was a world where we could lay a poppy at a distance, via the internet. I have found both Ray and Ben’s war records on the Auckland War Memorial’s online cenotaph, and the process of adding a poppy feels  more substantial, and more moving, than I would have thought.

More on this story:
Ray Simpson
Ben Mottram
Post: Anzac Day
Post: Letters from the Front
Post: Outbreak of War

Photographs of the Godley Statue found on the Christchurch libraries site.





A January Wedding

From Ngaire’s journal, 9th January, 1965
A January Wedding‘We went to Hawarden, arriving at the little Methodist Church at 2.30pm. It was a lovely wedding. The bride looked beautiful in an embroidered white satin dress and the bridesmaids wore pale pink, rose-pink and mahogany pink.
The weather was perfect. Fruit punch and savouries were served on the lawn in front of Mr Wright’s home and at 5pm the guests adjourned to the marquee in an adjoining field. It was a delicious wedding breakfast: ham, salmon and potato salad, curry and rice, stuffed eggs, cucumber, lettuce and tomatoes. The sweets were fruit salad, piles of strawberries and cream.
There were 40 telegrams, including a cable from Warwick and several from Melbourne. Speeches were made and items were given – two humorous recitations, a violin solo, two vocals solos (one by an uncle, aged 83, which was excellent) and a vocal duet by the mother and an uncle of the bride. Hubert (the bridegroom) made an excellent speech of thanks. The telegrams were read by the best man and two groomsmen alternately, which was a very good idea.
Herbert and Ruth left on their honeymoon at about 8.30 pm. The bride wore a beautiful outfit of peacock-blue, with black accessories.’

What better way to start the new year than with an elegant wedding and piles of food — Ngaire’s two favourite things. As it happens, stuffed eggs are high on my list of favourite things. Happily, they’re practically carb free and are packed with protein so no New Year’s resolutions need be broken. Just don’t think about the fat.

A good stuffed egg must include just the right quantity of excellent mayonnaise (for flavour and for texture) and, in my opinion, must be presented simply and without any attempts at modernisation.

6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled; 2 tbsp very good whole egg mayonnaise;1 tbsp sour cream; few chives and a little dill, finely chopped; good pinch dry mustard, salt and pepper
Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and scoop the yolks into bowl. Set whites aside.
Mash the yolks with a fork, gradually adding the mayonnaise and sour cream. The mixture should be creamy but not too moist — it should hold its shape. Add the seasonings then gently stir through the chopped dill and about half of the chives.
Fill the whites with the yolk stuffing. You can use an icing bag to do this or just spoon it in. Sprinkle with remaining chives and garnish with some flat leaf parsley.
Tip: If the eggs are a week or so old the shell will come away easily, leaving the white smooth.

By the way, Ruth and Herb now live in Auckland and, amongst other things, conduct tours of the WWI battlefields in France. Ruth is as elegant as ever.

Of Akaroa

Notes on Akaroa by Gerald Mottram

Gerald & Ngaire Mottram, Akaroa (late 1940s)

Gerald & Ngaire Mottram, Akaroa (late 1940s)


The town has not changed much. The section where Jack McLeneghan’s shop was is still empty and desolate. However, I do not think I would like the place to progress too much. It is probably better as it is. The provision of rowing boats and powered dinghies for hire is a big improvement. The wharf needs new decking badly and a bathing shed at the south end of the town would be very convenient. If some good angel would remove the pine trees from the L’Aube hill I would rejoice greatly.”

There was an old French cemetery on L’Aube Hill above our home. It was fenced and there were two large willow trees which were said to have grown from a cutting from a tree by Napoleon’s grave at St Helena. It was quite picturesque with wild rose growing freely. Unfortunately it was completely neglected. It was apparently nobody’s business to look after it. Many of the graves had wooden tables instead of gravestones, and the names had become unreadable. Eventually some years after we left Akaroa, it was decided to flatten the whole cemetery, trees and all, and erect a tablet with the names of people who were known to have been buried there on it. I think it was paid for by the Government. I thought it was a pity that the cemetery could not have been looked after and preserved, but these things require money and effort.

The Little Bistro, 33 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa

The Little Bistro, 33 Rue Lavaud, Akaroa

My grandfather Gerald Mottram was born in Akaroa. His father was a tailor and they lived behind and above his workroom on Lavaud Street (now Rue Lavaud). Today the house is a French restaurant — The Little Bistro — and by all accounts a very fine one. If you go there, look up at the attic window. That was Gerald’s bedroom.

Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula have been on my mind this past week. Regular readers of this rather irregular blog might remember some letters I published around ANZAC Day. They were written by my great-uncle Ben (Gerald’s brother) from France during the First World War.  The other day I heard from Craig Giddens, the great-grandson of one of the ‘Peninsula Boys’  mentioned in the letters. Craig says Ben would have been referring to  Martin Giddens from Little River, or perhaps his cousin John Thomas Giddens, who was later killed. It is very moving to make these connections, to join the dots, nearly one hundred years later.

Sadly, the other reason for thinking of Akaroa this week was the death of a dear friend. Alisdair MacLeod was one of the truest people I have met, and we are deeply sad to have lost him. Al came to Australia to build a life with my beautiful friend Kaye, and over the years we have often talked about New Zealand, but it was only this week that I learnt that he was born in Akaroa. Sometimes the smallest places produce the most remarkable people.
Vale Alisdair. We will miss you very much.

Outbreak of War

From Ngaire’s journal, 4th August, 1955

The anniversary of the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
I well remember as a child of 7 years, 11 months, standing behind my father at the breakfast table and reading the ominous headlines in the newspaper, “War in Europe”.  Everyone seemed quiet and scared, though they tried to hide it from us children, and I had nightmares for many nights about Dad fighting Grandad with a shovel, a most improbable thing.”

Simpson family - 1915 Ngaire's Grandad George, back left, Ngaire, 3rd from left (with doll), Ngaire's father William, 3rd from right.

Simpson family – 1915
Ngaire’s Grandad George, back left, Ngaire 3rd from left (with doll), Ngaire’s father William, 3rd from right.

It does seem unlikely that Ngaire’s father William, a choirmaster, would ever have fought his rather dapper father, with or without a shovel.

This photograph of the family was taken on Christmas Day, 1915.  A few months earlier, William’s wife Emily had died in tragic circumstances, leaving him to raise Ngaire, Phyllis and Keith.

The headlines Ngaire remembered so well were probably from the Christchurch Press. This copy of the paper is from Papers Past.

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.