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.






From Ngaire’s journal, 25th April ANZAC Day
I planted a poppy in Ray’s memory this morning and we then had afternoon tea at Mother’s.
1955 We planted poppies for my brother Ray and Gerald’s brother Ben in the Godley plot in Cathedral Square.

Ngaire’s ‘little’ brother Ray served in the Middle East in World War II.  He was killed in the early hours of July 22, 1942 during an attempt to seize the El Mreir Depression.  Two battalions were destroyed with a loss of about 900 men.
Ray was 23 years old.

Syria, 12th April 1942
I am sitting on my bed  in a concrete hut writing this.   If I stand up & and look out the window I can see – as far as the eye can see – green crops & grass patched here & there with stretches of tilled land.  You have no idea what a great relief it is to us after the desert. If I had but half the literary ability of a man like H V Morton, then I could give you some idea of the beautiful & interesting country we have passed through in the last seven days.

NZ Artillery, Egypt, 1942  Ray Simpson back left

NZ Artillery, Egypt, 1942 Ray Simpson back left

As soon as we crossed the “creek” out of Egypt proper into the Sinai desert the country changed.   Here was the desert of picture & story book fame.  Huge sand dunes rolling one on top of the other – proper sand too – not like the flat dusty desert of Libya.   Gradually we came into hilly, barren country & as we moved on the scene became greener until we came into that land “flowing with milk & honey”.   These ancient words are far from being an overstatement. I think Palestine was at its greenest for us – can you understand how unbelievable  all this seemed to us after eight months in the desert.   We camped one night just outside a small town where we had leave.     Oranges were in & all along the road were little boys willing to exchange them for a tin of bully, sugar or tea.   You’ve never seen oranges like them – some as big as croquet balls.
Lots of love,  Ray

The Chaplain in Ray’s battalion wrote to the family, giving a kind account of how he died and where he was buried.

Western Desert, 10th August, 1942
Dear Mrs. Simpson,
I know your heart will be heavy with sorrow and I hesitate to re-open the wound by speaking of your son’s death. But as I was with him to the last and it was my privilege to lay him to his last resting place, I felt I must write to tell you how sorry we were to lose your son and to offer you my deepest sympathy…

Ray Simpson and Lewis Rudkin with family on a picnic

Pre-war. Family picnic around 1939. From left, Lewis Rudkin (friend) , Ray Simpson, Ngaire Mottram, Helen (Ray’s girlfriend), Gertrude and William Simpson. In front, Caroline Mottram (my mother).

It was Wed. 22nd July. All the previous night our boys had been driving Jerry back. But with the morning, he counter-attacked using heavy artillery and tanks. Here the anti-tank boys did great work and in the midst of it all your son was wounded. A shell had burst near them and he was wounded in the head, thigh and foot. I can still see him as they brought him in to our dressing station. His face dirty from the blood of battle but never-the-less a cheery grin on it as he asked for a smoke. He had lost a lot of blood so the first thing the doctors did was to give him a transfusion and to keep him warm with hot water bottles. But their efforts were in vain. The wounds plus shock and loss of blood were more than the human frame could stand. Slowly, as in sleep, without pain (they had given him morphia), and without a struggle, he slipped into eternity.

Wrapped in his blanket, peaceful in spite of the roaring guns, we laid him beside his mates. His grave (I will endeavour to take a photo of it) a simple mound of sand ringed with stones and headed by a humble wooden cross…He laid down his life for his friends. Yet as he lay there so quiet and still I could not help but feel it was not really your son we were burying. His form, yes, but only a broken shell, an empty husk. His real self, that which you gave to him at birth, fostered and cultivated through boyhood, that something deeper that loved and was loved and that compelled him to offer to fight and to die that other may be free to live; that was gone, fled…
R.F. Judson, 31604 N.Z.E.F. (Presb. Padre)

In 1954, Ngaire and Gerald went to England and the Continent. On their way home, via the Suez Canal, their ship was scheduled to stop only a few miles from where Ray was buried.  However, due to security concerns, passengers were not allowed off the ship. It must have been very difficult to have been so close and not be able to visit his grave.
In 1993, a year before my grandmother died, my sister Averill visited the cemetery and left flowers on Ray’s grave.

Today I baked Ngaire’s ANZAC biscuits.  The recipe is dated 6th July 1933.  She would have associated the biscuits with the Great War, and probably couldn’t have imagined that there would be another.

Ngaire’s ANZAC Biscuits
(Business Girls’ Cookery Class No 4: Cakes,  6th July, 1933)
Ngaire's ANZAC Biscuits1 level cup flour, 1 heaped cup coconut, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 heaped cup ‘Quick Oats’
1 tbsp golden syrup, 1/4 lb (113 gms) butter, 1 level tsp Bicarb Soda, 1 tbsp boiling water.

Combine the dry ingredients (except Bicarb) in a bowl.
Melt butter and golden syrup together.  Add to dry ingredients, followed by Bicarb dissolved in boiling water. Mix together well.
Roll into small balls then squash flat with a fork etc.  Bake on cold greased trays for 15 mins at 180 Celsius.
Take out when golden and cool on wire rack.

Good Enough to Bottle

From Ngaire’s journal, 8th March 1950
Made fruit pickle this morning and bottled blackberries this evening.

Bottling figs9Up early this morning – it’s too hot to sleep properly and Alex had rowing training – so I went to the market and came home with a small box of figs. I’ve been keeping an eye on my neighbour’s tree, hoping the possums will leave enough for me to suggest a trade of eggs or apples, but they’re a fair way off ripe so I couldn’t resist buying some, despite the price.

Bottling figs2I’ve kept a few for eating fresh and bottled the rest. Later in the year, when summer is a distant memory and the idea of a hot day is attractive again, we’ll have them for pudding, gently warmed and served with thick cream. I’ve got the knack of bottling now and have learnt not to be overly ambitious, just doing a batch in the evening as Ngaire did, rather than dozens of jars in a day.
Having the preserving kit set up in the laundry makes all the difference too. It does add to the degree of laundering difficulty – now I have to separate lights from darks and smalls from syrup — but at least I can close the door on it.

From Ngaire’s journal, 9th March, 1948
“Mrs. Harding came for the day… She says France is in a dreadful state. Folk have food and clothing coupons which cannot be redeemed. Strikes are the order of the day and Paris is dirty and inefficient…Poor old England is having a very hard time with rationing: ½ pt of milk per adult per wk, 1 oz butter, extra allowances for children, invalids and mothers…”

Putting on a Winter Pelt

From Ngaire’s journal 11th June 1950
Butter and petrol rationing ended last Monday (on the King’s Birthday). Butter is now 2/- per lb  but I do not mind, as I shall now be able to do all my own baking. For the past 8 years I have bought a tremendous amount of cake for morning and afternoon tea for the men, which has been expensive.’

Family group at Arthur's Pass (1949)

I am rapidly coming to realise that butter (rivalled only by salt) is the secret to everything.  At this rate, we’ll all be hospitalised before the year’s out. In fact, this might be an appropriate time to mention that my great-grandmother Emily, my grandmother Ngaire, my great-aunt Phyllis and my mother Caroline all had their gall bladders removed before they turned 25.

My organs are all still intact (and, I think, in reasonable working order) and it’s been freezing today, so I’ve decided to cook a proper pudding. That is, a sweet, sticky, cooked pudding. (Everything served after the main meal was called ‘pudding’ when I was a child, even stewed fruit and ice cream, but a real pudding is baked or steamed, served warm and packed with butter.)

The only small problem is that I’m really meant to be on a bit of a diet at the moment — what Granny used to call ‘slimming’. Ngaire was a bit ambivalent about diets. She was always on one herself but, as a dedicated cook, was very irritated by anyone else wanting to lose weight. I remember her telling me as a teenager that I should be very careful about trying to be too slim, as it was scientifically proven that people need a reserve of fat for the winter. That may have been the case in Christchurch (though I doubt it) but honestly, I think I was pretty safe in Warracknabeal.

Anyway, it strikes me that there are a few ways to tackle  slimming, one of which is to feed everybody else so much pudding that you start to look slim in comparison. The other option is moderation — I’ll just have a spoonful.

Ngaire’s recipe book is so full of puddings it’s hard to choose, but this seems like a steamed pudding sort of evening, so it’s Agatha Pudding. I only wish I knew who Agatha was.

Agatha Pudding

115 gms butter (melted), 80 gms sugar, ¼ tspn bicarb soda
1 egg (lightly beaten), 170 gms flour, 2 good tbsp jam

Grease a medium-sized pudding bowl with butter. Mix sugar and soda into melted butter. Add egg and whisk in well. Fold in sifted flour then stir through jam gently (you want to see lines of jam – not combine it too much).
Put mixture into bowl and cover with two layers of grease-proof paper. Tie securely with string. Put in a saucepan with water coming no more than half way up the bowl. Put lid on saucepan and steam gently until skewer comes away cleanly. Mine took 40 minutes (Ngaire’s recipe says 2 hours – she must have cooked it on a very low heat).
Tip: Be sure to check the saucepan from time to time so it doesn’t boil dry (you might need to top up the water).

The secret, aside from butter, is to use delicious home-made jam. I used quince, but any type will work just as well. Servings need only be small but cream is essential!

P.S. Dear Mum. I don’t know how you managed to put pudding on the table every night — even when it was ‘just’ stewed fruit and ice cream. x