From Ngaire’s journal, 25th April ANZAC Day
1948 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
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…
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)
1 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.