The Poppy from the Somme

By Kimberley Starkie, Archivist

Earlier in the year the story of Ursula Lascelles, a First World War Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse from North Yorkshire, was featured as part of the Made in North Yorkshire series. During the War, Ursula spent time working at the No.6 General Hospital in Rouen, France where she cared for soldiers and spent time getting to know the men in her care personally.

A record of some of these interactions can be found in the autograph books kept by Ursula, which include messages of thanks from the patients she had looked after whilst they were at the hospital. One page includes a pressed poppy from the fields at the Somme with a small map showing the details of Lassigny Ridge.

ZGC Entry from Raymond Piper in the autograph book belonging to Ursula Lascelles

The inscription says:

La Signy Farm, “Somme”, 27/7/18

Very sincerely yours, 26674 Sergt Raymond L Piper

2nd Coy 2nd CIR NZEF

Sergeant Raymond Leslie Piper was in the 2nd Company, 2nd Canterbury Infantry Regiment (CIR) of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). The regiment served on the Western Front from 1916 until 1918.

Raymond Piper was born on 1st April 1896 in Christchurch and before the First World War worked as a butcher. He joined up in May 1916, aged 20 in Trentham, near Wellington and was described in his attestation papers as being 5 feet 10 inches with a bright complexion, brown hair and brown eyes. As his father Edward Albert Piper was born in England, Raymond was a British subject.

He commenced service with the Forces on 29th May 1916 and left New Zealand on 25th September 1916 to travel to Europe. In January 1918 he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and he joined the 2nd Canterbury Infantry Regiment at the start of March. The New Zealand troops were rushed to part of the Somme battlefield to counter the German spring offensive and fought at La Signy Farm during a 10 day offensive into the start of April. An image of New Zealand soldiers in a front-line trench on the Somme, La Signy Farm, France, 6 April 1918 can be seen on the New Zealand History website.

According to his service record, Raymond Piper was evacuated and admitted to hospital in Rouen on 27th June 1918 where he met Ursula Lascelles. On the day he left for England, he signed her autograph book and attached the pressed poppy and the small map showing where he had served.  

ZGC Ursula Lascelles

On his return to New Zealand he was discharged from the NZEF as he was no longer physically fit for war service on account of illness contracted on active service. He had served 145 days Home Service and 2 years 88 days Active Service.

He went on to marry and lived in Hutton Street, Otahuhu, Auckland working as a Store Manager for 25 years until the start of the Second World War where he joined the Papakura Battalion Home Guard in June 1942 and later became an instructional officer in mobilization camps until October 1945. He died aged 64 in 1960 in Auckland.

Raymond Piper was one of nearly 100,000 New Zealanders who served overseas with the NZEF who, through his time in hospital, happened to cross paths with Ursula Lascelles, leaving his mark in her autograph book along with many other soldiers. Her autograph books and correspondence leave a lasting legacy of her connection with soldiers from around the world and offer an insight into some of their stories.

Further Reading

Read the full Made in North Yorkshire feature on Ursula Lascelles

Find out more about the NZEF Canterbury Infantry Regiment and their service through the New Zealand History website

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