Recently staff at the National Army Museum were treated to a visit from 90 year old World War II veteran, Ray Potier from Taranaki. Ray came all the way from Waitara to see the “Khaki & Black: NZ’s Rugby Supremacy in Times of War” exhibition and in particular, the Freyberg Cup, a cup very special to him as he was part of the 22nd Battalion team who won this cup in 1944.
The Freyberg Cup was affectionately named after New Zealand Divisional Commander, Major General Bernard Freyberg, a keen rugby enthusiast himself, who saw great value in playing the game in times of war, and instituted the cup for a competition known as the Divisional Commanders Cup.
Each member of the winning team was presented with a silver medallion and Ray is pictured here next to the Freyberg Cup with his medallion (and picture of his 22nd Btn team). Ray was a well respected hooker who unfortunately missed the final Freyberg Cup game due to a broken nose sustained in a lead-up match.
Ray is a rugby legend in Taranaki playing 51 games for the province including a game against the Lions in 1950, when the then Captain and hooker, Dr Karl Mullen, complemented Ray by calling him, “a tough little bastard”. He later became a selector for Taranaki over an extended period which covered both the 1957 and 1963 victories when Taranaki won the Ranfurly Shield against Otago and Wellington respectively.
Ray left New Zealand for war with his mother’s permission at the age of 18, with the 19th Reinforcements. Ray was a mortarman and a despatch rider and served his time in Italy. One of his jobs was to supply rations to 28 Maori Battalion soldiers in the frontline at Cassino, when they were attempting to secure the railway station.
Ray remembers, “A lot of good times” and “being very fit”. He recounted a story when the officers took them to the Red Sea for a swim but then having to route march for two hours back much to his disgust, a story he took great delight in telling officer and Museum Director, Col (Rtd) Ray Seymour.