As passionate hosts and historians, we’ll be writing regular articles about the past, present and future events at No.fifty6 and the Somme.
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The Dawn of a New Decade at no.fifty6 - January 2020 News
No sooner were we celebrating New Year than January is over. There is something lovely about January here – yes, it is cold but the landscape is stripped back, you can see for miles and there is a winter beauty. The weather has been chilly, damp and grey – no snow unlike last January and hardly any frosts. It brings to mind Ivor Gurney’s Poem “On Somme”:
Happy New Year from No.fifty6 as we head into 2020
As the dawn of a New Year and new decade breaks, we would like to thank everyone who sent us cards and festive messages and we would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. We spent a few days over Christmas in England with family and we are now back on The Somme ready to make plans for 2020. Julie is currently at Corbie, Monday to Friday for another 3 weeks of cardio readaptation. They are working her hard - it is almost like a boot camp! She will end January fitter than she has ever been! Her recovery from surgery has been amazing and she is back to her old self – giving David instructions and generally being Queen of No.fifty6.
2020 we hope promises good things. Julie’s operation is behind us, we know we have lovely people booked in to stay with us throughout the year as they make their own pilgrimages to this special place, and as you know there is always something going on here…
November News from us and the goings on at No.fifty6.
Perhaps by Vera Brittain
Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although I feel bereft of You.
Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of Spring seem gay
And I shall find the white May blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.
Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.
Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to the Christmas songs again
Although You cannot hear.
But, though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.
Vera is probably best remembered as the author of Testament of Youth, recounting her experiences during the War in which she lost her fiancé, brother and two close male friends. It is a favourite book of ours.
Vera left her studies at Somerville College, Oxford to become a VAD nurse in June 1915 and became engaged to Roland Leighton in August 1915 whilst he was on leave from the Western Front. Roland was killed by a German sniper in December 1915 near Hebuterne. Vera and Roland were due to be married during his Christmas leave; her close friend Geoffrey Thurlow was killed in 1916; Victor Richardson, another close friend, died in 1917; her brother, Edward, was killed on the Austro-Italian Front in June 1918.
She writes : “I ended the First World War with my deepest emotions paralysed if not dead,” This would not have happened if I had had one person left… I could have married Victor in memory of Roland, and Geoffrey in memory of Edward, but the war took even the second best. It left nothing. Only ambition held me to life.” Vera’s ambition was that her writing should tell the story of Women, often overlooked at that time.
Roland Leighton is buried in Louvencourt, a 20-minute drive from us and a beautiful CWGC Cemetery. Vera visited the Cemetery herself in 1921 and 1933. As we stand on the steps, we take in the view that she describes so well in Testament of Youth, the fields unchanged over the decades.
Thank you, Vera, for realizing your ambition, through personal loss, and telling the story.
This November there has been peace, the farmers have been busy harvesting late crops, ploughing and reseeding, the continual cycle of life and agriculture in these fields which have witnessed so much. The weather has been mild, wet and windy, but now the frosts have begun, winter is on its way.
October News From No.fifty6 - Autumn Blows in with Stories to Tell
Mary Borden – Sonnets to A Solider:
No, no! There is some sinister mistake.
You cannot love me now. I am no more
A thing to touch, a pleasant thing to take
Into one’s arms. How can a man adore
A woman with black blood upon her face,
A cap of horror on her pallid head,
Mirrors of madness in the sunken place
Of eyes; hands dripping with the slimy dead?
103 years ago, The Somme battle raged on for the 4th month. Mary Borden was running a field hospital close to the Somme Front. A young British officer turned up at Mary’s hospital, a make-shift collection of huts and tents. The officer was accompanied by his dog Rex, and was looking for a lost company of soldiers. Mary described their first meeting: ‘My apron is stained with mud and blood; I am too tired to take it off. My feet are burning lumps as I hobble to open the door. A young officer stands there. He too is splattered with mud; his face is haggard. He introduces himself. He is Captain Spears of the XIth Hussars…’ It was the beginning of a great and enduring love story.
This October there is peace, though the wind has been blowing and though some days are sunny and mild, others see endless rain. The landscape sometimes brooding, sometimes benign. Capricious but beautiful.
September at No.fifty6. Autumn Comes Knocking.
Grodek by Georg Trakl, German War Poet.
At evening the woods of autumn are full of the sound
Of the weapons of death, golden fields
And blue lakes, over which the darkening sun
Rolls down; night gathers in
Dying recruits, the animal cries
Of their burst mouths.
103 years ago, The Somme battle raged on for the 3rd month. This September there is peace, there has been lovely sunny weather though the month has ended with rain and breezes. Most crops are in, save some maize and potatoes and chard.
Views of Mametz Wood show the first tinges of autumn colours in the trees. The starlings are gathering and the red squirrels in Newfoundland Park are busy collecting winter provisions. Above all our guests have continued to bring their wonderful stories.