2022 is Underway, January Jottings from No.fifty6

Posted on 31st January 2022 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

2022 is Underway, January Jottings from No.fifty6

Welcome to our January newsletter - to old friends and new as we know we have some new subscribers to our Newsletter/Blog. Each month we hope to give a flavour of what has been going on here, a slice of our life on The Somme, share things we find of interest which we hope you do too, update you on our Somme/No.fifty6 news and of course update about Covid and travel. The newsletter is no replacement for a real chat over a cuppa, but as we write this, that is what we think we are doing, chatting to our friends near and far.

January brings with it the promise of new beginnings, and we certainly hope 2022 is a better year for everyone. Is there light at the end of the tunnel as we cautiously take steps to a new normal, just like a shaky-legged  spring lamb finding its way in the world?

During January there is a stark beauty to the landscape here, it is laid bare and invites you in to explore even on the coldest day. The farmers continue to work, just last week Mash Valley outside our door was deeply ploughed, ready to be tilled and seeded.

Ploughing Mash Valley

On our walks we see new growth appearing, those fields already seeded now tinged with green as the shoots break ground. In the cemeteries the first shoots of spring flowers breaking through and the days are drawing out, it is now past 5.30pm before Marge the chicken goes to bed.

No snow so far this year but it has been cold, misty, damp - the landscape often shrouded in lingering mist or fog which caresses the valleys as if winter is not yet ready to give up its icy grip. There have been blue-sky days too, but whatever the weather we wrap up and get out to walk whenever we can. Indeed the 1stJanuary was a blue-sky day and we had a stunning walk from the Ancre Valley across tracks to Beaumont Hamel. It seemed on our walk that the New Year never looked more lovely.

Ancre Valley

Again at the end of the month on Sunday 30th we had a glorious sunny day and filmed the view from our walk at Beaumont Hamel. Our attempt through Facebook Live to bring a little of The Somme to you. 


Part 2:   https://fb.watch/aSset0UCnP/

So there has been plenty to keep us occupied this month.  

The Thiepval stonemasons continue their renovation work on The Memorial after the Christmas break and stay with us during the week. Now, like old friends, they treat No.fifty6 as their home from home, always early to bed and early to rise. They work in the cold, rain, wind and January sun. Their work is amazing. There is still plenty of stonemasonry to do! 

While discussing cold, wintry conditions for the solders on The Somme, as our guest Simon discussed his Great Grandfather's experiences (more on that later) it brought to mind this poem.

A Song Of Winter Weather by Robert Service

It isn't the foe that we fear;

    It isn't the bullets that whine;

It isn't the business career

    Of a shell, or the bust of a mine;

It isn't the snipers who seek

    To nip our young hopes in the bud:

No, it isn't the guns,

And it isn't the Huns —

    It's the mud,




It isn't the melee we mind.

That often is rather good fun.

    It isn't the shrapnel we find

Obtrusive when rained by the ton;

    It isn't the bounce of the bombs

That gives us a positive pain:

    It's the strafing we get

When the weather is wet —

    It's the rain,




It isn't because we lack grit

    We shrink from the horrors of war.

We don't mind the battle a bit;

    In fact that is what we are for;

It isn't the rum-jars and things

    Make us wish we were back in the fold:

It's the fingers that freeze

In the boreal breeze —

    It's the cold,




Oh, the rain, the mud, and the cold,

    The cold, the mud, and the rain;

With weather at zero it's hard for a hero

    From language that's rude to refrain.

With porridgy muck to the knees,

    With sky that's a-pouring a flood,

Sure the worst of our foes

Are the pains and the woes

    Of the rain,

                the cold,

                        and the mud.

Born in Lancashire, of Scottish descent in 1874, Robert William Service was a prolific writer. A bank teller for a Scottish bank, he went in search of adventure in Canada and America, where he became known as The Bard of The Yukon. In 1913 he moved to Paris. Service was 40 when war broke out in 1914; he attempted to enlist, but was turned down "due to varicose veins.” He covered the war for the Toronto Star, then worked as a stretcher bearer and ambulance driver with the Ambulance Corps of the American Red Cross, until his health broke. Convalescing in Paris, he wrote a new book of mainly war poetry, "Rhymes of a Red Cross Man", in 1916, which the poem above is taken from. The book was dedicated to the memory of his brother, Lieutenant Albert Service, 52nd Battalion Canadian Infantry, Killed in Action, Hill 60, Belgium,  18 August 1916 aged 23. Albert is buried in Raliway Dugouts Burial Ground.

With the end of the war, Service went back to Paris and had spells in Scotland, and the USSR before fleeing the Nazis for mocking Hitler and spent WW2 in the US. He continued writing. He traveled a lot but lived out his days in Lancieux, France where he died in 1958. He is an interesting colourful character.

Robert W Service

Robert Sexton

This past week, guest Simon has been with us. He loves to visit in winter and walk the fields. He told us about his family connection to The Somme.

His great grandfather Robert Sexton from Wimbledon  signed up as a 16-year-old with the Medical Corps in 1914 but it would seem they realised his age and he was booted out. Young Robert was clearly a determined young man and 2 months later signed up with The Border Regiment, possibly not revealing his true age. Robert was in action in Gallipoli in October 1915 and then in France for the first day of The Battle of The Somme. The 1st Borders attack on that sunny July morning was at Beaumont Hamel towards Y Ravine. Young Robert, now just 18, part of that attack, was wounded, shot through the wrist. A serious injury that ended his war and left him with a lifelong hole through the wrist. After being treated in France his treatment and recovery continued back in England.  While convalescing in Leeds,  young Robert, dressed in his medical blues,  had tea with the lady volunteer  - Clara - who went on to become his wife. The couple settled in Leeds where Robert became a postman and they had  3 children.   Robert died aged 81, before Simon was born, but family photos and records were one of the things that ignited Simon’s passion for the Somme. Simon  has stood where his Great Grandfather was wounded. Looking at the photos of the fresh faced innocent who was scarred by war.

 Robert Sexton  Robert & Clara 


 Simon spent a week walking and collecting mud on his boots and letting the Somme air weave its magic on his soul.

George Roberts

It is with much sadness that we learned early in the New Year of the death of George Roberts. George along with his lovely wife Sheila have been stalwart Friends of Lochnagar for many years and we have spent many happy hours with them both at the Crater and around the No.fifty6 table. George worked hard at the Crater and was part of the team who installed the pathway 10 years ago. He was always to be found on his visits pottering and working and  sharing stories with visitors to the Crater. George would regale us with stories of his time as a Chief Steward with British Airways in times when air travel was glamorous and special. Boy, could he tell a story! In his retirement George carried on his love of researching The Kent Regiments and Victoria Cross recipients in the Great War. We will miss George's smile, twinkle in his eye and his love for life. Our thoughts are with Sheila and the Roberts family. Rest in Peace Dear George. Fly high and keep smiling. 

George and Sheila lovingly covering the Lochnagar Cross with peace lilies on 11 November 2018. 

Covid Update

Things are opening up in the UK and France with the border now open (more difficult if you are not vaccinated) and international travel starting to get going again for many nations.

As we all know, things change quickly but travel to France is becoming much easier.

From the UK travel perspective, the pre-departure test before returning to UK has gone and from 11th February if you are travelling from France to  England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland and you are fully vaccinated, you will no longer require a Day 2 test on return – so in effect the UK is not requiring any travel tests from 11th February 2022. The link here covers this for England and has subsequent links for the other UK nations too.


At the moment a negative lateral flow test not more than 24 hours old, is required to enter France, but we expect that to go soon, so watch this space.

This link has the latest rules:


We have restrictions here, but nothing that impacts on us day to day. Mask wearing continues to be obligatory in enclosed spaces (and some town centres) so that is second nature to us.

One thing to note, France has strengthened its Pass Vaccinale. From 24 January 2022 those who have been double vaccinated for more than 7 months will need to demonstrate they have received an approved Covid booster in order to keep their Pass valid. The Pass is required to travel on public transport, for bars, cafes, restaurants, museums, cinemas, sports events etc and applies to tourists as well as residents.   So, when you do travel, please make sure your vaccine certification includes your booster shot. You will be asked to show a paper or digital copy of your certification to gain access to places.

We are always happy to help if you need any help or advice about what is required.

It is getting easier, honest!

Tariffs for 2022

We have proudly maintained our tariffs for several years now, as providing value for money is a key principle of ours,  but we have reviewed our rates for 2022 and we have had to make a small increase to cover increased costs. It is a small increase but it will help us carry on doing what we do. 

Room rates including breakfast are €99 per night for 2 sharing and €69 single occupancy.

Dinner rate for our not to be missed 4 course home cooked meal around the No.fifty6 table, including drinks is €28.50 per person.  

Animal Postscript

Marge is laying eggs again – Spring must be coming. The eggs are golden and delicious  - not bad going for our old girl, last chicken standing.

She hopes to see you all here again soon.

Marge says "there are treats in that box".

David’s January Joke:

After writing about Bill Withers last month, David just said:

“ Did you know that soul singer Bill Withers had a brother called Bear -  who wrote telephone hold music...”

And David's January poem:

Thirty days has September,

April, June and November.

Unless a leap year is its fate,

February has twenty-eight.

All the rest have three days more,

Excepting January,

Which has six thousand,

One hundred and eighty-four.


We are in fine form, looking forward to the year ahead. All is well at no.fifty6. Please stay safe and well.


Caterpillar Valley January Sunset



Comments (19)


Thank you Both for all the information and other news.. Like so many we will truly miss George a lovely, kind and true Gentleman..

Sarah Lamont says:

Wonderful as always to read your news and to dream of a winter / spring visit to your beautiful environs. Our Patriarche turns 91 in a few weeks and we will have a modest celebration. Wouldn't it be lovely to have that chat over a cuppa with you both.

Randy James says:

Thanks again for the newsletter/update. We are really looking forward to staying there in August!

Gary James says:

Thanks for the latest newsletter. Look forward to seeing you both in a couple of weeks.

Pauline and Robert Symmons says:

Thank you for the updates Julie and David. Hope you are both keeping well and hope to visit soon! Love to you both x

Jim Blenkhorn says:

Thanks for this update, very much appreciated. Hopefully we will be with you in the not too distant future.

Gary Linnell says:

Hi both, great news as always. Looking to visit this year to carry out research regards an Australian relative, Benjamin Augustus Trinne killed in action near Pozieres in July 1916. Ben's family were German immigrants to Australia in the 1880's, so quite interesting...

Hopefully see you soon. Hope you're both well.


Colin Lukacs-Winn says:

See you later in Feb, looking forward to that as ever!

Paul Smith says:

Thanks for the updates
Makes the upcoming summer trip all the more welcoming

Rick S says:

Lovely to hear from you guys. Looking forward to catching up with you soon, I'll be in touch !

Jude & David (Sheddon) says:

Wonderful, as ever. Wishing you & all your guests a wonderful year at No 56 Xx

Chris Prince says:

Hi Julie and David, Thanks for the update and news from No 56 as always great reading. Please you are both well and so is Marge. Lovely to see your posts on Facebook og the change Somme. Take care All the Best, Chris and Bill from Down Under, xx

Ian Mason says:

Super edition as always see u both end of Feb with Whenham and co Lol.



Neil Mackenzie says:

I love your updates and hearing about the changing landscape in the area around No56. All the very best for the new season.

Jenny Theobald says:

Another enjoyable read of No56 and look forward to David’s jokes!

Michael Knight says:

Wonderful poem and newsletter, thank you. Looking forward to seeing you both soon

Gordon & Joana Sinclair (and Mary) says:

Sooper to hear your news (just got David’s joke ..!). Love to you both …

Jane says:

Love reading your updates ! Thank you !

Julie Seales (Julie Cauvin) says:

Thanks you as always for a great update.

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