Anzacs, Bunnies, Choirs... an ABC of News from the Somme

Posted on 30th April 2017 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

Anzacs, Bunnies, Choirs... an ABC of News from the Somme

A return to the chills of winter in April, with chilly nights and mornings but very little rain, so still perfect for exploring the Somme. There has been a lot going on this month with the commemorations for the Battle of Arras and Vimy, and there is always a story to be told here of personal pilgrimages, Anzac Day, new museums, Lochnagar and our expanding menagerie…

Personal Pilgrimages

Brian and Margaret Havery from Nottinghamshire made their 3rd visit in recent years to The Somme. Brian’s Grandad, Luke Dodd, was here in the War. He was with the 4th Tyneside Scottish and was wounded on 1st July 1916 in La Boisselle. He survived to raise a family. Brian remembers his grandfather well, a man who moved his family from the North East to Nottinghamshire in search of work, a small man who didn’t speak of the War. However, Grandad Luke was interviewed by Martin Middlebrook and is quoted in Middlebrook’s book The 1st Day of The Somme. "We went on still further and nearly reached the village (La Boisselle); then I felt a sharp stab in my arm and blood spurted out. The others helped me...then set off again. I thought to myself -  They'll never get back - and they didn't."

When Brian and Margaret first booked to stay with us in 2014 they did not realize No.fifty6 was right in the village where Grandad was wounded and with David’s help, discovered the likely area where it happened.

Later in April we re-welcomed another returning couple to No.fifty6. Rachel and Colin Williams first stayed with us in 2014. Since their first visit Rachel has further researched her family tree and wanted to commemorate her Great Grandfather  - William Thomas Pickering - on a specific date. William was killed in action on 23rd April 1917 in the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers attack on Infantry Hill near Monchy Le Preux. During her research Rachel had discovered there was another branch of her family living in Ireland who also knew about William. Sisters Maire and Ruth had also researched William. Their grandmother (William’s eldest daughter) had married and moved to Ireland when the family were sadly split up after William’s death – he had all girls. Rachel’s grandmother was William’s youngest daughter. So the 2 sides of the family agreed to meet for the first time at no.fifty6 and spend the weekend commemorating their shared Great Grandfather. They spent the 23rd April with David, visiting the places William would have been on 22/23rd April 1917. There was much laughter and sharing stories from the 2 families first meeting. It was also a deeply moving experience for the family as they surveyed the fields near Infantry Hill across which William would have walked and died.  William has no known grave. We like to think he would be proud of his great grand-daughters for thier homage to a man who for so long has been a photograph. Now they know some of the things he did before his life was cut short.

 Thank you to Rachel for the photos reproduced below. 

William Thomas Pickering William's Great Granddaughters Rachel, Ruth and Maire with Colin (l) and Jim (r) on their visit.

Musee Courcelette

Over the Easter weekend we were delighted to hear about a new venture in Courcelette. Poppy Reed, just 18 years old, along with her mother Kieron, have had a house in Courcelette for many years and have fallen in love with the history of the area. They have now founded the Musee Courcelette. Their aim is to help tell the story of Courcelette during the First World War through exhibits and artifacts. There are future plans for an education centre and for a café to open on site too. You can read more at their website:


Not officially open yet, they are holding various open days with refreshments, and it really is well worth a visit.  Our local paper has carried a story about the mother and daughter duo. Our guests who have visited have been impressed with Poppy’s warm welcome, knowledge and professionalism - and she makes a great cup of coffee too!  We wish them every success and we hope Courcelette becomes a must-do place to visit for those visiting The Somme. We will keep you posted on their events and official opening. 

Musee Courcelette Poppy Reed cofounder of the Museum and Cafe


Lochnagar Crater

With spring here, volunteers from the UK have travelled to the Crater this month to begin maintenance work after the ravishes of winter. It is an ongoing struggle to keep weeds and brambles at bay, tend the grass etc. and make sure the Crater is fit for the 250,000 people a year who visit.

2 such volunteers are Hazel and Hedley Basford who stayed with us while they worked at the Crater, digging out roots, dealing with weeds, laying concrete, and helping visitors. As well as being an enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteer, Hedley is also an accomplished photographer. We love the photographs he takes of the volunteers working at the Crater, and a selection of his pictures can be found on the Lochnagar page of his website to give you a flavour of the work and comradeship at this special place.

Anzac Day and the Voices of Birralee

As a part of Anzac Week we were invited by our singer/songwriter friend Bruno Sauty to a concert in Vignacourt church where the Voices of Birralee choir were singing. This choir of 14-17 year olds from Queensland performed at the official dawn commemorations at Villers Bretonneux and for the 1st Battle of Bullecourt on Anzac Day. Vignacourt church is a wonderful venue for a choir and these young choristers moved us with their choice of songs and wonderful harmonies.

The Choir sing in Vignacourt Church

Anzac Day dawned very cold, but over 2000 Australians made the pilgrimage to Villers Bretonneux. Our friend Naomi Stokes, whose great grandfather fought at Villers Bretonneux, attended her local Anzac Day service in Bunbury, Western Australia. She sent us these words on the day as her mind thought back to her previous visits to The Somme.

“Geoff asked me where my mind was during the service........I don’t need to answer - as he knows and I cant explain it but its not one location but many of the places that I have been and left me with a heavy heart, not just VB....visiting the different war graves...some so small, some so big.....some with a view, some hidden way off the road.......some next to a field where the boys can rise from the earth when alone– joke with other comrades from all countries, maybe kick the footy, have a a game of cards....or just sit words spoken.....”

Building Works continue

As well as looking after our guests and project managing our building works we have planned and bought our new kitchen which will be the focus of the newly renovated area. We took delivery of the kitchen in the past week, all 279 boxes of it, and our builders will be installing it from 1st May.  We are getting to the exciting bits now, but still do not have a completion date…

Just part of the kitchen consignment

Chicken and Easter Bunnies Postscript

The chickens continue to be just adorable. Returning guests even bring them grapes (their favourite food) which we think is a good quid pro quo for the eggscellent eggs they provide for the breakfast table.

Well, the 2 bunnies have given us an interesting month. They do now have new names – thanks to Brian and Margaret Havery, who visited in April for their inspired input. Drumroll please, our rabbits are now called…Sausage and Mash. A nod to the fact that they look like sausage and mash, but also they live between Sausage and Mash Valleys. So perfect names – and it sort of suits them!

An interesting month because…they have not been well. The Thomas family from Colchester were staying with us, and Georgia noticed that Sausage did not look well when she went out to see them one morning. He did look very poorly and we really thought it might be goodbye Sausage.  A quick emergency visit to the wonderful vet in Albert diagnosed a respiratory and ear infection. Ear infections are not good if you are a big-eared rabbit.  8 days of antibiotics were prescribed and Sausage to be kept in isolation. Ever tried giving tablet antibiotics to a poorly rabbit? It's not easy but we persevered. We also took Mash to the vet the next day to check him out and he too had a respiratory infection so he was also on antibiotics. For several days we were not sure Sausage would pull through, but one morning he seemed more like his old self - and now he is back to normal. No longer in isolation and antibiotic course finished, Sausage and Mash are happy being together – and digging up our lawn!  Georgia, bless her, back in Colchester taking her mock GCSEs, messages for regular updates on the rabbits’ health and welfare! We think she should be a vet. Oh, and Mash, deciced to escape from his run and chance his arm at freedom. How we laughed as we and the chickens chased him round the garden! Naughty Mash. 

Sausage & MashEaster chickens


Comments (11)

Sam Gascoyne says:

Delighted to hear that the pilgrimage to Monchy le Preux was a huge success for the family of William Pickering.

Also pleased to learn that Sausage and Mash have made a full recovery.

Super Newsletter as always.

See you soon!

David Bryant says:

Many thanks for your news letters, we are
visiting the Lochnagar crater on the next bank
holiday to lay the plaque for my great uncle who was killed 3 aug 1916. hope to come round and see you.
Regard Dave

Maire Morrissey says:

Thank you to you both for a home from home B&B experience with drinks, food, chat and your special connection with guests. Than you to my cousin Rachel who traveled to meet us in France and to William who brought us all together!!! More to come for sure xxxx

Gary James says:

Hi, Thanks again for another interesting and informative newsletter. Must make a point of visiting the Musee de Courcellette on my return. Look forward to seeing the finished extension. Still piecing together Edwin's movements in 1916/17.

Heather & Malcolm Johnson says:

As always, a great post. Thanks for nod about the Musee Courcelette and the insight into what a mammoth task it is to keep Lochnagar Crater spic and span. Can't wait to see you both, plus the renovations, in November ...

Dennis Weatherall says:

It's always a pleasure to receive your news !
OSD Weathers & Boys Darryn & Jarrod from SYD AUS stayed with you in October 2015. Just back from my very last Anglo-Zulu/Boer War journey...a full month in the field

Steve Thomas says:

Hey folks, looks like we were lucky with the weather when we were out there a few weeks ago, glad the rabbit made a full recovery! Oh, and the car battery is still going strong!! Merci beaucoup...

Rachel Williams says:

Thank you so much for a wonderful stay. We learnt so much with David as we followed Williams footsteps. And to meet up with my cousins for the first time in your home was so special. Hope to see you again in March for my next WW1 hero x

Sally Burge says:

As usual really a interesting newsletter. Thanks. Its great to keep up with the happenings at No56 and look forward to it every month. So glad Sausage is better - he really did have us worried - they are both such cutties. Lots of love to the girls as well.
Have the kitchen installers started???!!! xxx

James Harker says:

Hi guys ,informative and entertaining as always as you both are.Was very interested in the Harveys story re Tyneside Scottish as i have an interest in the Northumberland fusiliers who were attatched to them,particularly a Private William Coe also killed on the 1st July

Tony Clatworthy says:

Hi you two - Hope your enjoying May Day I'm sure they celebrate it in France..... Do enjoy your Newsletters and Sausage & Mash are the perfect names.
Can you assist please - I have lost/mislaid the card of the tea rooms in La Boiselle. I will be bringing 31 people on Monday 9th May and wanted to use them for lunch. So need to give them a ring. Would appreciate their phone number/name. Thanks, I think I'll be parking the coach on the road near you on Monday pm to describe what went on in the valley........... Thanks again. Very best regards Tony and Rosemary.

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