April 2021 - Chill Winds, Spring Arrives, Anzacs and Roadmap Announcements.

Posted on 30th April 2021 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

April 2021  - Chill Winds, Spring Arrives, Anzacs and Roadmap Announcements.

If March was contrary, weather wise, April has continued the theme, the first half of the month very cold with hard frosts which have caused problems for vineyards and fruit growers throughout France. The sun has been there by day to fool you into thinking it is warmer than it is, but too cold to work in the garden and a need to wrap up warm for walks. The last week however has seen the wind change direction, the sun seems to shine brighter and the Spring warmth has returned. So now is the time to get rid of winter from the garden and of course explore the landscape here as we love to do.

The farmers are busy, tractors rolling up and down the large fields, potatoes going in, distinguishable by their neatly peaked ridge rows, wheat growing, colza/rape/canola now tinging some fields with a brilliant yellow. Blossom everywhere on trees and the birds nesting in our eaves as they usually do.

Great blue skies for photography so David has been in his element, capturing moments and images which catch his eye, as we walk this hallowed landscape.

A place we go to frequently on our walks is Caterpillar Valley Cemetery. It is a beautiful place, surrounded by fields and with stunning views. Buried within its walls is Captain Hugh Stewart Smith, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. An only son, he was killed near High Wood in August 1916. He is not a well-known poet, but among his possessions, in his diary was found this poem. He captures among the death surrounding him, the ordinariness he longed for:

On the Plains of Picardy

Lay a soldier, dying

Gallantly, with soul still free

Spite the rough worlds' trying.

Came the Angel who keeps guard

When the fight has drifted,

"What would you for your reward

When the clouds have lifted?"

Then the soldier through the mist

Heard the voice and rested

As a man who sees his home

When the hill is breasted –

This his answer and I vow

Nothing could be fitter –

Give me peace, a dog, a friend

And a glass of bitter!

Michael Morpurgo reads the poem so well in the following link.



 Captain Hugh Stewart Smith


We have walked many miles (within our 10 km covid lockdown limit) across the landscape this month, whatever the weather. Newfoundland Park, Longueval, Contalmaison, Mametz, Thiepval, Fricourt, and of course our own Commune of Ovillers La Boisselle where we have done a little maintenance of the hedges at Lochnagar as the Spring growth starts.  We find new gems to discover, new perspectives, all the time. The weather changes the same view, the crop in the field, the planting in the cemeteries, the hares, pheasants and deer we startle. All have made us smile and feel grateful this month.

We have been to many places to take photos of headstones or memorials for those who have requested, or for our own research. We post regularly on social media too. It is something we are happy to do, so if you do want any photographs taken do let us know. It is always good to say hello to the boys, it is just something we do.

Covid Update

Covid numbers in France in this 3rd wave have plateaued, still at a high level, but past the peak.  

Through April there has been a continuing curfew between 7pm and 6am with a stay-at-home order (unless out for essential reasons with paperwork). Bars, restaurants and cafes remain closed and shops other than essential ones are also closed. Schools took an early 2-week Spring break but are now back.

During April we could go no further than 10kms from home for exercise. The good thing is that has given us some scope for our walks and photography.  The 10km limit is lifting on May 3rd (hooray)  - the first part of lockdown easing. The curfew will remain.

In the last 24 hours President Macron has announced the plans for deconfinement - the roadmap, each stage progressing only if the numbers continue to improve. Things may change regionally if numbers do not support the easements going forward.  The infographic below has all the details but the key points are:

  • 3 May 10 kms limit for travel lifted and travel between French regions allowed. Curfew maintained at 7pm-6am.
  • 19 May shops, cultural places, and outside hospitality (terraces) open with a limit to 6 people on any  terrace table.
    • Curfew shifts to 9pm-6am
  • 9 June Cafes and restaurants reopen for interior hospitality (6 per table max) 
    • Tourists from abroad welcome with proof of vaccination or negative PCR test
    • Curfew 11pm-6am
  • 30 June End of curfew

So while we are pleased to have a date the borders in France will reopen,  key will be what the requirements for travel from the 9 June will entail. While France will allow travellers with the necessary proof - vaccination/negative test, we need to bear in mind what requirements your home nation places on travel to and from France. Each nation will no doubt have its own rules. Obviously if you want any help checking out travel requirements we will be happy to help and things will no doubt evolve over the coming weeks. 

In terms of The Vaccination Programme in France, it is progressing well now that supplies are improving.

We are pleased to say we both had our first vaccinations last week at the Vaccination Centre in Albert. It was very well organized, all the team were charming and kind and we both got a little emotional as the Pfizer vaccine was put in our arms. All that science, all those clever people, all the organization and logistics, leading to a small phial of vaccine going in to our arms. Hard to describe really. It felt like a beginning…

We got a certificate each, but David was very disappointed he did not get a sticker or a lollipop. Our 2nd doses will be in 6 weeks.

Some of our guests have already moved dates to later in the year. If you would like to do that then do please get in touch. You know that all our reservations are flexible and condition free. We would rather you get some dates in our diary than be disappointed post 9th June.

Our thoughts go out to the people of India and we hope the international community does all it can to help. Until the whole world tackles this pandemic, we are all at risk.  

We hope wherever you are you are looking after yourselves physically and mentally in these difficult times.  We look forward to when we can see you all safely here again.

Iron Harvest/Deminage

Anyone who has walked the tracks of the Somme knows that vestiges of the War come up all the time – shells, fuses, shell casing etc. We always leave well alone if we see something as even after 100+ years explosives are still dangerous. Farmers put piles of things they find at the side of the fields and is it the job of the Deminage to come and collect them and dispose of them safely. For some years the Deminage have been based in Laon with no presence locally on The Somme. We are pleased to see that a new Deminage Centre is being created at Clery-sur-Somme, close to Peronne, which will make it much easier for tackling the Somme’s continuing iron harvest.

Anzac Day

Commemorations for Anzac Day were scaled back this year with no public attendance at Villers Bretonneux. The villages around The Somme commemorated in their own ways with flags and kangaroos appearing in windows and gardens. In Pozieres, Yves Potard organized a covid compliant dawn service at the 1stAustralian Division Memorial with members of Digger Cote 160 attending in period costume. Yves had to get permission from the authorities to break the curfew for the 5am start.  France continues to remember the fallen who came from far and near.

Thiepval Renovation

The scaffolding is up all around Thiepval now, so the next phase will see the renovation work commence. When we visit, we realise what a huge undertaking it is, the sheer size and scale of the monument!

Animal Postscript

The hens are fine and enjoy our company as we potter in the garden. We visited Michel (Chicken Man) last week to get some more chicken food. We came away with free eggs and a visit to his newly hatched chicks, telling us we can have some more hens anytime. We will but for now our 2 old girls are enough. We then had to visit his new acquisition. As well as chickens, he is now a pig farmer, so we had to meet his free-range pigs! They were gorgeous, but don’t worry we don’t intend to become pig farmers ourselves. We are going to get free samples of his Picardy Pork when his pigs go to slaughter. No chance of being a vegan in this area of rural France!

David’s April Joke:

 As David was walking through Michel’s farmyard some of the pigs jumped out at him from behind a tree. It was a ham-bush. Luckily, he did not require a ham-bulance, just a little oinkment.

All is well at no.fifty6.






Comments (25)

David Ellis says:

Hi Julie and David
Excellent jokes David! Good to hear you’re both well and that things are maybe approaching the light at the end of the tunnel. Still very hopeful for end of August - hope so as ferry is also booked. Everything crossed!
Best regards

Rick says:

Hi guys,
Thanks for the fab update. it sounds very hopeful from your side,here's hoping we can make it at the end of June...we miss you and the area so very much. Just awaiting my 2nd dose anytime soon, I know what you mean about the emotions on receiving it....fellow Pfizens !
Much love x

Andy Kellett says:

Glad to hear that you have both survived this trying time and have remained sane and cheerful. Last year was the first year that I hadn’t visited the battlefields since the 1980’s. Hopefully I will be able to end this abstinence when I, and a few friends, visit 56 in September.

All the Best.


Ferris Hatheson says:

Good to see some hope on the horizon at last. And as for jokes - multi storey car parks - wrong on so many levels ! (Sorry )

Ian Mason says:

Cheers guys. I have had my 2 jabs so everything goes well we should be back soon to see you

Glenn Kerr says:

Thank you very much for the update Julie and David. We are all "homesick" for the Somme and exploring the Western Front. I took interest in your comment about walking to Caterpillar Valley Cemetery. In 2007, I came upon the Commonwealth War Graves exhuming a British soldier from the field below the cemetery. It appeared he had been buried in a shallow grave with a beer. Sadly, months later I inquired and learned he could not be identified. Always nice to hear from you.

Charlie McDonald says:

As you both know I am totally indebted to you for your search for my pipe smoking, card playing cafe / estaminet proprietor Scots woman from 1916. I am painstakingly going through all my notes and audio recordings of my 16th Battalion HLI veteran to see if he mentions where the cafe was on The Somme. So far no luck but hey I will keep on 'digging'. I hope to get over some time in July for August.

Gary James says:

Thanks for the latest newsletter. Glad to hear that you have both had the jab and are bac-on the road to a normal routine.

Pauline Symmons says:

Great to hear you’ve both had your vaccinations and that things are more positive now, thankfully. Hope to be able to visit later in the year. Love the joke, definitely a David joke!

Chris Prince says:

Please to hear things are improving in your part of the world. And that you have both had your first needle. So take care enjoy your walks and stay safe until next month newsletter. Chris & Bill xxx

John Mepham says:

Good to hear your both well !
As Les says, we are very much missing our favorite travel spot and our good friends across the pond!
Take good care !

Les Mepham says:

Glad to hear you’re both keeping well. Longing to return some day.

David, you should have brought your camera to the pig farm. I’m sure your could have swine-dled a few pork-traits.

❤️ from

John Ellis says:

Glad to hear that the restrictions that have impacted on you business will start to roll back soon. Looks like the (reduced) Devon Boys will be able to make out trip in August.

Ashley Atkinson says:

Much obliged
Best wishes

Jim Blenkhorn says:

Thanks for this. Sounds like good news is not far away. Hopefully France will be open again come June.

Michael Knight says:

Definitely David’s best joke to date, made us both laugh. I’ll buy him a lolly as well as a pint when I next visit.

James Harker says:

As always thanks for a lovely news letter. If you ever venture to Lonsdale cemetery i would be grateful if you could say hello to sam bentley and perhaps give him a beer as he must be thirsty by now.love to you both xxx

David Harvey says:

Glad to read you have had your first vaccinations. I hope you didn’t have the AsraZenica, it made us a couple of clots!

Rob says:

Keep calm and carry on. Good to see you both on form.

Neil Mackenzie says:

David's best jokes yet!

Great to hear that news from the Somme is getting more positive and really hope we can make it out to you in October.

Although the new Deminage Centre may seem a bit late in the day I gather that some experts think it will about 500 years before the 'Iron Harvest' is safely gathered in.

Stay safe!

Phil Leeke says:

Great to hear your both well and keeping busy.
Hope there's a chance to get over later in the summer to settle for a while and catch up.
I read with interest David's reaction to pig stealth, at least you didn't do anything rash.

Gordon&Joana (and Mary) says:

Unless l’m mistaken, a sooper picture of Point 110 Old Military Cemetery - thank you both! Being that much older, we’ve had both our Pfizers ... We had a friend move out that way last Nov - he maintains the bureaucracy is ‘stupefying’ and only vaccinations are available in his area for ‘over 85s’ ..! Take care, stay safe. Love G&J. XX

Mike and Kathy Sumsion says:

Oinkment! So pleased the sense of humour has survived. Another lovely and welcomed newsletter. Let's hope for France, yourselves and those of us who are desperate to visit, that the roadmap proves successful . . . I have a feeling it will . . . expect emails and enquiries to increase over the next few weeks. Take care. M&K.

Ian and Jackie Smallwood says:

Great newsletter as ever.
Great to hear you've had the vaccine !
Oh to visit that corner of France and around the Somme.
Stay safe guys and keep up the excellent work !

France's and Mike says:

Thank you both for the update, as always interesting and thoughtful.. Also been lovely during the day, but once the sun goes in Brrrrrr... keep well and safe xxx

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