April 2022 - Spring Sunshine, Visitors, 100 Year Old Seats, Beds and Podcasts
Posted on 30th April 2022 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
Sweet April….with gentle breezes and warm spring sunshine, blue sky days, sunsets and farmers busy in the fields, April is a sweet month. Perfect for exploring and so many guests have benefitted from the glorious weather that has extended through all of the month. With just an odd day of rain, it really is a warm, sunny Spring on The Somme. We have been kept very busy with all sorts of things including having so many lovely guests back to stay and sharing amazing stories.
The landscape is changing its winter coat to softer hues of green and gold. Colza/rape/canola (depending on where you are from) covers the fields in its golden hue. From our window, under the Somme blue sky we reflect on Ukraine as the colours mirror the Ukrainian flag. Poignant that our now peaceful fields, that saw so much destruction, hold a mirror to current conflicts and man’s inhumanity to man. All that normal folk want to do is live in peace, but certain puppet-masters pull the strings of War. Thomas Hardy writes so well in his poem “The Man He Killed” about how our enemy – the men in opposing armies - are just like us.
The Man He Killed by Thomas Hardy
"Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
"But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
"I shot him dead because —
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although
He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps —
No other reason why.
"Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown."
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), novelist and poet wrote poems about The Boer War and First World War. He influenced many War Poets including Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon and in the 1920s Robert Graves went to visit him. Hardy in his poems often used the viewpoint of ordinary soldiers and their colloquial speech as seen in "The Man He Killed". Hardy was horrified by the destruction caused by The First World War, pondering that "I do not think a world in which such fiendishness is possible to be worth the saving" and that "the exchange of international thought is the only possible salvation for the world.
And here we are 100 years later…
However, there has been much to cheer us this April which has passed in a flash, and we end the month with smiles on our faces.
We have had a very busy month and it has been so lovely to have so many returning and new guests come through our door. At the start of the month, David and Karen Brown from Manchester made it through the snow that hit the SE of England and had a lovely few days researching men of the 36th Ulster Division. Sally and Chris Burge have been longstanding guests and wonderful friends and they made the journey from Wales and spent a week with us. Sally and Chris hand paint Welsh slate with poppies and cornflowers to leave as a little bit of Wales coming to The Somme and they spent the week refreshing slates they had laid on their last visit and laying new ones. It was their first visit in 3 years due to Covid. Richard Dunning gave permission for Sally and Chris to lay a new slate at the Cross at Lochnagar which is painted with the 4 flowers of remembrance representing Britain, France, Germany and Belgium.
Alan Hancock also made his first return trip and brought 3 wonderful first time friends and we had many a lively night around the table. Sam Gascoyne and Alan Laishley came with friend Heidi and joined up with Sally and Chris to explore the battlefields at Epehy and Ham. Sam, Alan, Sally and Chris met here a few years ago and have stayed in touch and coincided their visit this April. Friendships made here have an enduring quality and when we speak of the no.fifty6 family, we really mean it.
Terry Whenham and friend Jon joined the house party. Terry has started a series of podcasts called "Tales from The Battlefields" and while he was on The Somme recorded a couple of special podcasts – more on that later. Our Gatwick Pals returned – Mike and Laurie visited the places they love here and paid respects to their relatives Dick Green in Point 110 Cemetery and Cyril on the Louverval Memorial. Thy loved their stay and brought us “contraband” baked beans and other larder staples we can’t get here. They are not the only ones as we have had deliveries of tea, mustard etc…Our guests are so kind! It makes us smile when we use guest delivered products. Martin Talbot and Chris made the long journey from the North East of England and spent a long weekend exploring the battlefields with links to the North East. They completed a walking tour of La Boisselle with David, exploring the history of the Northumberland Fusiliers. Martin also volunteers as a Newcastle City Guide and his passion for history and sharing information means we will be staying in touch. Richard Scott and Terry Whippy visited and their visit coincided with the huge Amiens Spring Street Market, which was held on Easter Sunday. They set off before dawn and really had a fruitful visit of things to add to their collections. Richard and Terry left us with 2 amazing gifts they had brought over with them. Knowing we are both interested in the history of The Titanic, Terry gave us an original framed poster - an advertisement for Titanic’s maiden return crossing from New York. A crossing that obviously never happened…. Terry’s gift blew us away.
Terry's Titanic Gift to us
For some time we have been looking for a sectioned 18 pound shell to use for education purposes but have never found one we were happy with. On a previous visit, we mentioned this to Richard, and he very kindly gave us his own one. He made it, using battlefield finds which came from the Somme and has been lovingly restored. It is exactly what we wanted and David is using it regularly to explain how the shell works. It is a piece of art and history as well as educational. It is perfect. Our guests generosity of spirit warms us in ways difficult to describe.
Richard's sectioned 18 pounder.
Jim and Liz Blenkhorn have been in touch with us over recent years but this was their first visit to us, traveling back to the North East of England from The Alps. Jim has a relative killed in Ypres and one killed in Courcelette, Sugar Trench area. This latter has no known grave so is recorded on the Vimy Memorial as he had emigrated to Canada and served with the 27th Battalion CEF. Jim believes his relative - 2nd Lieutenant William Jameson, is one of the unknown graves in Courcelette Cemetery. David took Jim and Liz to the area of Sugar Trench and using Linesman trench maps, pinpointed the area where William went into action and also visited the cemetery where Jim believes William lies. These moments are so moving for everyone.
Hazel and Hedley made the short hop over from Kent on their first post Covid visit. Stalwart friends of Lochnagar they visited the Crater and made plans for the work which will be done in early June for the Lochnagar Working Weekend. Hazel also helped Jim Blenkhorn with research on the Jameson brothers while she was here. More friendships formed! Jim even sang for us on the evenings he was here. Jim joined a band in 1963 and has been singing and playing and gigging ever since!
Marcel made one of his regular visits from Amsterdam and walked the fields, bringing Dutch aged Gouda cheese which is a favourite on our cheese board!
Chris Hindle came from Leeds with his 2 adult sons, Harry and Tom, a trip that had been planned for a long while. Chris has been researching the Leeds Bantam Battalion (17th West Yorkshires) and the Hindles spent 2 days with David exploring the places the Bantams had fought including the Somme, Arras area and east of Peronne. 2 very full days of amazing history.
Returning guests The Beaumonts also had a full couple of days - led by Chris and Angela’s son Tom as tour guide, Tom introduced his fiancée Hollie to the battlefields, a place Tom has been visiting for many years. We raised a glass of bubbly to Tom and Hollie’s engagement. Always lovely to have families here who are passionate about history and great to see the younger generation caring as deeply about history as us older and greyer ones do! Then to end the month, Rick Smith was here on a week-long Somme visit. Rick is part of the Hawthorn Ridge Crater Association and conducted tours for visitors at The Crater as well as walking the areas following in the Artillery’s footsteps which is his area of special interest. At the same time we had Mark Hallam with 3 of his “newbie” friends on a general battlefield tour, and Barbara and Steve who have visited the Somme before but hadn’t previously stayed with us, making their first travel since Covid, in beautiful April sunshine.
Guests enjoying the April sunshine at No.fifty6
So you can see it has been a vibrant, interesting month of so many stories collected round our table with old friendships renewed in person and new friendships made. We love and are honoured to do what we do. Thank you to all our guests for making the journey.
A Good Night’s Sleep (Part 2)
Last month we wrote about our programme to replace the beds here as part of our ethos of continually trying to improve. This month, the next beds were ready from the family run bed factory in Albert and we have replaced the beds in our Bluebird Room. We now have the flexibility to offer this room as a twin or king size double room. Guests have already benefited from both options. It gives us more flexibility and our guests benefit in the type of bed configuration they prefer in this room. New high thread count, smooth 100% cotton linen is in use on all our beds. David just has to remember the various configurations and what linen goes on what bed as we are, as always, all colour co-ordinated. Life is never dull for David!
Tales From the Battlefields
As mentioned earlier, Terry Whenham has a series of podcasts entitled "Tales From the Battlefields." On his April visit, Terry interviewed us for a podcast. We talked about how we came to be here, what we do and some of the history around us. We enjoyed doing the podcast and hope you find time to have a listen. Link for it below.
Tyneside Seat Centenary
The Tyneside Seat at the bottom of our village commemorates the Tyneside Irish and Tyneside Scottish who fought in La Boisselle on 1st July 1916. It was one of the first permanent memorials on The Somme and was inaugurated by Marechal Foch on 20 April 1922 in the presence of officials, military, veterans and villagers. We wanted to mark the 100-year anniversary of the Seat’s inauguration as the stories of the Northumberland Fusiliers are such a part of the history here in La Boisselle. On 20 April 2022, 100 years to the day we held a simple commemoration at the Seat, attended by guests and villagers and our wonderful friend piper Cyrille Delplanque. We broadcast live to The Lochnagar Crater Facebook page. Link is below.
20 April 1922
20 April 2022
A Fatal Crossing
We mentioned that The Hindle Boys visited us this month as Chris researched the Leeds Bantams with his sons Harry who is a paramedic and Tom, who is a writer. Tom had his first novel published by Penguin in January. It is called "A Fatal Crossing", and is a whodunnit in a modern Agatha Christie style, set on a Trans-Atlantic liner (echoes of Titanic). It has had brilliant reviews and we look forward to reading it. Out now in hardback, the book will be out in paperback later in the summer. Penguin have been so pleased with the response to the book, they have contracted Tom to write two more novels. Brilliant news! If you like a good Whodunnit, please give "A Fatal Crossing" a go and let us know what you think.
Tom Hindle with his book in Waterstones
Parking in Albert
From 18 April the rules on parking in central Albert have changed. Most of the town centre is now a blue zone. This means you are limited to 90 minutes parking (still free) and you have to display a blue parking disk in your windscreen with your time of arrival. It applies until 6pm. Evenings are unlimited. We have supplies of the blue disks to give to our guests.
If you are going to be longer than 90 minutes during the day we suggest you park in the free car park in front of the town hall.
Commemorations for Anzac Day on 25th April went ahead at Villers Bretonneux after a 2 year hiatus. We had no Australians or New Zealanders staying with us as it is still early days for long haul travel. Julie was interviewed by France Bleu Picardie radio as to thoughts why there are so few Australian and New Zelanaders visiting France for Anzac Day.
It is good that Anzac Day was marked with full official representation. In Pozieres, Yves Potard organized a service at the 1st Australian Division Memorial with members of Digger Cote 160 attending in period costume. France continues to remember the fallen who came from far and near.
Work continues on the Memorial and we even had the stonemasons to stay for a week, though it is becoming more difficult to accommodate them as we are busy with other bookings! There is still no definitive end date for the work, though it is hoped by the end of July. You can still access the grounds of Thiepval and the Cemetery behind, it is just the memorial itself which is fenced off for safety.
Bluebells in Delville Wood
One of nature's wonders, the Bluebells are out in Delville Wood and look magnificent giving the wood a purple-blue carpet. We came across them on Easter Sunday and recorded this short film. Nature is amazing.
Marge is good. Still laying, still happy. We are getting itchy feet though to get a new batch of hens to keep Marge company and produce more fresh organic eggs for breakfast! Watch this space….(as David puts his head in his hands).
David’s April Joke:
“Dad, Do you know what a Total Eclipse is?”
All is well at no.fifty6. We hope to see you soon.
April Somme Sky at Mametz