April at No.fifty6 – Spring is here and with it many stories to tell

Posted on 30th April 2019 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

April at No.fifty6 – Spring is here and with it many stories to tell

April - Hush, thrush! Hush, missen-thrush, I listen...

I heard the flush of footsteps through the loose leaves,

And a low whistle by the water's brim. (Wilfred Owen)

April brings spring in full glory here. The dawn chorus is in full voice, the daffodils give way to tulips and many of the fields are bright yellow with rape/colza. The weather has seesawed between hot and sunny with drinks on the terrace to wet, cold and very windy. Whatever the weather has brought us, the history of the Somme and the extraordinary events here have captured many of our guests this month with many thought provoking and poignant moments shared by all those who gather round our table. No one leaves the Somme unmarked by their experience here.  It is like the men whose stories we can only begin to tell want everyone to take a piece of this place back in their hearts with them…

Personal Pilgrimages 

So many extraordinary stories came to our door in April. 

Ross Beadle is a frequent visitor to The Somme. His relative James Rutherford of the 8th Black Watch was killed in action 20 October 1916. Ross has visited his grave in Serre Road No.2 Cemetery many times, but on his April visit really pieced together young James’s final days and the action which saw him make the ultimate sacrifice. With  research using War Diaries and trench maps we learned that James had been killed in the area around Eaucourt L’Abbaye, just a few miles from here. At the time of his death he had been promoted twice, first to Lance Corporal and then to Serjeant. In October 1916 the Germans mounted a major counter-attack on Eaucourt L'Abbaye  with artillery, bombing and also a flame thrower; although this was knocked out before it could inflict any damage. The Black Watch fought back to reclaim the front line, which was where James Rutherford was killed.  Lieutenant Colonel Sir G Abercrombie, commanding officer the 8th Battalion Black Watch wrote the report on the action. He wrote: "From 12 noon no organised attacks were made against us, but our lines were continually shelled, both by the Bosch and our own guns. Sergt. RUTHERFORD (“D” Company) was unfortunately killed by our own guns."

James lay there, in a battlefield grave for several years, until he was found and reinterred in 1932 in Serre No.2. The reburial forms show he was identified by his Identity Disc, while many around him remained unknown but were reburied alongside their Serjeant Jimmy Rutherford. 

Serjeant James RutherfordRoss stands on the ground where James was killed.

Margaret Squires made the journey from her home in the North West of England to The Somme for the first time. A trip she has wanted to make for some time as she is sure no one in her family had been to see the grave of her Great Uncle.  We were happy to help Margaret with her trip and she spent an emotional day with David following in her Great Uncle’s footsteps. Lance Corporal Frank Shirley Blease was serving with the 1/6th Manchesters when he was wounded in action near the Canal de Nord between Hermies and Trescault and was taken to a Casualty Clearing Station where he died on Sunday September 29th 1918 aged just 24. He is buried in Grevillers Cemetery. We recounted with Margaret, Frank’s last days, the sorts of things he was involved with; where he marched, where he was billeted, even where he bathed, and finally where he went into action for his final battle. The battlefields of France a far cry from Frank’s native Cheetham Hill where he had lived a quiet life as a clerk in the Chamber of Commerce before joining the Manchesters in May 1915. He served in Egypt in 1916 and then in France and Flanders. He survived so much only to die 6 weeks before the end of the War. Margaret produced a photo of Frank. She said – "he looks so young and scared."  His soulful eyes leap off the photographic paper across he years. Rest in peace Frank. 

Margaret at Frank's grave.

Caroline travelled all the way from Cornwall to visit the graves and memorials of 12 relatives who lie across France and Flanders. Among them are The Ellis Brothers. 6 brothers went to War and only 2 came home. Caroline enlisted the help of Battlefield Guide Steve Cottam www.discoverybattlefieldtours.com as they visited sites from Abbeville to Thiepval to Vis en Artois to Ypres. 

The 4 Ellis brothers who died, were sons of Richard Ellis the licensee of the Three Horseshoes at Cowley, near Exeter, Devon. The Ellises were a large family and Caroline brought wonderful photos of them all. Mr and Mrs Ellis must have been worn out with all those children and running the Three Horseshoes and then the heartbreak of 4 sons dying in the War. One cannot imagine what that would do to a family. The King and Queen sent a letter of condolence to the parents when they learned of the 4 sibling deaths.

The Ellis Family

Thank you for sharing your family history Caroline.

Last year Diane Howarth from near Durham contacted us, as she wanted to organise a trip for her family to pay respects to their Grandfather. It was an emotional trip for all the Howarths, and a story bound up in the history of La Boisselle and those historic events of 1 July 1916. Private John Wesley Howarth from Wheatley Hill, County Durham, joined the 24th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, the Tyneside Irish. That Battalion is steeped in the history here. 

John Wesley Howarth, known to his family as Wes, was a coal miner. He enlisted and sailed from Southampton to Le Havre on 11th January 1916 leaving at home his wife Jane and a son, William who was not yet 2 years old.  The Tyneside Irish were in the front line at Armentieres in February before they moved to The Somme, billeted at Dernancourt. On 30th June 1916 they moved into position near Becourt Wood just a mile or so from our house. The battalion attacked on the morning of 1st July, their objective to get beyond Sausage Valley La Boisselle to a position in Contalmaison. What they faced that morning after the detonation of Lochnagar and Y Sap mines, was heavy machine gun fire. Of 980 men in the battalion, 650 were casualties on that day. Young Wes, aged just 25 was one of those killed, likely not far from his jumping off point. Wes has no known grave and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial just like 127 others he had served with in his Battalion.   

Wes Howarth’s son William went on to have a son, called Wes, in his father’s honour and we were honoured to have Wes Howarth with us as he followed in the footsteps of the grandfather he never knew. Wes too, named his 1st son Wes and the 2 generations of Wes Howarths travelled together with the third generation Howarth, who, with a break with tradition, is called Harvey. The 3 men paid their respects around the fields of La Boisselle and at Thiepval Memorial.  Wes Howarth wore his Royal Engineers beret, as he too, joined up to serve his country. 

Rest in Peace John Wesley Howarth, you are not forgotten.

Wes senior, junior and Harvey at Thiepval

Filming of a Documentary

Richard Dunning, owner of The Lochnagar Crater was contacted a few months ago by a TV production company who wanted to film at The Crater for a forthcoming episode of a series called Chris Tarrant: Extreme Railways. This episode will feature how railways were used throughout the War in all manner of ways. We were delighted Richard and Iain from the Lochnagar Foundation and some of the production crew stayed with us while they filmed at The Crater and the surrounding area. We do not have transmission dates yet, (likely to be the autumn) but will keep you posted.  

Finally Laid to Rest in Ovillers

On 30 April a burial service was held at Ovillers Military Cemetery at 2pm for two unknown soldiers.

Their bodies were recovered by CWGC staff in 2015 near our village in a ploughed field at the bottom of Mash Valley. Despite extensive investigation by the UK’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, it has not been possible to identify the two men. 

It is known that one of the casualties was serving with the Northumberland Fusiliers when he died and CWGC have marked his grave with a headstone bearing this detail. The unknown casualty’s headstone commemorates him as a ‘Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God’.

For us, Ovillers Cemetery is a very special place; we look out on it every day. It was an honour to attend the service along with our Mayor Christian Bernard.

The Northumberland Fusiliers have merged with other Fusilier Regiments and in 1968 became The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. The Chaplin of the Regiment led the service, the Major read and serving fusiliers formed the burial party. It was an emotional service, the 2 coffins draped with the Union Flag. The care and precision shown by the young soldiers was impeccable. As the men were lowered into the ground a piper played the lament, standing at the grave of Aggy Fyfe, The Northumberland Fusilier piper who had piped the men into battle on 1st July and died himself on that day. 

We thought of young Wes Howarth and the Howarth family and all those unknowns who lay in the fields around us,  as these unknown Fusiliers were laid to rest for the last time. 

Rest in Peace men, your duty done. 

Thiepval Tea Room

We are pleased to report that a new Tearoom has opened in the grounds of Thiepval Memorial. Known as The cottage of Genevieve and Augustine it is in the house of the former Mayor of Thiepval Genevieve Potie and her husband Augustine who sadly died a couple of years ago. 

The tearoom is run by Francoise and Denis Bourgogne, proprietors of the Auberge De L'Ancre restaurant. The tearoom and bar has a lovely terrace and serves drinks and light snacks. It is open Wednesday-Sunday 11am-5pm. A welcome new refreshment place on the Somme. We wish them good luck and we had a wonderful first visit. 

Animal Postscript

All animals present and correct. Hen egg production has ranged from 3 a day to 6 a day  - not happy with some of the blustery weather we have had – luckily hen house still intact.  Griza the cat likes sitting on the tank in the front garden in warm weather. Sausage has an extra spring in his step now that his favourite treat, dandelions are growing again.

All is well at No.fifty6. 

Comments (16)

Andy Bloomfield says:

Great to catch up and read the stories of other people.
Looking forward to July and seeing you both again and catching up with Walter

Gerrit Nijenhuis says:

Hi Julie and David, what an impressive newsletter again. The Somme never stops to amaze me!

Jon Hill says:

Always good to catch up with your news. The stories of those affected in WW1 are always deeply moving.

Margaret Squires says:

Thank you David and Julie for helping me to find Frank. By including him in your lovely newsletter, you have ensured that many people read his story, typical of so many ordinary young men who marched off to war and never came home. Your meticulous research, kindness above and beyond and wonderful hospitality made my visit a very special experience.Hope very much to stay with you again.

Ross Beadle says:

Thank you for featuring the story of my Great Uncle Jimmy - killed by friendly fire at the Butte in late 1916 and then one of the Missing for the next 16 years, until his body was discovered. See you soon

Gary James says:

A very busy month and great to read about so many personal pilgrimages. It is humbling to know that those who paid the sacrifice will not be forgotten. Hope to catch up with you both towards the end of July.

Gerald Abbott's. says:

Once again a very informative news letter, looking forwards to meeting your. Lovely Griza.

Rob Kirk says:

Enjoyable reading, as always. Looking forward to catching up later this month. X

Sally says:

Thanks for another truly poignant news letter. My excuse is it’s the hay fever season. We can remember our first time at 56 and how you both went that extra mile to help us. Seems a long time ago now! Really looking forward to coming back soon xx

Martyn says:

Great job with the newsletter Julie, you paint a picture for everyone who has visited the Somme to remember their own trips, and you do it so well.

Graham Taylor says:

Hi Julie & David...Thank you for another very interesting newsletter. I love hearing the poignant stories from your guests and the updates on No. 56 and it's menagerie. Regards Graham & Kath

Chris Prince says:

Hi Julia & David, As always I love reading all your stories they are sad, but so very interesting, you make each and everyones stories complete by your help and sharing.I always feel like a part of what they have doing. You both give so much to each. Please to hear it is warming up. Take care and can't wait for the next newsletter to arrive. Kindest Regards Chris

Heather & Malcolm Johnson says:

Thanks for another great newsletter. You are so right ... no-one leaves the Somme un-marked - they didn't during the Great War and they don't today!

Terry Uttley says:

Many thanks for your newsletter. Hope I can one day visit number 56.Happy that all is well with you and family.inc cats and hens.many thanks again Terry Uttley.

Gordon&Joana says:

I surely can’t be the only one with ‘wrung out’ emotions having read this month’s epistle? Well done Julie and David. Keeping you both in our hearts. XX

David Ellis says:

Thanks for the latest from number56! I love hearing news and stories about your guests. I am trying to organise dates to come and visit again and will be in touch. Very best wishes - David

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