As The Guns Fell Silent...November News from no.fifty6
Posted on 30th November 2018 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
November – Another historic month at No.fifty6. We have commemorated the Centenary of The Armistice in many ways. We have continued to have a variety of interesting guests cross our doorstep with many a story to tell. We have held a workshop in French on British Christmas traditions, we have started some new works and of course our animals have raised a smile or two. The weather has been varied from wet and windy to mild and grey, with some dry sunny days. Never a dull moment here.
Armistice weekend was a busy one for us. Many guests wanted to stay with us but all our rooms were full months go, so over the weekend we had a steady succession of lovely guests who popped in for a cuppa and a chat even though they had to stay elsewhere. The kettle was always on and it was wonderful to see so many people who had come out to commemorate the Armistice centenary. We loved seeing you all so thank you for popping in – you know who you are!
Sunday 11th started as wet but not a cold day. After fortifying everyone with breakfast we joined our mayor Christian Bernard to commemorate at the village memorials in both Ovillers and La Boisselle as well as Ovillers Military Cemetery. We were on strict instructions by Richard Dunning MBE to get Christian to the Lochnagar Crater for 10.45 at the latest for the 11.00 silence. At 10.45 we were still at La Boisselle war memorial. But somehow we made it to The Crater at 10.56 and all was well. Stressful but on time – just!
At Ovillers and La Boisselle our friends and guests Colleen, Paul Livings and Clive Downer laid wreaths and Sally and Chris Burge laid a Welsh slate which Sally had painted with a poppy and a Tommy. All the villagers remark on it at the village memorial.
At Lochnagar a special, unique service was held. After the last post and silence at 11.00, Richard, invited the congregation to come forward and collect a white lily to put on the Cross, with the hope that we could cover the cross in white lilies as a symbol of peace. While this happened, Julie read out names of soldiers who had been killed during the conflict. One of 4 voices, Julie read the British, Christian Bernard, French names, Marcus the German names and Stephen other nations. The village children took part and sang Le Marseillaise. It was very emotional reading the names on such an historic day. Names randomly chosen to represent all those who fell.
The Cross looked magnificent covered in lilies and they remain there still. The story was picked up by the UK’s Daily Mirror and Julie was quoted in the paper.
After a Vin d’honneur in the village hall we continued a day of commemorations in or village at the 34th and 19th Division Memorials and The Tyneside seat.
At 3pm we held a small informal service in Mametz Wood and afterwards we ended the day’s commemorations at Fricourt German Cemetery where our friend and guest Karsten laid a wreath remembering all Danes who died during the conflict.
The day was exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure.
But it is the small, simple things that we like at No.fifty6 and the next evening we felt we wanted to commemorate the Armistice in a simple way ourselves.
We lit candles by our "There But Not There" Tommy statue in the new dining room and quietly reflected, as those with us silently reflected too until the candles burned out. It was a special moment. Thank you Sally, Chris, and Colleen for sharing this special Armistice moment with us.
We continue to have wonderful guests bringing their stories.
Glenn Reddiex visited from New Zealand, on a pilgrimage across the battlefields following the stories of New Zealand soldiers. Glenn collects WW1 postcards. After he came across a postcard of a great-great uncle while researching his family history, it sparked his interest in piecing together history through postcards. Glenn has written a book called “Just to let you know I'm still alive”, which contains postcards from his collection and the stories behind them. The title is a nod to a line many soldiers used when writing to their loved ones.
Sadly, the Great great uncle who inspired his work – George Fox - died in 1917 and is commemorated on the Messines Memorial, George died knowing that his younger brother Thomas died on The Somme in September 1916. Thomas Fox is buried in Gommecourt.
Jude and Dave Farrimond-Sheddon made their first visit to The Somme in 2014 and they were keen to return to commemorate the Centenary of the death of Jude’s grandmother Harriet’s first husband Thomas Smith who died on 1st November 1918 and is buried in Rocquigny-Etrancourt Cemetery. Jude and Dave came with their son Ben and spent the day with David following in Thomas’s footsteps.
Harriet at Thomas' grave Jude, Dave and Ben on the anniversary of Thomas' death
They also followed in the footsteps of Jude’s Great Uncle Arthur Farrimond who served with the 9th Royal Scots. He survived the war but in France was wounded in the knee and stomach from a bayonet charge. After the war, recovered from his injuries, he went on to run the marathon in the 1924 Paris Olympics. Quite a story!
Arthur on joining up
Arthur in Olympic vest
Wendy and Danny have visited The Somme for many years, drawn by its unique poignancy. Danny and Wendy both have relatives who fought here, and they came to see the plaques which are now installed at Lochnagar for their relatives Frederick Dowton and Hickson.
Brian and Pauline Hall visited with their friends Stephen and Elaine from Staffordshire. It was a visit Brian had wanted to make for a while, having researched his Great Uncle who served and died. Thomas Truby served with the 15thBattalion (Bantams) Sherwood Foresters and was killed 15thJuly 1916 at Trones Wood and has no known grave so is commemorated on The Thiepval Memorial.
Brian had studied books, diaries, Google maps etc, before he came, but nothing had prepared him for seeing the landscape, the area where Thomas was killed and The Thiepval Memorial. He was humbled by the experience.
Gordon Haymes visited from Kent, a frequent visitor, with his work friend Nick who was visiting for the first time. Gordon took some wonderful photos while he was with us. Misty November days creating a special atmosphere on The Somme and visiting Hangard where Gordon’s relative was killed.
One of Gordon's excellent photos
Heather and Malcolm Johnson visit every year. Heather has a Great Uncle on Thiepval – a 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guard who was killed at Ginchy in September 1916. Heather and Malcolm stood on the track at Ginchy near to where he fell on a damp November day. Drawn to this place.
Each pilgrimage is special and all the stories of these men leave an imprint on our hearts, binding us closer still to this special place we call home.
Mme Guerin - The Poppy Lady
Heather and Malcolm Johnson during their visit brought us up to date with their work on commemorating the original “Poppy Lady” a French woman called Mme Guerin. Heather has researched in incredible depth the story and work of Mme Guerin who originally had the idea to commemorate the fallen and raise funds for those who retuned form War by selling artificial poppies. Indeed in 1921 The Haig Fund asked Mme Guerin to supply the poppies for Armistice Day 1921 and these poppies were made in France by widows and orphans. As well as her Website, chronicling Mme Guerin, Heather has tirelessly put together a timeline of Poppies used in appeals over the years. We urge you to have a look at her website:
1921 poppy: Courtesy Heather Johnson
A British Christmas at Thiepval
On Sunday 25th November we were invited by Thiepval Visitors’ Centre to host a talk on British Christmas traditions in French for a French audience (though open to all). We were delighted to oblige and we spent a lovely afternoon in the Centre talking about Christmas – from pagan traditions to Queen Victoria and the Queen’s speech. We introduced the audience to crackers (no crackers in France), Boxing Day (no such day) and Christmas pudding rituals etc. After singing Christmas carols we then adjourned to the welcome desk where we shared Christmas foods - mince pies, Christmas cake, pigs in blankets (try translating that into French) and Stilton with biscuits. All washed down with a non-alcoholic Christmas punch or a glass of sherry – again a tipple not known in France. We loved doing it and the audience were so warm and appreciative. David even dressed as Pere Noel. The event was reported on in the Courier Picard and apparently David and Julie have “delicious” British accents! It has kicked off the Christmas festivities for us!
Talking of Christmas, this is our last newsletter before Noel so Joyeuses Fetes to all of you. May it be healthy and happy and may Santa leave you something you cherish in your stocking.
Just as we had recovered from the renovations over the last 2 years at No.fifty6 we have started another project. It was our 6th birthday here on 21st November (Happy Birthday No.fifty6) and we decided it was time to refresh the guest bathrooms, as it is important our guests have the best experience – a cosy bed and good shower being essentials! So Greg the builder is back –– and one room at a time we are putting in new showers, tiling, lighting and flooring in each bedroom/bathroom. We are excited by these renovations. David is back to Builders’ French again. Fingers crossed it all goes to plan…
Marcel, who we reported last month had been visited by Harriet the hen at his bathroom window wants to set the record straight. He says: “Thank you very much for mentioning me in your newsletter. My maiden appearance! Unfortunately it is far from what actually happened. I did not step out from under the shower. I was properly dressed and must have stepped into the bathroom to brush my teeth after a wonderful breakfast, to find the chicken look down on me. So yes the chicken was very curious but don’t accuse her of being shameless. The poor thing cannot even defend itself. However to quote Oscar Wilde: There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
The hens are early to bed now with the nights drawing in – but we are still getting 5/6 lovely eggs per day. By 5.30pm they are tucked up with their winter blankets and have had their bedtime story read. At the same time the rabbits get their bedtime treat of a carrot and cabbage leaf.
Life is sweet at No.fifty6.