Beautiful Autumn, Exploring, Lockdown Returns

Posted on 31st October 2020 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

As the month turns it is All Saints' Day - Toussaints here in France. Autumn is definitely here. There have been winds, rain, sunshine, mild days and the light has softened from summer’s bright halo to a golden crown which accentuates the turning leaves and patchwork fields.

Our friends and farmers Yves and Thierry have been harvesting maize, sugarbeet and potatoes, so across the fields of The Somme there has been a lot of farming activity. At month end some crops still linger in the fields like mother earth is loathed to give them up, but in most cases there is ploughing, scarifying and reseeding going on. The agricultural wheel never stops turning.

Despite having no guests again this month due to travel restrictions, there has been plenty to keep us occupied and we have enjoyed the opportunity to discover the landscape in its autumn glory and visit some new places. But at month end, things have changed and we are now under National Lockdown.

It is hard, having no guests, we miss everyone, but we know as long as we and those we care about are safe, that Covid is under control soon, we have a 2021 diary getting fuller with those who have had to postpone their trips and want to come as soon as possible. We know you all miss the Somme as much as we miss you. 

Covid 19 Update

The Somme has not been in a high case category, but things change so quickly with Covid.  Cases have been rising sharply all around our little bubble in France and estimates put the health service coming under stress by mid November at current levels.  So on 28 October President Macron announced a new National Lockdown with effect from 30 October. No distinction between rural or city, it is the right thing to do we believe. One clear message of solidarity and citizenship.  We all have to work together to manage this virus.

It is a tough lockdown, very simliar to the one we had in the Spring, but the Government has learned from that and decided to keep schools open, but all children from the age of 6 must wear masks. For us it means we cannot go out unless it is an essential reason. Only essential shops are open and all bars/restaurants/cafes/museums/leisure closed. We are allowed to be out to exercise/take the air for up to 1 hour a day and only within a kilometre radius of our home.  So while it has clipped our wings to explore further afield we know we are very lucky that we have plenty of countryside within that kilometre and it also means we can walk to Ovillers Military Cemetery in one direction and Lochnagar Crater in the other. If we go outside our gate, we have to have a signed attestation with each of us, giving the time, date and one of a drop down menu of reasons for being out. Furlough has been extended for salaried staff and there will be help for businesses but the details will come out in the next few days. The Government estimate 15 billion euros per month will be needed for the aid package. Regulations last until 1 December but may be extended.

While the virus causes such damage, and France is rocked not only by Covid but by barbaric individual, unfathomable acts of terrorism, The Somme remains our beacon of peace even though it bears indelible scars of past horrors.

So while we could explore, what have we been up to in October? 


This big village just a 35-minute drive from us has been on our list to explore in more depth for some time and at the start of October we spent a wonderful day there. Behind the lines during The War, there was a field hospital, aerodrome and tank depot there. Many soldiers passed through the village and strong links remain. The military cemetery, where many of those who died of wounds lie,  is magnificent. It has a unique feature in a statue of a Poilu – a French soldier. It was paid for and installed by the commune of Vignacourt, in grateful recognition of the sacrifice of the Commonwealth soldiers who defended their village. The statue bears a moving inscription which translates as:

“ Brothers in Arms of The British Army, who fell in the fields of honour, sleep in peace, we will look over you.”

Sometimes the simplest words are best.

But the statue story does not end there. Most French villages have their French War Memorials in the middle of the village, but Vignacourt decided not to have a memorial as such, but to have a sister statue to the one in the Military Cemetery, and this would be in the Civilian Cemetery, at the other end of the village.  It takes the form of a statue by the same sculptor, Albert Roze, a native of Amiens,  representing the widow and child of the French soldier, depicting France’s grief and remembering civilian casualties too.

The village is worth a visit for the statues alone. Vignacourt, however has more secrets to give up. During the war, a farmer, and his wife, Louis and Antoinette Thullier,  interested in photography, bought camera equipment and a backdrop and set up a little business photographing  soldiers and civilians who were stationed in, or visited Vignacourt. Many soldiers sent the photos back home as proof they were doing well -reassuring their loved ones.  After the war, the photographs and the Thulliers  were forgotten about and for over a century the glass plates (the negatives) lay in the attic of the farm. Only a few years ago, the plates were rediscovered after research by Australian historians and media. They lay, literally in the dusty attic of the crumbling farmhouse. Miraculously the plates had survived and it was possible to make new photographs, which became known as The Lost Diggers. While the original plates and backdrop have been taken  to Australia, the farmhouse has been turned into a museum and displays some of the photographs and tells the story.

We went not knowing what to expect, but the museum is a little gem. We had a personal guide – not special for us, they always try to give a personal tour -  and her knowledge and passion was wonderful. The history pours out of the walls and seeing these amazing photos of all nationalities – British, Indian, Chinese, French, Australian, helps with that bridge back to a moment in history.

So Vignacourt, thank you for sharing your secrets with us, and please do visit when you have an opportunity to do so.


On the weekend of 9-10 October, we were due to have Stephen Benson with a group to stay with us. Stephen is responsible for The Cheshire Roll of Honour, and does great work on the history of Cheshire men and their role in the War. With Stephen having to postpone his visit to next year, he asked if we would carry out a small ceremony at Grandcourt Road Cemetery to remember the men of Cheshire who fell on 9 October 1916 as the 10th Cheshires attacked Stuff Redoubt, a German stronghold which had plagued the British, due to its commanding view on high ground above the battlefield.  So, with French friend and musician, Eric Brisse, who has also been in contact with Stephen, in Autumn sunshine, we visited Grandcourt Road and carried out a little ceremony. The Cemetery sits in the middle of a field, a small battlefield cemetery, on the site of a trench just below Stuff Redoubt. Here, we remembered the fallen, and on a light Autumn breeze, Eric played The Last Post on an Australian military bugle. We wondered, as the sound carried, what the neighbouring villages of Grandcourt and Thiepval made of the sound and the 3 of us, in a cemetery, in the middle of a field, remembering…

We streamed the short ceremony live on Facebook for those who could not be there in person. We will remember them.

Teaching Anglais

Last month we wrote about our adventures teaching English to 14 year old Cheyenne.  Our “lessons” continue each week – with her English teacher telling her mum Sophie that her confidence has definitely improved. That is probably more to do with David’s jokes than Julie’s insistence on a proper “TH” sound. The French mouth does not easily make the TH sound just as us Anglophones have problems with the French “R”!   

With extra time at the moment, we have added more students, this time our dear neighbours 4 doors up, Real and Arlette Delplanque.

David did it again, as we were discussing Aidez- moi/ Help Me – David launched into The Beatles song and then for the word Felicitations/ Congratulations he turned into Cliff Richard. Though we are not teachers by profession, we take it is an honour that our French friends want us to help them with their English. But we benefit too – from friendship, community spirit and a chance to give something back. Sadly with lockdown we cannot continue face to face for the moment. 

Birthday Girl at The Zoo

Julie had a birthday this month and despite rain all day we decided in celebration, to go somewhere we had never been – Amiens Zoo.  

Very close to the centre of Amiens, it is a lovely oasis. It is extremely well laid out, very leafy, and you would not know you’re so close to The City. It has an emphasis on wildlife preservation and education and we thought it brilliant. Lots of endangered species, birds and small mammals.  David was particularly taken by the Capuchin monkeys (wonder why?) and Julie loved the wise old owls – the Snowy owl in particular. A brilliant way to spend a rainy Birthday afternoon. Oh, and of course David sang Simon and Garfunkel’s At the Zoo.

Mysterious Packages

Now, we like a good mystery, and we have 2 of our own mysteries to solve this month. Some kind souls have been sending us little presents through the post. Around Julie’s birthday, she received a UK postmarked package, no more clues as it was a printed post label,  which contained 2 lovely hen painted eggcups. No note, so no chance to say thank you directly. So whoever the mystery sender is – they are lovely  and will be well used!

Then blow me, 2 days later, another mystery parcel. Different handwriting, UK again but no further clue from the postmark. This time a book called Doing His Bit, the story of a Shetland Soldier in The Great War. A book we don’t have – so thank you to this mystery benefactor, David is currently reading it.

These little packages cheered our hearts, it is lovely to know someone is thinking of us, and your gifts are appreciated. So ,whoever you are, thank you!

November 11th

With the clocks turning back last weekend, we realise November is upon us and thoughts turn to Armistice Day. We had a Zoom call with Richard Dunning last week before lockdown was announced.  He would have liked us to conduct a short act of remembrance at Lochnagar and lay a wreath there, at the village French memorials in Ovillers and La Boisselle and also at Fricourt German cemetery on his behalf. Now, with lockdown, we will be unable to visit Fricourt as it is outside our 1 km radius. We are liaising with our Maire Christian Bernard as to what is possible within The Commune while obeying all regulations.

We read yesterday that due to lockdown, the annual commemorations at Compiegne, where the Armistice was signed, have been cancelled for the first time since the German occupation in WW2.

Animal Postscript

Marge and Flo, our 2 remaining hens, our old girls, are doing OK. Egg production was on the wane with just Marge laying, but now with shorter days, we are getting zero oeufs. So they are enjoying retirement and will continue to do so until the natural end of their days.

Shere the cat is fine too. He prefers sunny autumn days when he can stretch out in the car park. He always lets David know when his food bowls are empty. David is the soft touch.

All is well at No.fifty6. Be safe. Stay well.  Stay cheerful. See you soon we hope.




Comments (22)

Jim Blenkhorn says:

Your news letters are great, thank you. Although I have never stayed with you I hope to do so in the not too distant future.

Gary James says:

Another great newsletter. Your lockdown info has now been replicated in the UK. Unfortunately I don't have as many intersting places within 1km as you both do. Keep safe and hope to see you in 2021

Chris Prince says:

Hi Julie and David, glad to hear all is well at No 56, even with the restrictions in place. And that the animals are well and happy. As always lovely to hear what you have been both up to, I have the book 'The Lost Diggers' it is amazing to think that the plates where there all those years. Would love to visit the Museum at Vignacourt. Anyway stay safe and well. Love Chris & Bill xxx


Having done two lockdowns here we feel you going into a hard lockdown with winter coming on - all the best and stay safe. We fondly remember our brief stay with you and although we would love to make it back it seems highly unlikely with this dreadful virus spinning its way around the world non-stop. We have no Covid community cases here in NZ, just those who bring it with them when they return to NZ and stay in isolation hotels for 14 days.

Robert Payne says:

Hello, regarding Vignacourt, I have the wonderfull book The Lost Tommies, telling the story of the Thuillier photographic plates ,the book containing hundreds of excellent photos of the British soldiers who passed through there. Thank you for your news letters.

Tony Clatworthy says:

Glad to see you are both well and managing the covid thingy. Must be so frustrating but Hey Ho ! Looking forward to seeing you next year. Driving into No.Fifty 6 and being greeted with a beer/red wine ! See you and the chickens next year................

Ferris says:

Once again thank you both so much for the news from No 56, it reminds us of good times past and better times to come

Rob says:

‘Doing His Bit’....i suspect you need look no further than a Spurs fan living in Scotland who often turns up with mud on his boots. He’s a star.

Heather and Malcolm says:

Love the first of each month, getting your news. Oh how we will miss the Somme mud on the lanes this month ... and, importantly, seeing you both. Stay safe.

Andy bond says:

As all ways do look forward to your blog Julie thought the the French soldier was magnificent stay safe stay well and all the best to you both Andy. Ps am missing France and Belgium so very much

Ian Smallwood says:

Hi Julie and David . . . Thanks again for another posting of your superb informative newsletter.
Sill 'hoping' to see you both again July 2021 - fingers crossed.
Keep in the fantastic work guys and Happy Birthday Julie !

Sandy Biback says:

simply thank you....for all you do...for sharing. Happy Birthday Julie. Stay well, stay safe

Jennifer Iles says:

Vignacourt Military Cemetery and Museum are definitely on the itinerary for our next visit. With regards to teaching English, I used to teach English when we lived in Greece. One of my pupils was my neighbour’s 8 year old daughter, Ellie. I always used to end our lessons with a game of I Spy, and to my shame she used to win (genuinely) every single time - so much for my powers of observation!

Roger and Elaine says:

Belated Happy Birthday, Julie. Wonderful newsletter, as usual. Can't wait to visit next year, hopefully.

Dave Eason says:

Once again an informative and welcome newsletter full of interesting stuff. You should start a travel blog or YouTube vlog so we can hear David singing, er hem.. The quote "blow me" also made me laugh out loud, I have not heard it for years. I laughed, not because of this world of innuendo that we live in nowadays, but because my dear old Nan and mother used it often whenever surprised, and it took me back 30 years. Lets sing it David, Maybe its because we are Lundenah's, that we love Lundan tarnnnnnnnnnnnn. Altagevva nah? Get off me sisterrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Stay safe

Gordon & Joana (& Mary) says:

Sorry to be so late - had a bit of a ‘lie in’. It’s like being there (reading your Newsletter), but not (taking inspiration from ‘There, But Not There’). Currently on our 3rd round of Dick Strawbridge, and we have friends who are due to re-locate to Fougerolles-du-Plessis tomorrow, although not sure how that’ll play out ... Just invested in two more books: ‘Twelve Days on the Somme’ - Sidney Rogerson and Rose Coombes’ ‘Before Endeavours Fade’; both intended to keep us near to you ...
Stay safe and remain well - aren’t those steamed up glasses such a ‘fag’ ..?

Richard says:

I do look forward to your updates and hearing about your local news. It’s so sad that events this year have prevented our usual trips to the Somme, but as soon as we are able I will be ringing you.. Stay safe

Michael Knight says:

I always look forward to your newsletter. Vignacourt looks to be interesting so is somewhere I’ll visit on my next visit to No.56. Stay safe and keep the photographs coming

Jane says:

Love to read your news !

Glad to hear that you are both well

I also love the egg cups but I especially love the photo of you two with your masks and Julie what a fabulous hat !

Best wishes and belated birthday wishes Jane

Alison SELMES says:

Lovely to hear your news! Life in England changed for the worst yesterday, but hopefully we'll all come out of this fit and well, grateful for what we have and able to look forward to seeing you both again!

Len Chaganis says:

Always a pleasure to read your news updates.
Hope to see you again next year on one of our trips back to the UK
Keep safe and drink lots of wine

Marika Perkins says:

Dear Julie and David, please could you add my dad and his wife’s email address to your distribution list. As always this brings me so close to dad, knowing what it’s like in the area around him, at a time when I cannot get close to him.

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