Commemorations, Animal Remembrance and Personal Pilgrimages - July News

Posted on 31st July 2017 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

Commemorations, Animal Remembrance and Personal Pilgrimages - July News

We started this month commemorating the 101st year since The Battle of The Somme and we end the month reflecting on the Centenary of The 3rd Battle of Ypres. Both sets of commemorations had remembrance at their core and a longing to make sure the story of those who gave so much is not forgotten by the modern world. Have we learned anything from war? The world is still a place of conflict, negativity and terror at times, but we also live in a world full of natural beauty, kindness and generosity of spirit. We all need to strive to make the world a better place.

July weather has been mixed, some heavy rain but mainly warm days and perfect exploring weather. The fields are now full of harvesters as the farmers work around the clock to bring in the crops before the next rains.  We stop and stare at this once war ravaged landscape now so beautiful with hay bails, birds and peace.

1 July 2017 - 101 Years Remembered

We woke early 1 July to heavy rain and cool temperatures which persisted all morning. This did not deter the hundreds of people who attended the 07.28am service at Lochnagar Crater. As no vehicular access was allowed at the Crater that morning for security reasons, David had volunteered to drive the Albert community minibus to and from the village to help anyone who needed assistance. Julie worked with the local Gendarmes and our Mayor to carry out bag searches – in the pouring rain. We have been attending July 1st commemorations for many years and we have not known a wetter, colder one. It did not let up at all during the remembrance ceremony with the entire congregation very wet and cold, but steadfast in their remembrance.

Thiepval too had enhanced security in place for the commemorations at 11am. Our local paper questioned why Thiepval was so poorly attended, with many empty seats. Clearly the weather did not help, but it was a far cry from last year when the event was oversubscribed.

Events were also held at The Ulster Tower, Contalmaison, Newfoundland Park and Fricourt German Cemetery with the weather improving in the afternoon.

Now the world is remembering the 3rd Battle of Ypres  - Pilkem Ridge, Passchendaele, Ypres, some of the names synonymous with this period of the First World War defined by heavy losses and mud. We will remember them. 

Personal Pilgrimages

At the moment we have a guest from Denmark staying with us. Karsten had 2 great grandfathers who fought in the War. They were in the German Army as a big part of southern Denmark was lost to Germany after the war in 1864 (but reunited with Denmark in 1920) so they were forced to do military service. They both survived the war and came home although one of them lost his right leg due to a shot in the foot which caused an infection. The other was shot through the cheek while working with barbed wire. Karsten says his mates always made fun of him, that it was actually a good thing that he never could keep his mouth shut otherwise he would have his head blown off instead. We have helped Karsten trace where his Gt Grandfathers were with the 84th and 86th Reserve Infantry Regiments. They were in the German lines North of Pozieres in July 1916 and near Givenchy, Vimy Sector, and then in the Ypres Salient.

Last week the Franklin family stayed with us for the 2nd time. Sarah, Mark and their 2 lovely boys, George and Charlie, visited last year as they remembered their Great Uncle Oscar Franklin who died in August 1916 at Guillemont and is remembered on The Thiepval Memorial. Despite being only 9 and 11 the boys really love learning about the War and their Great Great Uncle. In this family, the baton of remembrance has truly been passed on. The family laid crosses and wreaths at Thiepval and on the headstone of an unknown soldier in Guillemont Road Cemetery. The boys had fun too, visiting the Carriere Tunnels at Arras, having a trip on the Petit Train steam train and shopping in the French sales. It is possible to strike a balance between War history and holiday here on The Somme.

Dorothy Humphries came from New Zealand for her personal pilgrimage. Dorothy’s father George Mirfin served with the 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade. George came to war with 3 of his brothers. Ashton was also Rifle Brigade, Stanley was a Sergeant Cook with the Otago Regiment and a 4th brother was in the Medics elsewhere. All 4 brothers came home to NZ. Dorothy’s dad George was the only one injured in July 1918 with shrapnel injuries to his right shoulder. We traced where George was wounded, in the trenches near Hebuterne and David took Dorothy and her husband Rodger to the places George had been and was wounded. George on his return to NZ, went back to the family farm and married much later in life – hence Dorothy born many years after the war, being a first generation descendant of a NZ man who fought here.

Dorothy was accompanied on the trip by her cousin Rosalie and Rosalie’s daughter Genevieve who live in Amsterdam. Rosalie is Stanley Mirfin, (the cook’s) granddaughter. They brought some amazing papers and mementoes that Stanley had passed on. There was his cook’s notebook with wonderful recipes for cooking in great quantities for the troops with minimal ingredients, letters home which gave hope and strength to his family, along with saucy postcards from his R&R trips to Paris, and perhaps stories of a lost French love... We sat long into the night looking at these wonderful family heirlooms, piecing together the man who was no longer here to share his stories personally. We hope he knows his family love and cherish his memories.

 Sam Gascoyne has been visiting the battlefields for many years and is a regular visitor here at No.fifty6. 10 July 2017 marked 100 years since his Great Great Uncle John Reavill died at Adinfer Wood and is buried in Croisilles Cemetery. Sam has a wonderful letter from the Chaplin to John’s mother. John had been a devout Christian and lay preacher and the letter, we hope brought some warmth to his mother’s heart on the sad news of the loss of her cherished son. We met Sam at Croisilles as we paid respects to his ancestor.


Dave and Jo Kildea and Andy and Julie Bloomfield also visited us for the second time. Andy and Jo are siblings and last year we helped them trace their Gt Grandfather Walter Bloomfield. who died near Thiepval Wood and is buried in Lonsdale Cemetery.  This year they traced Jack Weate 12th KOYLI (Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) who died near Serre on 1 July 1916 and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. Jack was a pioneer, helping to mend trenches and clear communication lines etc.  They have sponsored plaques for both men at Lochnagar Crater.  There is an interesting postscript to this story. Last year at Lonsdale Cemetery they wrote in the Visitors’ book that they had visited on the centenary of Walter’s death. On their visit this year they checked the Visitors’ book and underneath their entry last year was another from a lady who also visited Water’s grave later the same day, and said she was his grand daughter. While they were with us these 2 parts of the family made contact via the power of social media and have arranged to meet – both not knowing that the other part of the family existed. Again, The Somme has a power to connect people.

 Mark and Irene Rowland visited form Toowoomba, Australia to research Irene’s Great Uncle who died near Villers Bretonneux in 1918 and is buried in Adelaide Cemetery. David showed them the area around the Cachy Switch where he was likely to have died with the AIF.

We can only scratch the surface of the stories of the men who gave so much 100 years ago. We will never know what went on behind the eyes of those who survived. But their legacy lives on, in proud families all across the world. We will remember them.


The Australian War Animals Memorial was inaugurated in a wonderful ceremony on 21st July. After months of planning it was wonderful to finally meet Nigel Allsop, President of the AWAMO organisation and his small team, who came from various parts of Australia. For us it was a busy week, not only with guests here, but with the final arrangements for the memorial, organizing horses, pigeons, personnel, seating, roses, sculptures to be installed etc.

The day of the inauguration was a beautiful summer day and the event on the hallowed ground behind The Windmill site in Pozieres was very well attended and was covered by French TV and media. VIP guest speakers were Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial and Dr Harry Cooper, well known and much loved Australian TV vet. The Australian military led the event with MC Major Kim Willcox, with Julie providing official translation (scary stuff). British Animals were represented by Colonel Smith, Chief Army Veterinary Officer and the Queen’s vet and also the Imperial War Museum.  

There were moving speeches about the Organisation and the role of animals in war, the Veterinary Corps and the ongoing achievements of animals.

But of course the guests of honour were the animals that attended. We had horses, ponies, a donkey, dogs and pigeons. The French Gendarme and the British Army brought a contingent of dog handlers and it was wonderful to see these working dogs, who carry out very dangerous duties detecting bombs and protecting people etc. One of the horses wore a beautiful blanket made of purple poppies which had been knitted and then hand sewn in Australia. Purple being the colour of animal remembrance. For us though, and for many, the highlight was when several hundred homing pigeons were released from a replica WW1 French cart/pigeon carrier. As one, the pigeons flocked out, headed for the sky and turned to head for home, some 10 kms away.

The Memorial has several parts. A plinth with a beautifully sculpted horses head called “Emerging Spirit” – a horse rising from the mud. In the horse’s mane in relief there is a donkey, dove and dog. Another plinth has a sculpture of the head of a German Shepherd dog, representing all animals in war. There is a plinth to New Zealand animals in war and one to the Veterinary Corp and a statue of St Francis. The hope is that this small memorial park, with purple roses and benches, becomes a place of quiet reflection.

We were honoured to be involved in the project. As a thank you for our help on the ground, we have been made Ambassadors of the AWAMO organisation. We will spread the word about this Organisation. It is not just about the memorial but about the ongoing work the Association does. As well as remembering animals in Wars past, there is an emphasis on working animals now and the vital job they do to protect us all.

On 22nd July Greg Hill, Queensland Police Officer remembered the 19 Queensland Police who enlisted and died in the Great War, 6 of whom died at Pozieres. Greg had a special plaque made which he presented to the local Gendarmes at a moving short service on the fields of Pozieres and later at Albert police station, where the plaque will be put up in the entrance hall.  Lest We Forget.

On 23rd July there was a special mass in Pozieres Church to remember the battle of Pozieres. The service was led by Monsignor John Butler, Principal Chaplin (retired) of the Australian Army. Julie aided with translation at a very moving bilingual service - the first mass in English in the church's history.  


 Renovations (Renos to our Aussie Friends)

Very little progress this month – but we have been too busy here to continue with any renovation work ourselves. We are still waiting for our kitchen worktops which were promised for 31st July but we are still awaiting from the supplier. It’s our fault really for having a requirement for an extra large made to measure worktop!!! It’s such a shame as things are very nearly finished – but not quite. Work on the Verandah/conservatory area will start in September. 

 Animal Postscript

 We did think about taking our little menagerie to the AWAMO inauguration but we decided to leave our garden animals at home. The chickens who still love their grapes, the rabbits partial to being brushed and nibbling on a carrot,  and new foal (Hope) gamboling in the field are all doing fine and they continue to make us and our guests, smile everyday.


Comments (9)

Bev Craig says:

Hi Julie and David.
I love your updates as well.
This one is especially special.
I loved all the photos on Facebook.
Julie, you looked stunning in purple.

Love Bev xx

Jennifer Iles says:

I always look forward to your newsletters and I am never disappointed! They are full of interesting personal stories, news and updates.

Sam Gascoyne says:

Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!!

Another super newsletter - what a busy month you have both had - a constant stream of guests as well as many of your own pursuits in which to engage.

Keep up the brilliant work & I look forward to seeing you both very soon. Is the tiger costume still going strong?

Much love,


Sarah says:

Julie and David we had a wonderful time staying with you both once again . Take care until we see you both again . Love Sarah Mark George and Charlie xxx

Debbie & Geoff Garard says:

We cannot believe a year has passed since we visited, love reading your newsletters it brings back fond memories of our stay

Pauline Symmons says:

Love reading your updates. Hopefully the weather will be better for us on 1st July next year! Love to you both Pauline and Bob

Vic Philbey says:

Thanks Julie and David for your good wishes relayed to me by Jim lunchtime today. I look forward to your newsletters each month and am most impressed with the one received today. Take care both of you and carry on winning those awards for which you so deserve. Love from Vic. X

Heather Johnson says:

As always, Julie and David, some heart-rendering stories linked to your guests. Great read ...

sandy biback says:

I love your updates. They make me smile, they make me laugh and they make me cry. Mostly they make me grateful for the peace I enjoy

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