February 2021 - Shivers, Sun and Springtime? News from No.fifty6

Posted on 28th February 2021 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

February 2021  - Shivers, Sun and Springtime? News from No.fifty6

February often blows in as a ”soft” month, not quite winter, not quite spring. This February we have had both – wild winds, rain, freezing temperatures (-8 by day) and the second half of the month, calm, sunshine, blue skies and unseasonably mild, like Spring is in reach.

The fields were very soggy, then rock hard with frost, now crispy from the sun with softness underneath.  New growth is here, even the trees are budding and the blackbirds are courting and nesting. Is it a faux spring before we plunge back into winter, time will tell?

As we walk the tracks and paths of The Somme, this is the time we think of War Poetry. The ability to write with such expression as the conditions around you were so dire always amazes us. The poets left a lasting legacy, which for us is as much a part of that link back, as the cemeteries and memorials which dot the landscape.

One such poet who had a promising life blown out like a candle is Charles Hamilton Sorley. He was born in Aberdeen, a gifted child, he attended King’s College choir school and Marlborough College, with some study in Germany. He began publishing poetry in the school journal and won a scholarship to University College, Oxford. Sorley was in Germany in 1914 when War broke out, and he was interned for one night in prison at Trier. Making his way back to England, he enlisted in the Army and served in the trenches in France as a Captain with the Suffolk Regiment. Sorley was killed in the Battle of Loos at the age of 20. He has no known grave.  
A collection of Sorley’s poetry was published posthumously as Marlborough and other Poems (1916) and went through six editions in the first year. Because of his time in Germany, Sorley’s attitude toward the war was deeply conflicted from its start. His small body of poetry is ambivalent, ironic, and profound. Robert Graves described Sorley as one of the 3 poets of importance killed during the war, the other 2 being Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg.

This poem, Sorley’s last, was discovered in his kitbag after his death.

When you see millions of the mouthless dead

Across your dreams in pale battalions go,

Say not soft things as other men have said,

That you'll remember. For you need not so.

Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know

It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?

Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.

Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.

Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,

“Yet many a better one has died before.”

Then, scanning all the o'ercrowded mass, should you

Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,

It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.

Great death has made all his for evermore.

“Across your dreams in pale battalions go”, is a line we come back to time and again on our walks. Rest in Peace Charles.


We try and walk regularly. It is lovely having the time to take in the landscape even though it has at times been very cold and we thought our fingers would drop off, through to the need for sunglasses and just a light jacket at month end.   With no crop growing high yet, just new seedlings, it is a perfect time to see the landscape.

Gary James has been a regular visitor in Februarys past as he has a relative who died on 17 February 1917. Unable to travel this year of course, Gary asked if we would visit the cemetery where he believes Edwin Kentfield could be buried – “could be” as he has no known grave and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial .We were of course happy to visit Regina Trench Cemetery in Courcelette and tell the story of Boom Ravine, the last action of the Somme before the German withdrawal in that February 1917.

We filmed on a blustery day our visit to Regina Trench.


We often walk to Lochnagar Crater as it is so close to us in so many ways. We keep an eye on The Crater for Richard and the Friends of Lochnagar. We filmed a visit this past week to share with those who cannot visit. A beautiful, blue sky day. 


As we have reported in previous newsletters, Thiepval will be closed to the public from 1st March for approximately 18 months for renovation.  We made a "last hurrah" visit to the Memorial on 28th February, its last day before renovation begins. During a live Facebook video we offered to visit names on panels to remember the men, and it kept us on our toes as requests came up! It was a beautiful, but chilly blue sky day as we left its arches, until we can visit again post renovation. Here is the link to our Thiepval live.


Covid Update

Numbers of cases and hospitalisations have been increasing in France lately, with some regions more affected than others. Both Dunkirk in the North and Nice in the South have seen very high caseloads and those areas are under special measures.

Here in The Somme Department there are high caseloads around Abbeville to the west of us, so the Department is under special vigilance. In our rural corner cases are static.    We do not have a full lockdown, but  there is a curfew between 6pm and 6am with a stay-at-home order (unless out for essential reasons with paperwork). Bars, restaurants and cafes remain closed as do ski resorts in other regions of France. The border between UK and France is currently closed to travel into France.  Schools remain open.

The vaccination programme is progressing but is slow due to supply issues.

We are both fine and keep ourselves busy, positive and do what we can to look after our health.

With the UK announcing a Roadmap for deconfinement, we know it is unlikely we will see any UK visitors before 17 May, and even that is dependent on so many factors. Some of our guests have already moved dates from pre-May to later in the year. If you would like to do that then do please get in touch. You know that all our reservations are flexible and condition free. We would rather you get some dates in our diary than be disappointed later in the year.

We hope wherever you are in Europe, Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand and all the other places we have forgotten, that you are looking after yourselves in these very difficult times. It is tough but better tines will come.

24th February – War Animal Day

For a few years now, 24th February has been chosen as the international day for remembering Animals in War, with Australians calling it Purple Poppy Day, purple being the colour for animal remembrance. Each year the commune of Pozieres has remembered and commemorated on this date. Under February sunshine we attended a small, covid compliant commemoration at the Animal Memorial in Pozieres. Yves Potard said a few words and flowers were laid. It was lovely to see 2 dogs, a Newfoundland and Golden Retriever attend, dressed for the occasion and we are pleased to say they were happy to be photographed.

The Gem that is La Madeleine Cemetery, Amiens

 We make no secret of the fact that we love exploring cemeteries. Obviously military cemeteries, but also French communal cemeteries. As we meander, we discover so much local and French history.

We have recently discovered La Madeleine Cemetery on the outskirts of Amiens. It is a real gem. Set in 18 hectares, one can imagine the carriages drawing up outside the magnificent gates as loved ones were interred and later visited. It has a Victorian splendour. There is a plot of French soldiers from the 1870-72 Franco Prussian War and civilian casualties from WW2 with some poignant and shocking inscriptions. There are paupers’ graves,  children’s graves, recent family burials and an older section,  including notable people of Amiens.

Buried side by side are father and daughter Victor and Victorine Autier. Victor devoted his life to medicine working as a Doctor to help the poor and work tirelessly against cholera. During the Franco Prussian war he became an Army Doctor and went out in the field to treat the wounded, taking his daughter Victorine with him as a military nurse. They worked in terrible, often freezing conditions. Victorine helped prisoners to escape and tend to the wounded and sick. Exhausted and ill from TB, Victorine died  at the age of 34 despite her father's desperate attempts to save her.

Perhaps the most notable burial in La Madeleine, is the writer Jules Verne, who lived and died in Amiens. He has the most incredible grave, a sci-fi nod to the man who wrote about things ahead of his time. The sculptor Albert Roze (also from Amiens) used Verne’s death mask to create a lifelike sculpture of him bursting out of his grave and reaching for the sky. Just fantastic in all meanings of the word.

So, it is a place we will return to. Peaceful, full of history, birdsong in the trees, a perfect way to spend an afternoon away from the living,  and just half an hour from our door.

Animal Postscript

Keeping the chicken water defrosted during our very cold spell was a challenge. If we had left the water trough they would have broken their beaks on the ice. David reckons the chickens are more pampered than him. He, and they, prefer the milder weather. Good eggs laid too (not David).

David’s February Joke:

It was hard getting over my addiction to the Hokey Cokey.

But I’ve turned myself around and that’s what it’s all about.


All is well at no.fifty6.





Comments (16)

Tim Brown says:

Thank you for the regular updates and cemetery visits. The stories of those that rest and of the actions in the area are fantastic.
David's jokes don't seem to get any better. I so look forward to the next time we can sit at your table eating drinking and laughing with old friends and new. Look after yourselves

Ian and Jackie Smallwood says:

Thanks, as ever, for the excellent newsletter with the accompanied videos. Very moving.
Stay safe guys.

Gary James says:

Another great newsletter. Thank you once again for what you both did on 17th Feb. Interesting read about Amiens. Will have to make a visit. Have you thought about building another extension to no.56. With all the delays and re-bookings we could be queuing up at the door to seek shelter, or maybe just a warming drink and a chat. Keep safe.

Ashley Atkinson says:

As always
Much obliged for newsletter
Stay safe

Jim Blenkhorn says:

Thanks again for your newsletter, I always enjoy reading it along with your videos on the various cemeteries that you visit. I have a Great Uncle who I like to think is one of the unknown Canadian Lieutenants buried in Courcelette British Cemetery as it is within a couple of hundred yards of where he was killed. His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Vimy Ridge Memorial. Not too far from you. Stay safe and well. Thanks again.

Rob says:

Lovely read - as always! Watch out for a special report on Albert Roze who sculpted the Jules Verne tomb in the spring edition of ‘Lochnagar Crater Today’. Hope to see you before too long.

Neil Mackenzie says:

Lovely to read your monthly update as always. I think the sunny days of winter with no crops to interrupt your views are some of the best times to visit the battlefields - not that there is a bad time. Fingers crossed we will be able to visit you later in the year. Stay safe.

Julie & David says:

Hi Rob, the weather David refers to in the Regina Trench video is from Military Operations France and Belgium 1917 by C Falls. There is also a book in the Battleground Europe series called Boom Ravine Somme by Trevor Pidgeon (though that was not David's source for the weather). Hope that helps.

Rob Handby says:

Hi Julie & David, really enjoyed your vid @ Regina Trench. My friend & I had an enjoyable stay with you in Oct '17 & I'm looking forward to returning. Can I ask David, what's your source for the weather conditions? You refer to it in the video & it's something I'm wanting to source in a project I am doing. Many thanks, Rob

Ferris says:

Thank you both so much for sharing your recent adventures, it gives us all a sense that better times are ahead.

Gary J Jones says:

Hi Julie/David,
Always makes my day when i read your news letters. Glad you are both managing to get out and about. I am sure we will get through these miserable times and hopefully get back to something like normal in time. Before you know it you will have your DLOY veterans visiting you again. For now take care, stay safe and keep up the excellent work. xxx

Pauline Symmons says:

Thank you for the newsletter, it's always good to read. Stay safe and hope to see you soon x

Frank Sumsion says:

Thanks for the newsletter it always brightens my day, stay safe and well you two, look forward to seeing you later in the year xx

Jon Hill says:

Great to read up your news as ever. The weather in NE England has been very similar by all accounts. I just loved the Hokey Cokey joke. It turned me around!

Michael Knight says:

Thank you for the photographs from Thiepval. Another good read for February. Stay safe and enjoy the peace and quiet while you can.

Gordon & Joana (and Mary) says:

Good morning! Still missing you guys. Had jabs#1 and everything fine. Love the tales ... stay safe and well!

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