February 2022 News From no.fifty6 - Storms, Sun and Springtime?

Posted on 28th February 2022 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

February 2022 News From no.fifty6 - Storms, Sun and Springtime?

After January seems to last forever, February has been and gone in a flash! February often blows in as a ”soft” month, not quite winter, not quite spring. This February we have had both – wild, wild winds, rain, mist, but we end the month with calm, sunshine, blue skies, night frost but a little warmth in the sun by afternoon. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets on those clear days. Our guests have benefited from good walking and photography weather.

The fields of The Somme are part ploughed, partly green with new growth, the lushness coming back to Tara and Usna hills rolling away before us. It is a beautiful month to be on The Somme.

 Rolling landscape from Queen's Nulla towards Dantzig Alley, Mametz.

We had a week of very strong winds, as Storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin blew in one after the other. No damage here but on one day Eunice was so strong you could not walk in her as she threatened to toss anyone aside getting in her way.    

As we walk the tracks and paths of The Somme, (maybe not in Eunice but at all other times) this is the time we think of nature, remembrance and 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, and nature a constant.

 Ploughed fields at Beaumont Hamel

One poet who we come back to time and again is Edward Thomas. He had an ability to comment on the natural world when carnage was all around. As we read this poem, we like to think that the same birds he heard, we hear now. Nature continuing its cycle. Healing and restoring. And boy does the world need some healing now as War is no longer “history” -  it knocks on our very door again bringing with it the feelings of helplessness as we witness human suffering and destruction.

Men heard this roar of parleying starlings, saw,
A thousand years ago even as now,
Black rooks with white gulls following the plough
So that the first are last until a caw
Commands that last are first again, – a law
Which was of old when one, like me, dreamed how
A thousand years might dust lie on his brow
Yet thus would birds do between hedge and shaw.
Time swims before me, making as a day
A thousand years, while the broad ploughland oak
Roars mill-like and men strike and bear the stroke
Of war as ever, audacious or resigned,
And God still sits aloft in the array
That we have wrought him, stone-deaf and stone-blind.

Edward Thomas enlisted in 1915 and was killed in Arras on Easter Monday  1917, aged 39, shot through the chest. He is buried at Agny Military Cemetery. There are various memorials to him in the UK, including  Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey. A 2011 biography of Thomas by Matthew Hollis entitled Now All Roads Lead to France, is worth a read.

 Edward Thomas   Memorial stone at his beloved Steep.

February Exploring and Visitors

While we have had some lovely walks this month, even better is that our guests have been able to explore too and it is great to see people back on The Somme,

Gary James has been a regular visitor in Februarys past as he has a relative who died on 17 February 1917. This year after a missing year due to Covid Gary was back. He explored the fields around Boom Ravine and Regina Trench where Edwin Kentfield with the Royal Fusiliers fought and died. Gary believes Edwin could be buried in Regina Trench Cemetery - – “could be” as he has no known grave and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial . Gary has adopted the grave of a Second Lieutenant in Regina Trench Cemetery. Using David's linesman (trench maps with GPS positioning) Gary and David walked in Edwin’s footsteps, numbed by the cold just as the Fusiliers would have been in February 1917. We will remember them.

Gary at Edwin's adopted grave.

Terry, Colin and Rick from The Hawthorn Ridge Crater Association also visited in February. They walked the battlefields and undertook some maintenance at Hawthorn Crater. Their visit was timely as a tree in the Crater was very unstable from Storm Eunice so with the help of local landowner Francis, the tree was brought down safely and chopped up for firewood.  The intrepid trio were so pleased to be back on the Somme.

At month end Stephen Benson from Cheshire Roll of Honour and fellow military historians David Brown, Ian Mason, Andrew Thornton and Adrian Floyd were joined by Marcel from Amsterdam and they explored The Somme and Arras battlefields and took in a tour of Thiepval Wood from The Ulster Tower too. On Saturday they got up before daylight to watch the sunrise at Ovillers Cemetery on a frosty, misty morning which then turned into a perfect blue sky day. The beauty of The Somme on days like that is breathtaking.

 Ovillers February sunrise. Photo courtesy of Andrew Thornton. 

It’s been good to have some of our regulars who have become friends, back to stay.

 Covid Update

Covid numbers have improved markedly in France these last few weeks. Things are opening up in the UK and France with the border now open (more difficult if you are not vaccinated) and international travel starting to get going again for many nations.

Travel to France is becoming much easier.

From the UK travel perspective, no testing is required in either direction of travel between the UK and France – France having removed the requirement to test on 12th February if you are fully vaccinated.

Now all that remains is to carry proof of vaccination, a sworn statement that you have no Covid symptoms to enter France and a simplified Passenger Locator Form to return to the UK. 

Here is the link to the latest French rules.


We have very few remaining restrictions here. Mask wearing continues to be obligatory in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport, but no longer obligatory in museums, restaurants and bars where there is a requirement to show your Pass Vaccinale.  

One thing to note on the Pass Vaccinale. From 15 February 2022 those who have been double vaccinated for more than 4 months need to demonstrate they have received an approved Covid booster in order to keep their Pass valid. The Pass is required to travel on public transport, for bars, cafes, restaurants, museums, cinemas, sports events etc and applies to tourists as well as residents.   So, when you do travel, please make sure your vaccine certification includes your booster shot. You will be asked to show a paper or digital copy of your certification.

We are always happy to help if you need any help or advice about what is required.

It is so much easier to travel now.

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, with this year no different.

 Purple Poppy Day at Pozieres Animal Memorial.


We have again hosted the Stonemasons in February while they continue their work on Thiepval.  We understand from CWGC that it is now more likely to be summer rather than spring, before the work to the Memorial is finished. We know the Stonemasons work is painstaking and skilled. In all weathers too -  though the site was closed during the high wind days as a sensible precaution! 

 Thiepval renovation with the Stone of Remembrance protected by casing. 

 Scaffolding has been removed from the top section. 

We took the opportunity on a Sunday when there is no renovation work taking place, to film a short update.


Booking With Us

Many of our regular visitors have already booked in with us for the year ahead to secure favoured dates and we are grateful for each and every reservation. A reminder that you will not find us on any booking sites, we prefer the personal touch and manage everything ourselves.  It means we can give the best value for money and we have no complicated booking fees or deposits.

We have an Availability Calendar on our website which is a good place to start for checking dates, then a quick email, message or phone call to us is all that is required and we will confirm back to you or answer any queries by return.  The road to France is looking a lot rosier now.


Animal Postscript

Marge the solitary hen is doing fine. Lighter mornings and evenings mean she has a longer day now – it is gone 6.30pm before she goes to bed and her eggs are as scrummy as ever. Not bad for our one old girl. There is lots of bird activity in the garden and the eaves of the house. Blackbirds are courting and a dove has taken to sitting on the roof of the dining room and cooing. Our guests this weekend saw 10 deer in the fields. Always something to keep us amused.

 The lovely Marge. 

David’s February Jokes:

A chicken and an egg walk into a bar.  The barman says, "Who's first?"


As thoughts turn to Spring,  David has made a bet with Thierry the local farmer as to which of his lambs will jump highest. He likes a gambol.


All is well at no.fifty6. Stay safe and well and hope to see you soon.

 February sunset at Caterpillar Valley. 





Comments (14)

Linda and Ken says:

Dear Julie and David

Do so hope you are both well and love hearing all your news. Just to say we loved staying with you as hospitality great and good to see Marge in good fettle. Thought you may like to know that Jenny and Colin bought me my first wagon wheel biscuits for my birthday!! Have to say they do not seem so huge as 50 and 60s version..!!!!!! Love to you both and take good care and hope to see you both in the future to sample Julie's lovely meals and David's storiesxxxxx

Jacqui Martin says:

Thank you for your newsletters. I love to read them .
Cannot wait to join you in May for a very special walk with me so I can learn more of the contribution my family members made .

Andy bond says:

Can’t wait to be coming back all the best to you both andy

Jim Blenkhorn says:

Lovely news letter and great to note that restrictions are so much easier. See you soon…..ish.

Rick Smith says:

It was a pleasure as always guys. Thank you and look forward to seeing you again soon.

Gerald abbotts says:

As usual, a very interesting read, Miss you both and hope one day to visit again.

Andrew Thornton says:

It was great to see you both last weekend! Brilliant to be back on the Somme and in such beautiful weather. Thanks for looking after us - you are the perfect hosts! Thank you for using my photo - praise indeed from the master!

David Harvey says:

A dad joke for David-
My wife says I have a couple of major faults, not listening and something else….

Randy James says:

It's always a pleasure to receive your newsletter and it's great that people are able to travel again and visit a place that means so much to so many. We are really looking forward to seeing the area for the first time in August!

Gary James says:

Thanks for the newsletter and being such great hosts 10 days ago. It was good to see you both again. Keep safe.

Michael Knight says:

Thank you for the updates, very much looking forward to seeing you both soon

Gordon & Joana (and Mary) says:

Sorry for the tardiness - just been into Oxford to pick up my new glasses. Some ‘cracking’ photos and Edward Thomas may well prove to be ‘prophetic’ at this strange time …

Jennifer Iles says:

Wonderful read as usual, particularly enjoyed the piece about Edward Thomas. Brilliant chicken and egg joke - I'll have to remember that one!

Leonard Chaganis says:

Have a great year hope to see you soon keeps safe L&J

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