Freezing February on The Somme
Posted on 28th February 2018 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
Winter is definitely here with a vengeance. This month the weather has thrown most things at us. Earlier in the month we had a large fall of snow which made everything beautiful but logistically taxing – it only lasted 24 hours though. Now we are in the middle of Le Grand Froid – the Big Freeze. We have had a week of very low temperatures though bright sunny blue-sky days. Just so cold with biting wind-chill. Today -1 by day -8 by night. This is set to continue across France for the next few days. We have had intrepid guests who have made the journey in this cold weather and have been out exploring. Always a welcome cuppa and warm up on their return here. If you can stand the cold and wrap up warm you are rewarded with stunning landscapes and The Somme in its winter splendor. It is beautiful.
There is always something going on here and this month has been no exception. Meetings, guest pilgrimages, renovations, sadly some vandalism at the Crater - events that have kept us busy.
Gary James and David Locke visited mid February. Gary has an ancestor who was killed here. He visited on the Centenary of Edwin Kentfield’s death last year, but he wanted to come back this year to re-explore the area. Gary says “Friday 17th marked the 101st anniversary of the attack on Hill 130 and Miraumont when and where my ancestor Edwin with the 23rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers was killed. He has no known grave and is commemorated on Thiepval but we visited the Regina Trench cemetery where we think Edwin Kentfield is buried alongside some of his comrades in a grave marked as unknown.
Gary’s friend David Locke also made his second visit to No.fifty6. David’s Great Uncle died on 1st July 1916 with the 2nd Middlesex attack in Mash Valley outside our front door. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. David’s visit this time was again to re-explore the area and also to see the Memorial Plaque his family has had placed at Lochnagar Crater.
Terry Whenham, regular guest here who raises funds for ABF The Soldiers' Charity, came with Rodney Burt and his son in law Chris who made their first visit to the battlefields to explore and find out about their relative who is commemorated on The Arras Memorial. They remembered Rodney's Great Uncle Frank Burt who was killed at Arras in May 1917 and served with 6th Northants prior to his death in Mash Valley, Regina Trench and Boom Ravine on the Somme. Rodney said: " to use the Lineman trench map device and War diary, that proved we were standing on the spot where Frank died, was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. It was an incredible feeling that I can't stop thinking about."
We will remember them.
The Glory Hole/L’Ilot
On 3 February 2018 we attended the AGM of the Association of The L’Ilot/Glory Hole where site proprietor and chairperson Claudie Llewellyn outlined plans for this year and reviewed last year. There is frustration from The Association, of which we are members, that the site has not been given heritage status, or recognized in any official way by the authorities which makes protection and planning for the site more difficult. The Association plans to keep trying for official recognition. This year there will be open days where visits to site are possible and an exhibition is planned for the summer commemorating the Breton Soldiers who fought at the site.
Claudie and the committee at the AGM
As we have walked the pathways this February to explore the area and capture the beautiful Somme on camera, we have come across many examples of The Iron Harvest – where vestiges of the War are brought to the surface by ploughing and frost/thaw. A timely reminder that unexploded ordnance is dangerous and our advice is always to look and photograph if you wish, but do not touch. 100 years later, the land is still giving up its secrets, like wounds which never completely heal over.
Iron harvest at Ration Trench
Digger Cote 160 Association
Last month we reported on the Digger Cote 160 Association and the many events it will be organising this year, notably the Son et Lumiere in July, commemorations for tHe Red Baron, and the Pedestrian and Equestrian rambles. The organisation has a new website (we helped with the English translation) and tickets for the Son and Lumiere can now be purchased online.
Vandalism at Lochnagar Crater
On the evening of 26th February Richard Dunning phoned us to say he had had a report that there had been some vandalism at Lochnagar Crater. The following morning in daylight in -6 temperatures we went to site and discovered there had been some mindless vandalism. The memorial to the Royal Engineers had been broken off; the Nurses and Women of War stone had been broken off from its base and removed from its holding spike, luckily with not too much damage to the stone. The information table above the visitors’ book had been prised open with the fixing locks broken. Nothing stolen, just wanton vandalism which needs repairing. We reported it to the local Mayor’s office and the Gendarme who have all been excellent and thorough and share our disbelief that this could happen. A formal crime report has been filed with Julie representing Richard Dunning at the Gendarmerie to file the official report. The damage can be rectified and indeed a local chap and the gendarmes have now lifted the Women of War Memorial stone back into place, but it is so sad that this place which is a shrine to the men of all sides who fought and died there and now a place of peace has been targeted for some reason. Richard Dunning says: " Like everyone I am deeply shocked and saddened by the vandalism. However it is only the 3rd time in 40 years. Local French folk invariably are kind and helpful and approximately 3 million+ visitors are always so appreciative. Can only pity the perpetrators."
Vandalism to the Nurses Memorial
Excellent support from the local Gendarmerie
Vandalism to the Information Table
Building Works continue
The new beds for the new guest room have arrived and the final touches of dressing the room are being made before we will provide photos next month and put the new room on our website. Guests in March will be the first to occupy the new room.
The conservatory link (la veranda in French) now has heating, lighting, the floor has been sealed, leveled and the new flooring is 60% laid and will be finished by the end of this week. Then the walls need painting and the new furniture for it begins to arrive from Saturday. Can we say we REALLY are nearly there…apparently patience is a virtue.
Cold, cold, cold. We have made sure the chickens and bunnies are looked after in this very cold weather. Heated cushions, space blankets, extra bedding, keeping their water unfrozen, extra rations, etc is almost a full time occupation but they are happy and healthy. Everyone is looked after at No.fifty6. Except poor put-upon David of course.