Freezing February on The Somme

Posted on 28th February 2018 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

Freezing February on The Somme

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.

Personal Pilgrimages

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

Iron Harvest

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. 

Animal Postscript

 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.

Comments (20)

Roger Staker says:

We are really upset about the vandalism at Lochnagar. We have 2 plaques there for great war relatives. However, the four of us are looking forward to our first vist to No56 in June. For one our party it will be his first visit to his grandfather's grave at Grove Town for about 30 years.

Best wishes.

Tim Brown says:

Just back from another great weekend at 56. Always a pleasure to spend time with David and Julie and to meet new people around the table.I cannot wait to go back in September, possibly sooner if things work out.
Thanks again for your fabulous hospitality, take good care,
Tim x

Felicity & Marcus Davis says:

I cannot believe it is a year ago today we headed off for our trip to France. And the memories of staying with you (and drinking too much of your wine) still hold a very special place in our hearts. Thank you for the updates. Pleased to see the bunnies and chickens are still going well in your freezing conditions but so saddened to hear of the vandalism.....
Felicity xx

Bert Bugden says:

Always good to receive your positive reports , even when the news is negative, such as Lochnagar - WHO ? WHY ??? Keep pressing for The Glory Hole.

Andy Kellett says:

I always enjoy reading the monthly updates but have not commented on them before but I feel the need to register both my disgust at the vandalism at Lochnagar and my bemusement at the lack of heritage status for the Glory Hole.
We have just moved to Penarth and my first St. David's day in the land of my wife's fathers has seen us endure about 8 inches of snow and drifts of 5 feet in the road outside.

Looking forward to seeing you both again in April.

Martyn says:

It's always nice to keep up with life at No fifty6 - am impressed with the works too - all the best

Mike Bridgestock says:

Mindless vandalism gets everywhere in this day & age, such a pity. A great monthly report as always. Best wishes to you both, hope to see you in passing later in the year.

Gary Harker says:

Why are some people so mindless, such a shame about the vandalism,
Hope the weather clears up soon, I’m off to Wales tomorrow to see the mighty West Ham

Terry Uttley. says:

Many thanks for for all information always look forward to the read .Hope we.can visit in the future.many thanks Terry Uttley.

Robert Donaldson says:

Thanks for another great update, so looking forward to seeing you both and the end result of the renovations in place. Very disturbing news to hear about Lochnagar but glad its been i hope you haven't thrown the cheese board out during the renovations julie, take care julie & david xo.

Pauline Symmons says:

Thank you for an interesting report and pleased to hear your building works are nearly complete. Very sad to read about the senseless vandalism ☹️ at Lochnagar. Keep warm in this very cold spell!

John Ellis says:

Yes, we even have snow in Devon today!. Sad to hear about the vandalism at the crater, as so much local effort goes into its care. You must have some 'brain deads' in France as well.

gerald abbotts says:

Once again an interesting report. I am very saddened to read of the vandalism. Hope to visit again soon,.

Heather and MalcolmJohnson says:

Thanks for another great update ... so sorry to hear of the vandalism up at the crater. I took particular interest in that Memorial for nurses, given my local research into Home Hospitals around North Essex. I cannot believe it was damaged so badly :-(

Glad your renovations progress ... it will be lovely to see them in person ... keep the pics coming in the meantime :-)

sally and Chris says:

Happy St David's Day from snowy South Wales xx
Thanks once again for a really interesting news letter. We are really looking forward to seeing all the new additions. Girls and Bunnies look happy. David must be behaving as couldnt see him in the hutch!

Robert Pigram says:

Great report as ever Julia, so sad to hear about the vandalism at Lochnagar, why oh why ... It's currently -4C here in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex and snowing but absolutely beautiful in and around our local woods form where I just returned from walking our dog, who just loves the snow, must try and visit you again this year.

Gary James says:

Glad we were able to get in the various walks a couple of weeks ago before the weather turned. So sad about Lochnagar. Keep warm.

Gordon Sinclair says:

OK, so it’s blizzarding here now (as l write), but we have just returned from the Arctic Circle and a night on reindeer skins in an ice hotel (temps didn’t get above -20C and one night dropped to -34C). Look forward to news from No. 56 and pleased to see your continuing development. Distressingly saddened to read about the vandalism at Lochnagar; it will be of no comfort, as you know, that mindlessness is not confined to that side of La Mer. Now, where’s my shovel ..?

Andrew says:

Hello from a very snowy,baltic Pennine Yorkshire. Can you ping me details of the summer light show & any other events sound 29/6 - 3/7. Im billeting in Mailly for the 1/7 experience. Thanks in anticipation & best wishes to all.

Edward Foreman says:

Really looking forward to coming to stop with you again in May.

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