January 2021 News From no.fifty6 - Snow and Stories
Posted on 31st January 2021 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
In normal years January is a month we like – the promise of new beginnings, a stark beauty to the landscape here. It is laid bare and invites you in to explore even on the coldest day. You can come back to No.fifty6 for a warming cuppa, shrug off the boots and relax. This year of course is different to normal, but so much stays the same and that gladdens us. The juxtaposition of enduring cycles of nature, permanently changing but oddly and ressuringly the same, have a therapeutic effect on us. We still look forward to seeing you all again, whenever that will be, but for now we explore and the landscape is of course beautiful.
January is always our coldest month and we have had 2 episodes of snow which have blanketed The Somme in a white winter coat. At month end all the snow has gone and it is chilly and damp.
The fields are either seeded with new growth appearing, or deeply ploughed. In the cemeteries we have noticed the first shoots of spring flowers breaking ground and the days are drawing out, it is now gone 5.30pm before the chickens go to bed.
Snow on the ground always brings to mind Wilfred Owen’s poem "Futility":
Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved,—still warm,—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth's sleep at all?
Wilfred Owen joined The Artists’ Rifles and was then commissioned to The Manchester Regiment. On active service in France he was caught in a blast and spent several days unconscious on an embankment lying amongst the remains of one of his fellow officers. Soon afterward, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and sent to Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh. There he met Siegfried Sassoon, an encounter that was to transform Owen's life and poetry. He returned to the front line in France in August 1918. Owen was killed in action on 4 November 1918 during The Manchesters crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal, exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice. He remains one of the most influential and renowned War Poets. We wonder if he knew how his writing would be his legacy.
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. On our walks we have filmed some Facebook lives – one from Mill Road Cemetery, one from Fricourt German Cemetery and then from Thiepval, the latter two in gorgeous snow on different days.
Numbers of cases and hospitalisations have been increasing in France lately. 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, cultural places and large shopping centres remain closed as do ski resorts. France has closed its borders (to non EU travelers) including between UK and France. Schools remain open but with special measures for example one week at school, one week at home for older children, so 50% occupancy while younger children from the age of 6 have to wear maks on school premises.
The vaccination programme proceeds very slowly with the over 75s now being vaccinated. The supply issues of these early vaccines have been well documented in the media. There is a vaccination centre in Albert which is handy for when it is our cohort. France is a very vaccine-sceptic country but the uptake is improving.
We are both fine and keep ourselves busy, positive and do what we can to look after our health.
Our thanks to Ruth from Cork who kindly made and sent us these masks, a little hobby she has to keep occupied during lockdown. Julie’s is of course a chicken theme, and David, well where is David?
Zero Hour Z Day - The New Book and the Strange Coincidence of Edward Burge
Last month we wrote about the excellent new book from Jonathan Porter, Zero Hour Z Day (XV Corps Mametz – Fricourt Spur). We have been pleased to hear several of our friends and guests have purchased the book and are amazed at its detail.
Such friends are Sally and Chris Burge. Chris has a relative – Edward Burge - who fought with the Somerset Light Infantry (SLI) and died on 1 July 1916 and is buried in Gordon Dump Cemetery.
Edward was a regular solider, joining up at some point in 1904 or 1905 from Glastonbury. He was posted overseas from joining up, and when War broke out, he took part in the “first hostilities from Mons onwards”. In 1915 he was invalided home suffering from gas poisoning before returning to France having been transferred to the 8th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry. He took part in the Battle of the Somme when on 1st July he lost his life in the assault from the Fricourt sector to take Crucifix Trench. Edward lost his life in the area around Arrow Trench between La Boisselle and Fricourt.
Chris looking at the area where Edward was killed.
Sally and Chris have visited the place where he fell, as well as his grave and left a hand painted poppy slate at his headstone – it is still there. We keep an eye on him too as he lies within our Commune. Chris & Sally had never seen a photo of Edward. Sally opened the Zero Hour Book at a random page and there staring back at her were the eyes of Edward Burge in a chapter about the SLIs. No longer anonymous, Edward now has a face. This moved Sally and Chris so much they contacted the author Jonathan who provided further information, including a newspaper article he had about Edward’s death from the Somerset archives.
Sally also discovered that the age is incorrect on his headstone, where he is inscbribed as 38 when he was 28 at the time of his death. Sally is in contact with CWGC to get this corrected.
Connections made, relatives take on a new life, and the link to the past is not forgotten. That for us is perfect.
New Podcast Series
Friend, historian and author Andrew Rawson has recorded a new series of Podcasts. They are great bite sized chunks on The British Army 1914-18. All last around 10-15 minutes, so great if you are out on a walk or want to sit quietly and listen to something. Here is the link.
Travelling to France post Brexit.
We attended a Webinar with the British Embassy in Paris last week which was very useful and we keep up to date with current and changing regulations.
When the borders are open again and travel is no longer a dream but a reality, we will update our notes on travelling to France and the new requirements as we outlined in last month’s newsletter. In the meantime, if you have any questions in this area, we will be happy to help.
While some items cannot be brought over to Europe anymore such as meat, plants and dairy products, luckily it seems it is still OK for guests to bring us supplies of baked beans and marmite, so all is well.
All is well in the animal department, though the 2 hens Marge and Flo do not like snow – refusing to come out of their run with all that white stuff on the ground. Oh la la! Eggs are still good though!
Shere the cat is still in charge of David.
The wild birds are growing fat on all the seed we put out for them – a daily job, eating us out of house and home, but worth it to see so many bird varieties during the winter.
David’s January Joke:
During the snow David got stopped on the D929 road outside No.fifty6….
All is well at no.fifty6.