January 2021 News From no.fifty6 - Snow and Stories

Posted on 31st January 2021 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

January 2021 News From no.fifty6 - Snow and Stories

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.




Covid Update

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.

Animal Postscript

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.





Comments (20)

Pauline Symmons says:

Glad to hear you are both well and another lovely newsletter. Thank you for sharing your walks. Hope to see you both soon!

Chris Prince says:

Thanks Julie and David as always for all the updates of what you have been doing and what it happening around you. Glad to hear all is well. Love seeing your videos as always. Take care stay safe. Chris and Bill xx

Roger Staker says:

Happy New Year Julie and David. Wonderful newsletter, as always. Can't wait to come back.
Hope you are keeping well - take care and stay safe.

Jim Blenkhorn says:

Thanks for the update on your activities and travel etc in France.

Margaret Ricketts says:

Simon and I love your newsletters. Who said David's jokes were unbearable! Poor chooks - Has there been fowl play in the snow? We miss the Somme and very much hope to be able to return at some time in the future. Thank you for remembering the Australians on Australia Day! Warmest wishes, Simon & Margaret, New Zealand.

Heather and Malcolm J says:

Glad you are staying safe, Julie and David. Love Ruth's masks. Very good looking! Think masks will be a good idea for a long time to come, even after vaccinations! Malcolm gets his first vaccine tomorrow so that is a momentous day for us. Thank you for all your live visits - we love staying connected.

Ashley Atkinson says:

As always - appreciate update
Great joke from David!!!
Glad you are both doing ok - stay that way
Best wishes

Jeanette Stafford says:

How I enjoyed your walk around a snowy Thiepval. Can't wait to get over there again. Stay safe x

Richard Scott says:

So pleased to hear from you both and glad you are well. Sadly this seems to be dragging on and on and have had to shield for months now but the thought of coming over to visit you and walking the fields again is never far from my mind. Stay safe.

Jim Harker says:

Lovely to hear from you guys.Adore your little videos of your trips out,thankyou as it keeps me in touch with my second home the somme. Take care and stay safe ...love from the harkers xx

Jenny Theobald says:

I also echo Dudleys words, always look forward to hearing some of David’s inimitable humour. Take care both x

Gary James says:

Another great newsletter. Thanks for the various links including your walks. I seem to miss them when they are live so good to have a catch up. Keep safe.

Jennifer Iles says:

As usual, another wonderful, rich account of life on the Somme.

Gordon & Joana (and Mary) says:

Also concur with Dudley ... although we have a friend who came over for Christmas and can’t get back! We currently getting our #1 vaccine (Pfizer) but only the dear Lord knows when we’ll get the next. Super bulletin XX

Michael Knight says:

Another good read. I must get new glasses as I couldn’t see where David was hiding. Keep safe and hope to see you soon.

David Ellis says:

Hi Julie and David. Have love the Facebook lives! Beautiful in the snow. I also love the chicken face mask - where was David?! Keeping everything crossed for August/September! Regards - David

Mike and Kathy says:

I totally agree with Dudley . . . also thanks for the heads-up regarding Andrew’s Podcasts, I’ll be listening for sure. Stay safe.

Rick Smith says:

Lovely to hear from you guys. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and information.
Miss you both very much, the numbers of chaps to visit when we're allowed, ever grows but we will be back !
Take care and stay safe my friends! X

Sally & Chris says:

Hay fever moment xx Thank you xx

Dudley Giles says:

I'm always so pleased to receive your newsletter. Not only is it full of news but it is just so upbeat. This cannot be an easy time for either of you but your optimism and joie de vivre simply jumps out of the page. I'll be out there on my bike as soon as I can; although, as soon as you doors open, I've a feeling I might have to bring a tent - your rooms will be booked solid for months I'm sure. You won't know what hit you.

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