January 2024 News from No.fifty6 - Snow, Hardy Visitors and More

Posted on 31st January 2024 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

January 2024 News from No.fifty6  - Snow, Hardy Visitors and More

January brings with it a feeling of of new beginnings, and we certainly hope 2024 is a good one for all the No.fifty6 community. The star this month has been the weather, ever changeable, defining the landscape. After a mild December, the temperatures plunged for most of January. Minus 10 on some nights and below freezing some days too with freezing rain. We had a considerable dump of snow mid month, which is more unusual these days. While it brings a new beauty to the landscape  it disrupts for a day or two.  It was lovely though to put the boots on and walk with the crunch of snow underfoot the only sound. So peaceful. Then a period of wetter and windy weather followed and the snow disappeared, but at month end it is more stable, with some blue sky days but still chilly. 

 Snow at No.fifty6.

We captured the landscape on a snowy walk:


During January there is a stark beauty to the landscape here, it is laid bare and invites you in to explore even on the coldest day. David says it is the best time to see the historic landscape as the contours and topography are clearly visible. No crops to spoil the view.  Trench runs in the woods become visible, without their cover of undergrowth. Our walks take on a new dimesion as we spot new things, a shell hole here, a bunker there.

And in January, no matter the weather, the farmers continue to work, ploughing, seeding, and some areas already have a green thin coat, new life emerging. Others have a rich deep brown of furrows of life-giving soil.

So as we trudged in snow and thought about all the history around us, the beautiful landcape and the cyclical nature of life around here, we couldn’t help but think of Wilfred Owen’s beautiful poem:

Futility – Wilfred Owen 1893-1918

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?

It is such a visual poem, we can imagine Owen looking tenderly at one of his soldiers, lying dead and thinking if only we could move him so the gentle sun could revive him as it does nature. Beautiful imagery for the futility of War.

 Troops in the snow

January Visitors

Some hardy souls made it out to explore the battlefields in January,  rewarded for venturing out in the cold with stunning landscapes and the warmth of No.fifty6 to return to.

Our first guests of the year were Jurgen and Iris from Belgium. Jurgen has stayed with us before, having been introduced to us by the wonderful Mepham Brothers from Canada. Jurgen is passionate about World War One history from his home in Belgium and is a frequent visitor to the battlefields. It was Iris’s first visit and she loved the experience, despite the cold weather outside! Much walking and photography was accomplished!

 Iris & Jurgen

Terry Whenham made his first visit of the year bringing the lovely Davie family from New Zealand. Mark, Darlene, Maddie and Boston were on a Europe wide trip, of which visiting the Battlefields was a cornerstone.  They followed in the footsteps of  two relatives who fought for New Zealand during the War.

Private William Timmins of the Auckland Regiment died of wounds on 16th September 1916, when the NZ Division were engaged for the first time in the area behind Longueval towards Flers. William was taken wounded to the Casualty Clearing Station at Heilly where he sadly died of his wounds, far from home.

 William Timmins

The 2nd relative Arthur John Rix died in action 21st September 1916 very close to where William had fought. Arthur has no known grave and is commemorated on the New Zealand  Memorial to the Missing at Caterpillar Valley,  Longueval.

 Arthur Rix

The Davie family not only visited the battlefields where their relatives fought, but the places where they are buried and commemorated respectively. While Marc was out on the battlefields he video called his mum who was back home in New Zealand, to share the special moment remembering their relatives on the wintry landscape where they fought and died.

Maddie, Darlene, Terry, Marc and Boston on tour at no.fifty6

Paul and Denise Iverson came from Surrey as part of a French road trip. Paul, who is a fellow battlefield guide was recceing a trip he is making with a Scout Group in the summer. Time well spent on the battlefields in preparation.

Twin brothers Tim and Nick Brown braved the cold  and had a wonderful weekend exploring. Tim has visited many times and never tires of finding out more. This visit he took Nick, who is similarly enthusiastic, to Nery to look at the L Battery actions of 1 September 1914. Always something new to discover. Tim has also provided David with some new jokes!

Somme Reopens

After winter closures, The Somme is slowly coming out of hibernation with both Thiepval Visitor Centre and Albert Somme museum now reopen to the public.

Martin Middlebrook

We were saddened to learn of the passing of battlefield historian and author Martin Middelbrook. He was in his 92nd year. Martin was one of the first to help make the battlefields accessible with his knowledge. At first he wasn’t taken seriously as he was not a military man but a chicken farmer among other things. He worked closely with Great War veterans who would tell him their stories and experiences. His book The First Day on The Somme is a must read for anyone with an interest. However,  the book we hold most dear is his Guide to The Somme Battlefields. It is always in the boot of our car. It mixes the history of the locations with topography and details of each of the Cemeteries. Lovingly and painstakingly written. We have learned so much from the book and it is one we have always recommended. It constantly finds new readers. One anecdote about Martin which is so endearing – when he visited a Cemetery (which he did until just a few years ago) he would always go to the graves at the 4 corners of the Cemtery, thinking that these were the ones that were least often visited. All were equal in his eyes. A sentiment we agree with. Thank you, Martin for spreading your knowledge and giving a voice to the veterans. Rest in peace now.

 Martin's books from our library.

Farmers’ Protests

You may have read that the farmers in France have been protesting at Government inaction in supporting their essential work and changes to their practices. There is widespread support for the farmers here. We see first-hand how hard the farmer’s work to provide food for a nation. We haven’t been affected by any road blocks, but anyone visiting France may find a quiet, quirky, peaceful protest. The Young Farmer’s Union are protesting by placing village road signs upside down – a metaphor for the agricultural industry being on its head and the precarity of their livelihoods.

 Photo courtesy Jeunes Agriculteurs 80.

"Nourir ou Mourir" is a slogan used. "Feed or die." The Union says:  "There is no other profession that suffers such a mental load."On one side, the minister asks us to change our practices, to make them more ecological. On the other, he tells us to produce as much as possible so France can achieve food sovereignty and we're told to lower our prices because of inflation." The Government are now listening it seems!

Animal Postscript

Apart from the deer, hares, storks, birds of prey,peacocks,  pheasants etc. we see on our walks which make our walks in nature so very special, the garden birds are grateful for the food and water (fun keeping it unfrozen) we put out for them.

 Deer on Ancre Heights.

  Peacock at Authuille

David’s January Joke:

Did you know that if you have a breakdown in an electric car, you can still use the AA…?

However, if it is a small electric car, you have to use the AAA.


We are in fine form, looking forward to the year ahead. All is well at no.fifty6. Please stay safe and well and see you soon we hope.

 La Boisselle in the snow.





Comments (22)

Bill Pinfold says:

All the very best for 2024, Julie and David, and I hope I can get over to see again you during the coming year. I like the joke and thanks for the snow video, so great to see la Boiselle with its smart white coat. Bonnes recherches, mes amis. Bill

Heather and Malcolm J says:

We hope 2024 is a good one for you both. "Well done" to those hardy souls, whose visits to you have started the year off well for you! It is lovely seeing the area cloaked in white. Take care ... we must plan our next visit to you sooner rather than later XX

Janet and Ian says:

Happy New Year to you both, great to see the Somme in winter , a whole new world. Interesting to read about the Davie family, my grandmother was a Davie, and its Fraisers middle name. Really nice tribute to Martin Middebrook, would never visit without 'Somme Battlefields ' with me.

Richard Chandler says:

Sorry to hear that Martin Middlebrook has passed away. He very carefully checked my 'Fir Tree Map of The Somme' before publication. He had a great eye for detail and was a fabulous writer.

Susan Anneveldt says:

Thank you for another evocative newsletter! I wish you both another great Somme year. I loved your inclusion of Wilfred Owen's poem. He is my favourite poet, and Chris and Sally Burge so kindly took me to visit his grave on my 2022 Somme trip.

Neil Mackenzie says:

January is always a special time to visit the battlefields of France snd Belgium even if very cold.
All the very best to No56, the best place to stay in Europe.

Andy,Dawn,,Zach and Holly says:

Hi Julie and David. A belated happy new year to you both. We wish you a healthy and prosperous 2024. Thanks for the January update and super pictures.
Kind regards and thoughts to you both.xx

Mark Gardiner says:

Lovely words for Martin Middlebrook.

John Mepham says:

Wonderful to see Jurgen and Iris now part of the 56 family!
Much support to the Farmers! Where would we be without them.
Glad to hear all's well at our home away from home on the Somme.
Take good care you two!!

Gary James says:

Thanks for the latest newsletter. Look forward to seeing you both in two weeks time and more jokes around the dining table.

Randy James says:

Thanks again for all the news and thoughtful writing and perspectives. Always very sorry to hear of the loss of good friends. I'm so envious that we aren't just a short hop away as I would indeed be a regular!

Graham Taylor says:

Look forward to your monthly news letters, so well written. Not sure about David's jokes though. Hope everything goes well in 2024.

Dennis Penton says:

Hi Julie & Dave. Sounds like your winter there is on par with here except there’s little field work. We tell people about our wonderful stay - we were at home there.

David Ellis says:

Hi Julie and David. Happy new year. Thanks for update number one of 2024. One of these days I will visit in January - as you say, a good time to see the topography of the battlefields. Yes, I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Martin Middlebrook. He was such a help when I was trying to get hold of a book of his! I had to get down his Somme battlefield guide to read some passages. Like you, it’s the first book I put in my bag for a Somme visit! See you end of April.

Les Mepham says:

Lovely update as always. Thanks for the footnote regarding Jurgen & Iris’ visit. It would have been wonderful to have joined you all.

I wish the farmers luck with their protests. They are among the hardest working people on the planet and often under appreciated, sadly. On all of my visits, I see them toiling away and they are always so accommodating when we intrude on their workspace. Living and teaching near a rural community here at home, we often see bumper stickers saying “Farmers Feed Cities”, which is a pleasant reminder of how vital they are. Bonne chance, Thierry Le Grand and company!

Wishing you both well.

Frances & Mike Speakman says:

Thank you Both.. Always lovely to hear all the news and see your lovely photos.. keep well and warm xx

Dave and Karen Callaghan says:

Another great news letter David and Julie would love to see you both this year say hello to the Mepham brothers for us lovely to meet them a couple of years ago. Keep up the good work stay safe

Ashley Atkinson says:

Great photos
Started with Martin in 1984 - Somme visit
Did many trips including Gallipoli
He will be missed

Hazel and Hedley says:

Loved the newsletter - and the Facebook Live of the snowy January landscape. It is so good to get the news and views and feel we are there too! Looking forward to seeing you in April.

Gordon and Joana (and Mary) says:

‘Cracking’ tales; yup, seen the French farmers and their ‘shenanigans’; hopefully, everything will work itself out ..?

Richard Scott says:

Hi Julie and David. Thank you for another interesting read. Hard to believe it’s February already !! Looking forward to seeing you both soon. Stay safe.

Ian Mason says:

See you both this month. I have missed not being there

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