July 2022 - Scorching Summer News from No.56 - Harvests to Heartfelt Visits
Posted on 31st July 2022 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
July - Phew what a scorcher of a month – record temperatures, no rain, commemorations, farmers busy harvesting, wonderful guests, and always things keeping us busy but happy at No.fifty6.
While July started off with summer norms, by the second week the temperature went up and up and like most of Europe we had a heatwave. Searching the shade became a new hobby. The second half of the month the temperature has been near normal to high again with more high temperatures expected this week. It’s dry, so dry, the rainfall is really down on previous years. Farmers waited until the worst of the heatwave was over and then began harvesting the wheat – Le Moisson – The Harvest. All around us the fields are golden with wheat stalks, the precious grain collected by the harvesters, much needed to feed this war-torn world. The stalks are rolled into bales and soon the cycle of ploughing and reseeding the next crop will begin. The cycle of life in the fields which saw so much death and destruction continues.
The Harvest, a single poppy, and Adanac Cemetery.
Our poem this month, comes from the hand of one of our guests Dave Callaghan from Manchester. Dave came with wife Karen to commemorate his great Uncle John Topping, who died in the dawn attack on Bazentin Ridge on 14 July 1916. Like so many of the Kings Liverpool Regiment that day, he has no known grave and John is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. One night, a few years ago, words came to Dave in the middle of the night. He had to get up and write the words down. He has never written poetry before or since. The poem was included in the British Legion’s website on Remembrance, and was displayed in Lincoln Cathedral during the centenary commemorations. Dave did not know this until a friend was visiting the cathedral and sent Dave a message asking if he knew his poem was on a 10-foot-high display. Dave went to Lincoln and couldn’t believe what he saw. His poem. Written in memory of John Topping, the words coming to him as he slept. With Dave’s permission we reproduce his poem here:
Remembrance Poem by Dave Callaghan
As day breaks through wind and rain
We form a line on rough terrain,
To face a foe we’ll never know,
We will fall and die where poppies now grow.
Remember us the chosen ones,
The lads, the dads and someone’s sons.
Be not sad, just be glad,
Knowing we gave all we had.
As you walk on our fields of doom,
Places where our bodies were strewn,
We will gaze on you through heaven’s door
And hope our words stay for evermore.
When you leave save a tear,
For here we stay year on year,
The lads, the dads and someone’s sons,
The boys who fell before German guns
Dave left us a framed copy of his poem.
1st July – Lochnagar and Mametz
The 1st July saw the 106th anniversary of The Somme Battle. As usual for us it was an emotional day with David filming the livestream and Julie assisting Richard Dunning at the Lochnagar Crater service. We can’t explain that after all this time the emotion of the day still gets to us.
After Lochnagar and looking after guests here, we had time for personal reflection then attended a very special lunch in the hunting lodge in Mametz Wood. In the clearing in the wood the air was thick with the souls of those who rest there still. We hope that the shared friendship of the group of French, British, German and Dutch resonated with the boys we came to remember. Our thanks to the Maquis de Thezy, who owns the wood, for hosting. A highlight for Julie was helping the Maquis translate the Harry Fellowes poem – The Birds Sing Again In Mametz - into French. Then under the shade of the trees, and the birds indeed singing, Julie read the poem in English, the Maquis in French and Ewald in German. It sent shivers.
The Birds Sing Again in Mametz - Ewald, Julie and Le Maquis de Thezy
Paul and Sharon Smith came from Dewsbury, Yorkshire with friends David and Wendy. Apart from attending 1st July commemorations, they spent a wonderful few days exploring soldiers they had researched – including Arthur Benson who is buried in Mesnil Communal Cemetery and lived in the house Paul and Sharon now live in. Another circle complete.
Tracey and Andy came on a first visit, Tracey had wanted for some time to walk in the footsteps of her ancestors she had researched. Herbert Winterburn, Tracey’s great grandfather is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial having served with the 1st Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. He died near the Quadrilateral in Ginchy on 18th September 1916. Tracey’s great great uncle John William Winterburn, known as Tiggy, served with the 2nd/5th West Yorkshire Regiment and died 20th February 1917 near Y Ravine, Beaumont Hamel. He is buried in Ancre British Cemetery. Tracey said after her months of research it was very moving to finally visit the places they served, fought and died, and ultimately where they are commemorated.
Neil, Mark, Andy, Ali and Gary are friends who met on an organized battlefield tour some years ago and now travel to the Somme independently to be together. Their first visit since Covid, they spent full days out exploring and it was such a pleasure to have them back, swapping stories over dinner, each of them with their own area of interest but with a shared passion and friendship. It was so good to have them back.
L-R Ali, Gary, David, Stephen, Vincent, David, Karen, Lauren, Lynn, Mark, Neil & Andy around the No.56 table.
John and Howard – our “Devon Boys” also spent long hours out exploring, making the most of their time here. John has spent many years researching the men on The Newton Abbot War Memorial and Howard too has done his own thorough research to go out and visit and document in photos. Their visit took them down to Soissons and Arras as well as all over The Somme. The hot summer days not deterring them. A cool beer or a cup of tea after returning here soon sorts you out!
It was lovely to have back Steve Seddon on his motorbike after he had been touring further south in France. He took the opportunity to visit a few places and get some R&R before hitting the road home to Hull.
Ted Foreman also came on his bike. He had a full itinerary which took in not only the Somme but Reims and the Somme coast. Bikers just love the roads here!
Great to have our experienced bikers back again. The bikes aren't bad either.
We have already mentioned Dave and Karen Callaghan. They spent the 14th July following in John Topping’s footsteps at Bazentin with David and on the first day Thiepval reopened, Dave and Karen were able to see up close, John’s name engraved on the walls. It was an emotional visit for them and for us to share special moments with them. The only thing they wish they had is a photograph of John Topping, but they have never found one. They keep searching.
Simon Jacobs last visited us in January – this time a scorching July and he brought his dad Pete with him to explore the area. Father and son both passionate about the history here and a birthday trip gifted from son to father.
And last but not least, we finished the month with our favourite Canadian brothers Les and John Mepham. They last visited in 2019 and this visit they had a packed itinerary taking in France and Belgium. Days full of visits to family member graves, as well as fulfilling their love of history by visiting Waterloo, Dunkirk, Ypres, Ostend… the list goes on. Their baggage arrived full of Canadian flags to place on Canadian graves. The boys had a wonderful couple of weeks, exploring and remembering. They even put in a morning shift cutting the hedge at Lochnagar Crater – inspired by the Working Weekend to do their bit when they could - Sam and Colin you have hedge cutting competition!
On a hot Sunday July morning we took Les and John to the place where their great grandfather Robert Mepham went into battle near Regina Trench, Courcelette on 8th October 1916. With Linesman, we agreed the location of Robert’s start point and the place where it is likely Robert fell. He has no known grave but Les and John have adopted an unknown Canadian grave in Adanac Cemetery. The unknown grave is flanked by named graves of those of Robert’s battalion who died the same day and we stood in the spot in the nearby field where their bodies were found. So it has become their place of pilgrimage, as well as Vimy, where Robert’s name is recorded. Robert was 45 when he died, leaving behind wife Bessie and children. Bessie never accepted Robert had died, like so many having no body to mourn, hoping he would one day walk back through the door, or be found perhaps with memory loss. That generation of women, as well as the men, endured so much.
Les and John with Julie & David at the adopted Mepham grave in Adanac Cemetery.
We wish the Mephams bon voyage as they head back to their families in Canada. Thank you for coming across the miles to remember.
So, you can see it has been a vibrant, interesting month of so many stories collected round our table with old friendships renewed in person and new friendships made. We love and are honoured to do what we do. Thank you to all our guests for making the journey. To all those affected by War today, to the lads who made it home and to those that stay close by to us, we salute you all.
The renovation work at Thiepval has finished and on 14th July the Memorial opened to the public for the first time in 18 months. It is wonderful to be able to see the names engraved there up close again and walk amongst its arches and take time to reflect. A great job has been done and we would like to thank Team Monument for all of their hard work in all weathers. We said an emotional goodbye to Emanuel the Project Manager who goes on to work on other restoration projects closer to home in Belgium. Monument’s motto is Restoring The Glory. At Thiepval they certainly have. We welcomed Thiepval back with a facebook Live, in 2 parts as the 4G connection was flaky.
A Very Special Battlefield Walk
In last month’s newsletter we wrote of Stephen Benson, David Brown and Vincent Morrison’s planned Battlefield Walk to raise money for 3 charities. We supported the boys as they undertook the 26.5 miles from Foncquevillers Cemetery to the Entente Cordial flags at Maricourt leaving at 07h30 in the morning and finishing in the early evening light. Stephen’s wife and daughter Lynn and Lauren and David’s wife Karen provided brilliant support on the day. We filmed their progress and we are so pleased to say the 3 amigos did it – with aching backs and knees but energized having completed such a walk in one day. As we write this, each charity is due to receive £1400 each, with over £4200 being raised for Teenage Cancer Trust, Walking With the Wounded and Lochnagar Crater Foundation Trust from public donations.
L-R Stephen, Vincent, David, Karen, Lauren & Lynn
A fantastic well-done boys! We are very proud of your achievements.
A Personal Getaway
Knowing that we have to recharge our batteries sometimes, we even managed a few days away ourselves this month. We visited the beautiful Auvergne region of France – an area of extinct volcanos, woodland, gorges, lakes and waterfalls. Where Charolais cows are more plentiful than people and home of some of our favourite cheeses on the No.fifty6 cheeseboard – Bleu d’Auvergne, Cantal, and St Nectaire. Each place we visited we stopped at the French War memorials and looked at the memorial plaques in the local churches. Those French boys who died as far from home as many of those who came from outside of France to fight. The War never leaves us and we have a few French lads who came from Auvergne who are buried locally to follow up on. We also had some time for reading and walking. A perfect break away.
Marge was ably looked after by our neighbours Chantal and Jean while we were away for a few days, and they also watered our plants - much needed in the warm weather. Knowing we would be away for a few days, and with the heat, we have put off getting new chicks until we have a spell of milder weather, so Marge is still our solitary but happy chicken.
David’s July Joke:
As we have just had the Women’s Euro 2022 football tournament (bravo The Lionesses):
Why was Cinderella so very bad at football?
Because she was always running away from the ball, kept losing her shoes, and she had a pumpkin for a coach!
All is well at no.fifty6. We hope to see you soon.