July at No.fifty6, Music, Maoris and Remembrance

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

July at No.fifty6, Music, Maoris and Remembrance

Another month passes here at No.fifty6 and though we have been quiet, guest-wise, due to travel restrictions, there has been plenty going on. We are often asked “Do you get bored?” and the answer to that is a resounding “no!” There is so much to keep us mentally and physically occupied and July seems to have been busier than ever with things to keep us inspired.

We feel we are on the cusp of once again welcoming guests and friends through our door, but as we write this, the travel restrictions have not yet been lifted. More on that later.

July has been a mixed bag weather-wise. We had 10 days of glorious hot summer days, blue skies and fabulous sunsets, but the second half of July has been mixed with some very heavy rain showers and cooler temperatures. We were not affected by the flooding over parts of Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium and our thoughts go out to those who have seen the terrible toll nature can inflict.

Farmers here have started the harvest of wheat and there is a steady flow of machinery traversing the fields, which are turning golden after months of verdant green. A different kind of bronzed beauty meets our eyes as we look across Mash and Sausage Valleys now.

View up Sausage Valley, La Boisselle,  golden glory and endless Somme sky.

And always in July, our thoughts turn to the Battle of The Somme, raging throughout the summer months of 1916, 105 years ago. The lead photo shows our life-size Tommy who sits on our terrace, his shadow on the wall and the Mash Valley sunset reflected off his chest.

We like to include poetry in our newsletters, but this month it is not the War Poets who inspired us. Our local friend Eric Brisse, a French musician (more on him in a minute) visited Vignacourt Cemetery on a hot Sunday July afternoon and composed this as he sat by his bicycle surveying the scene before him:

Dans ce coin de France, au soleil d'été,

Près du champ de vie où croissent les blés,

Ils reposent ici, pour l'éternité,

Sous le regard du poilu, bien rangés.

Par milliers, de l'Empire ils sont venus,

Pour venger souvent, leurs frères disparus,

Ces héros ne se sont jamais rendus.

Jusqu'à la mort, ils auront combattu.

A Vignacourt, à Pozières et partout,

Le front de l'Ouest est rempli de cailloux,

Aux belles épitaphes tristes et de bon goût,

En l'honneur des tombés, toujours debout.


Our translation here we hope captures a little of Eric’s original:

In this corner of France, in the summer sun,

Near the field of life where the wheat grows,

They rest here, for eternity,

Under the gaze of the poilu, formed up.

By the thousands, from the Empire they came,

To avenge their missing brothers,

These heroes never surrendered.

Until death, they fought on.

At Vignacourt, at Pozières and everywhere,

The Western Front is full of white stones,

With beautiful epitaphs, sad and meaningful,

In honour of the fallen, still standing.

Vignacourt with its Poilu Statue looking over the fallen

In a few short verses Eric has captured the essence of a cemetery in summer on The Somme.

So, what have we been up to?

Remembering The Somme

1st July 2021

Small, Covid compliant  ceremonies were held at Thiepval, Ulster Tower, Contalmaison, Fricourt and Beaumont Hamel.  As we mentioned last month, we led a small, symbolic service on behalf of Richard Dunning at Lochnagar Crater at 07.28h.  Julie led the proceedings and David filmed to connect with everyone via a Facebook Live. Our little homage has been viewed over 8000 times. We know many of you have already watched it. Our small way of bringing the Battlefields to you when you can’t get here, and ensuring the memory of the men here 105 years ago, is never forgotten.

The floral tributes at Lochnagar on 1st July



On 25th July a small service was held at the 1st Australain Division Memorial at Gibraltar, Pozieres, to remember Australian troops lost during the Battle of Pozieres. A link to our Facebook live of the event is here:


Warloy-Baillon and Fricourt New Military Cemeteries

We visited the beautiful Warloy-Baillon and Fricourt New Military Cemeteries and recorded these Facebook lives on beautiful July days as we remembered those lost on The Somme within their walls.

Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery and Extension. 



Music and Remembrance – A Special Night at Saint Riquier Abbey

Our July poet Eric is an incredible musician, music teacher and also conductor of the Amiens Brass Orchestra. Some weeks ago, he asked if we would take part in a special concert the Band were performing at the Abbey of St Riquier. One of the first concerts to be held in The Somme after the easing of Covid restrictions, we were delighted to be involved.  Among a special programme of wonderful music, one piece was Laurence Binyon’s poem For The Fallen, set to music by Philip Sparke. Julie agreed to be the narrator. No pressure there then! Throughout June we attended rehearsals with the orchestra and then the big night was 5th July. In the amazing St Riquier Abbey, with its medieval walls and frescoes, the concert took place in front of an invited audience of 500 who had to show health passes on entry. Here, as the band played the most moving music, in time to the music, building and slowing, Julie recited the poem which includes the immortal words “They Shall Grow Not Old…” One of the scariest, moving, most magnificent things we have been involved with. The Orchestra are amazing, and Eric as their Chief,  is amazing too! We are so honoured he asked us to be involved. Like an opera diva, Julie was presented with flowers on stage. A night to remember.

Julie and the Amiens Brass Orchestra in St Riquier Abbey

Matariki  and The Maoris

Friendships forged at no.fifty6 endure, even though oceans and kms separate us at times. One such friend is Lewis Cormack, who lives on the North Island, New Zealand and visited us in 2017. He has kept in touch since then and has taught us much about Maori culture. He contacted us in early July to say it was the time of “Matariki”.  Twinkling in the Southern Hemisphere winter sky just before dawn, Matariki is the cluster of stars we know as Pleiades, and their appearance signals the Māori New Year. For Māori, the appearance of Matariki heralds a time of remembrance, joy and peace.  Lewis remembered a Māori grave David had shown him in Flat Iron Copse Cemetery and asked if we would take a photo of the headstone at this special time for New Zealand.  It got us to thinking about other Māori graves – indeed there was A Māori Battalion, part of the New Zealand forces who came to this far-flung corner of Europe. We undertook some research and discovered 15 Māori graves across 6 Cemeteries in our very local area.  So, on a sunny July day, while it was night in New Zealand with the Matariki stars shining, we photographed them all and sent them to Lewis. We wrote in the book in each Cemetery “Under the stars of Matariki.”   Thank you, Lewis, for introducing us to this special Māori festival and those twinkling stars of remembrance.

Private Apu Tepuretu, aged 19,  in Quarry Cemetery

Covid Update

 We thought it might be useful to update on current regulations for Covid in France and the fast-changing travel requirements if you are coming from overseas. We know our friends in Australia and New Zealand are subject to severe travel restrictions and lockdowns at the moment, so we hope you are doing OK.

In France there are new laws about Health Passes (Pass Sanitaire).

Since 21 July 2021, the "health pass" has been compulsory for leisure and cultural venues with more than 50 people (museums, theatres, amusement parks, concert halls, festivals, sports venues, cinemas, etc.).

From 9th August 2021, it will also be compulsory in cafés, bars, restaurants, large shopping centres, hospitals, old people's homes, medical and social establishments, as well as for long-distance travel by plane, train and bus.

A Health Pass is proof of double vaccination (+7 days from second jab). This can be a paper certificate or on an App.

It will apply to tourists as well as residents. It is a legal requirement now. For those who travel here, this should not be a problem as you need to be double vaccinated to travel.  Masks too, are obligatory in any closed space such as a shop or public transport.

If you have any queries about these regulations, we will be happy to help.

As for travel regulations, travel within Europe (Schengen) if vaccinated, is fine at the moment. If we focus on coming from UK, you have the right to come to France if double vaccinated, no pre departure Covid test required.

It has been the returning to the UK that has been the problem as France has been on the UK’s Amber Plus list (we call it the naughty step), meaning pre departure test, Day 2+8 tests and 10 days isolation. We understand that an announcement is expected from the UK this coming week dropping France down a level from Amber Plus, which would remove the need for some testing and all isolation (one test on Day 2 after return may still be required but until we see the announcement we won't know). Until the announcement is formally made, we cannot be sure but our best guess is that the easements may come in from 9th August 2021.

We really hope so, as we cannot wait to welcome you back here to our rural environment and we know what a difficult time it has been for everyone. Us included. David has forgotten how to tell jokes and behave over dinner!  

Our diary is open, as always to take future bookings, and we are happy to help you every step of the way to make your trip as easy as possible. Any doubts or questions about any of these complex things, just ask.

Animal Postscript

Dear old Marge in Charge the black chicken is doing very well after the death of her chicken buddy Flo last month.  Marge is David’s best friend and she has started laying regularly again, so we have a delicious big brown egg most days.  Our carrots disappear quickly, as David feeds them to the horses. The birds, bees, butterflies, hares, pheasants,grouse, birds of prey, are proliferating due to the lack of disturbance from humans, and they all await your return, just like us.

Nature at its best in our garden taken on David's proper camera.

David’s Joke

Has Covid got you wearing glasses and a face-mask at the same time?

You may be entitled to condensation…


All is well at No.fifty6. Be safe. Stay well.  See you soon.



Comments (22)

Karsten Lund says:

Again a very nice story off whats going on in #56 but was a bit disappointed I wasn´t in it :-D

Gary James says:

Thanks again for the newsletter and the various videos. Through those it doesn't seem that we are far away although that strip of water and travel restrictions deny us easy access. Hopefully things will improve again from 9th August. I feel a visit looming during the next few months. As a spectacles wearer, condensation can be a problem. Thanks David.

Laurence Green says:

One hundred and five years ago today, at around 04.15.hrs., George Butterworth was killed by a sniper just outside Pozieres.
A Maori, Flying Officer John P Pohe (Porokuru Patapu), was murdered on 31st March 1944 after the Great Escape. He must have known my grandfather, the oldest escaper from SL III.

Leonard Chaganis says:

An uplifting read as always,I hope to get up north to check the Bell memorial sometime in the next few months...I’ll be in touch.
Keep safe and I like the joke

Ian and Jackie Smallwood says:

Your newsletter and videos of the ceremonies, as always are very welcoming. Excellent. A big thank you.
Take care and stay safe.

Chris Prince says:

Thanks, Julie & David for the update and your visits to cemetery and ceremonies you film they are lovely to see. And sounds Julie did you both proud at the Concert, wondered have thought any different. Glad you are both well. Take care until next month. Stay safe Chris & Bill xx

Julie & David says:

Neil, the NZ Diaries are digitized at archway.archives.govt.nz.
Good luck with your research. Julie & David

Neil Mackenzie says:

Another great update as always - brightened up my day with the hope that I will be able to make it out there this year. I have a little information on Egbert Pirimi, a Maori buried at Foncquevillers. He served in the New Zealand (Maori) Pioneer Battalion and was kia on 14 July 1918. I have not yet tracked down their war diary so don't know the circumstances of his death. Do you happen to know if that document is available online?

Sandy Biback says:

You 2 never cease to amaze me. The poem from Eric brought me to tears. The Maori information made me realize how worlds collide. We were in NZ just before the pandemic & spent time leaning & taking part in Maori culture & history. Thank you thank you thank you

Alison Selmes says:

Julie ,wow you look magnificent! It must have been difficult not choking up...such a moving poem.
Best love, Alison and Don x

Pauline and Robert Symmons says:

Thank you for the great newsletter. Julie what an incredible experience narrating the poem with the orchestra playing. Must have been an amazing atmosphere - congratulations! Thank you for the joke David!!! Take care both of you xxx


Thank you both for the update - as usual very informative and so good to read while we are at home!

Sending our love and Best wishes xx

Frank Sumsion says:

You two never fail to amaze me, many thanks for keeping so well informed and congratulations to Julie for the event at Amiens.
Take care and stay safe.

Gordon&Joana (and Mary) says:

Coincidentally, our last trip abroad was to family in N. Island NZ (with a trip down to family in Queenstown); on the way back, we stopped off in Wellington and visited the ‘Gallipoli Exhibition’ at Te Papa museum - what a moving experience! I’ll never forgive ‘that Jacinda’ for shutting the place down 10 days after we got back! Super update as ever. Luv to you both. xx

Julie & David says:

Jim asked. Is the Health Pass a formal document? I have proof of being jabbed twice being issued with a record of the batch number and date in inoculation. Is this enough?
From us: Yes that’s all you need paper proof or in an app.

Rob says:

Up to snuff, as usual.

Brian Janman says:

Lovely update as usual and David really can take great photos, he obviously has the eye for it. Best wishes.

David Ellis says:

I do look forward to your updates. Interesting information re Covid. I’m still keeping everything crossed but await UK government announcement re tests/isolation on return. Stay safe and hopefully see you start of September!

Heather & Malcolm Johnson says:

As always, a great informative update! Particularly moved by the “Under the stars of Matariki” piece, your pilgrimage to the Māori graves was emotional. We are hoping the stars will align in November, for visiting you again. Stay safe both of you. xx

Michael Knight says:

One of David’s better jokes. A wonderful write up, thank you.

Jim Blenkhorn says:

Thanks for the update. Is the Health Pass a formal document? I have proof of being jabbed twice being issued with a record of the batch number and date in inoculation. Is this enough?

Ashley Atkinson says:

Much obliged
Appreciate all the updates
Best wishes

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