July at No.fifty6 – Record temperatures, personal reflections and harvest time
Posted on 31st July 2019 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
I hear a voice that grieves for battle’s fruitless harvest. Siegried Sassoon.
The farmers have been harvesting in a month that has been dry, blue skies and very, very hot. Record temperatures with an unprecedented 42 degrees here, too, too hot. The ground is arid and golden. Just before the heatwave last week the farmers toiled night and day to bring in the wheat and barley harvest. There have even been field fires through Picardie as any little spark can ignite the arid crop stalks. An entire field behind Mouquet Farm has been turned to black ash due to a fire. Burnt field at Mouquet Farm
We have had a busy month, always stories to tell and among the many smiles and much laughter there is sad rabbit news.
July Somme Commemorations
A warm July 1st saw a day of commemorations for the 103rdanniversary of the commencement of The Battle of The Somme. The service at Lochnagar was well attended. Julie read a piece of literature, a letter home from a German soldier, and a wonderful young Welsh choir sang while wreaths were laid. The letter Julie read from Otto Heinebach:
Farewell. You have known all who have been dear to me and you will say goodbye to them for me.
And so, in imagination, I extinguish the lamp of my existence on the eve of this terrible battle.
I cut myself out of the circle of which I have formed a beloved part.
The gap which I must leave must be closed; the human chain must be unbroken.
I, who once formed a small link in it, bless it with all eternity.
Until your last days, remember me, I beg you, with tender love.
Honour my memory without gilding it, and cherish me in your loving, faithful hearts.
During the day services took place at Contalmaison, Thiepval, Ulster Tower, Newfoundland Park and at 5pm we attended the German commemoration at Fricourt. The German attaché who was present made poignant reference to the importance of peace.
On 23rd July we attended with our Australian guests Davina and Eric, the commemorations for the Battle of Pozieres organised by the mayor Bernard Delattre and in the presence of the Australian Defence Attaché Joel Dooley. We remembered the Australian soldiers so far from home who still rest in the fields of Pozieres.
Jenny Clow from Victoria, Australia has visited us several times, a regular landing strip for this Aussie lady. An avid traveller, Jenny likes to finish her European travels with us – the place where her grandfather fought at Pozieres and was seriously wounded but survived. Jenny made visits to Naours and Vignacourt as well as spending much time in the fields around here. Jenny says when she visits Pozieres she thinks of her grandfather’s mates who did not make it home. She takes time for quiet reflection in the fields of Pozieres.
Brothers Les and John Mepham visited us from Canada. They spent 2 weeks touring the Western Front and enjoyed their time with us. Armed with a bootful of Canadian flags they spent morning til dusk visiting Canadian fallen taking time to remember them. They visited Vimy at midnight, and said it was the most breathtaking place to visit on a moonlit summer night. The memorial and their thoughts all that mattered. We loved swapping remembrance stories with them. John and Les left us with a Canadian blanket with a large Canadian brown bear on it, an item we will cherish.
Davina and Eric Gossage visited from Western Australia where they are farmers. Eric’s grandfather George Gossage fought with the 43rdBattalion AIF. George was a young man when he volunteered in 1916. He arrived in France in the spring of 1917 and saw action in the field. He was wounded in October 1917 but rejoined his Unit only to catch the flu in June 1918 which meant he missed his battalion’s action at Le Hamel. He went on to recover from his influenza and indeed survived the war. One of the lucky ones. Davina and Eric traced their grandfather’s footsteps. The country boy from WA who would have seen so much. Though he lived to a good age, George did not talk about The War. How many times have we heard that?
Part of George's Service Record
John Ellis, Ray, Jem and Howard made their annual pilgrimage from Devon to visit the Somme. Each of the 4 men has an individual interest for John it is the men of Newton Abbott who died here, for Howard it is personal memorials, Jem and Ray love photography and trains and indeed visited the little steam train. They traveled far and wide on their remembrance pilgrimage.
Armando Becci visited with his brother Paul, son Armando and cousin Vic. Their grandfather George Allan and great uncle Alexander served during the war. George Allan served with the Gordon Highlanders and was injured before the July 25th attack on High Wood. With David they traced George’s route from Dernancourt to Mametz Wood and Bazentin, where en route George was wounded by the heavy German artillery bombardment. George’s brother Alexander also served with the Gordon Highlanders before being transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders, Alexander was killed on the 1st Day of Operation Michael on 21 March 1918. He has no known grave, being killed somewhere between Flesquieres and Beaumetz. He is remembered on the Arras Memorial. The family found the Arras Memorial to be a moving and beautiful place, their great uncle remembered with honour on the Portland Stone walls.
And at the end of the month regular guest Sam Gascoyne brought with him a Northampton family, The Finches who wished to follow in their grandfather’s footsteps - Charles Frederick Finch of the 7th Bn, Northamptonshire Regiment.
Young Charles was posted to 8th (Reserve) Battalion at Colchester before arriving in France in October 1915 to join the 7th (Service) Battalion (Mobbs Own), who were participating in the fighting at Loos. Charles had his first experience in the front line on 28 October, when the 7th Northamptons relieved the 13th Middlesex in positions at St Eloi.
Charles spent the rest of 1915 and the first half of 1916 at various theatres in and around the Ypres salient. The 7th Northamptons arrived on the Somme on the evening of 24/25 July at Molliens-Drueil. After a period of training, they arrived at Happy Valley on 2 August. On 8 August the Battalion moved to Citadel Camp, Fricourt. They took part in the attack mounted by 24th Division on Guillemont on 18 August, the Battalion losing 372 all ranks killed, wounded and missing during the fighting for the Quarry.
On 25 August Charles & his Battalion moved to Dernancourt, and on 30 August entered the trenches at Delville Wood.
On 2 October the Battalion relieved the 2nd Leinster Regiment in the right sub-sector of the Souchez area.
Charles Finch died on 9 October 1916,. The War Diary for the 7th Northamptons records for that date:
“During the night enemy has been much more lively, his sentries and machine guns firing continuously. An enemy working party was dispersed by our Lewis Gun fire. Trench mortars again active during the morning. Artillery inactive.”
The entry for Private Finch in the Register of Soldiers’ Effects simply states that he was “killed in action,” but his remains were buried some distance behind the front line at Villers Station Cemetery.
The Finch family visited Villers and said what a beautiful resting place it is, in a place once torn apart by war.
Trevor Finch and his wife Sue at Charles' grave
For those who think interest in The Great War ended with the centenary a look around our dining table would suggest otherwise.
CWGC Visitors’ Centre
Last month we reported that The CWGC Experience had opened at the CWGC offices in Beaurains and this month we had a chance to visit. Just outside Arras in an easy to find location in Beaurains with plenty of parking is the Visitor Centre. The CWGC has always had its European HQ there and now they have opened the Centre to allow the public to see at first hand their work. Around a central courtyard you can look into the various workshops – the making of headstones, the blacksmith, the carpentry department, the gardeners’ department, signage, and a section on dealing with soldiers’ remains that are found today. There are exhibitions explaining the work of CWGC around the world. It really is worth a visit, to see at first hand the breadth of their work and the care taken to remember the fallen. Allow about an hour for a visit. Well worth a look.
We have mentioned that the harvest has been taking place. While Davina and Eric were here from Australia, Thierry Le Grand our neighbour and farmer from Ovillers was harvesting Mash Valley and Eric went to investigate. Several hours later (and much crop dust all over the house) Eric returned having spent the time with Thierry and his son Pierre on the combine and visiting the grain depot discussing differences and similarities in harvesting in Australia and France. All this despite no common spoken language. Later Pierre arrived with presents for their Australian counterparts, including some iron harvest. New friendships were formed between this corner of France and the sweeping paddocks of Western Australia. Eric says it was the highlight of his holiday. We never know quite what is going to happen here!
Davina and Eric flank Pierre Legrand
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National Fete day in France, Bastille Day to the rest of the world – always a day to remember. This year the sun shone and we joined our village as Christian our mayor read out the President’s message in front of the War Memorial, laid flowers with the children and then we visited the other memorials in the village to lay flowers including the 34thDivision and Tyneside Seat. Christian asked Julie to lead the singing of Le Marseillaise – quite an honour for this British girl who loves life in France. Then we joined together with our friends and neighbours in Ovillers for a street party – food, wine, conversation, laughter and dancing – a heady mix of French bon vivre. The sound of the accordions playing ringing in our ears as we made our way home. Vive la France. Vive la Republique.
The heat has been the problem for the animals this month. Trying to keep them cool in ever rising temperatures with little respite at night was our main concern. Despite trying to keep them all cool, little Sausage the rabbit did not make it through the hot spell. He was old, and rabbit hearts are not strong and he did not wake up after the hottest night of the year. Poor little Sausage, he now lays at rest with the old hens and Mash who went before him, hopping over the rainbow bridge.