July News - Commemorations Despite Covid, Harvests and Life on The Somme
Posted on 31st July 2020 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
104 years ago The battle of The Somme was raging on. Thoughts of swift success on the eve of 1st July were soon pushed aside as the casualties mounted and progress was bloody and slow. By the end of July, the front line had moved just a kilometer or so past our front door with the Army engaged in Pozieres, Longueval and High Wood to name just a few places. It was to be a hot, long, difficult summer.
The weather this year continues to be dry and hot. Talk to the farmers and “La Secheresse” is the problem. Dryness/drought. But still they toil as it is harvest time, more on that later.
Even our newsletter cannot escape the C word. We know it is important to keep everyone up to date with current developments in France. With borders open the main visitors to The Somme have been Belgian, Dutch and French from other regions. We have had some guests from the UK, which has been wonderful for us, but it is still much quieter than usual. It was lovely seeing regular guests Sam and Alan who appreciated our social distancing measures and Sam even did a short interview for us which we posted on Instagram. Other regulars Jim, Paul and Clive also enjoyed their stay.
We are still a green zone, with a low incidence rate of the virus in The Somme Department, with an R number well below 1. Other regions of France have seen numbers of cases rise and there are currently hotspots in Brittany, Vosges, Gironde and Mayenne on mainland France.
Things can change at short notice, as we have seen with the UK reverting to quarantining anyone coming from Spain and Luxemburg, but at the time of writing there is still a travel corridor into France from UK, but we know it will be a while before we see any guests from Australia or New Zealand.
If travelling back from France to the UK by whatever means, there is a requirement to fill in an online form before you reach border control into the UK. This is the latest from the Eurotunnel website with a link to the form.
You are not allowed to cross unless you have completed the online form available here: https://www.gov.uk/provide-journey-contact-details-before-travel-uk. It is important that you have the registration number provided after completion of the form with you when you arrive at our terminal in France.
Guests who have used the form say it does not slow things up at border control as it is not even glanced at, the form being completedd beforehand sufficing. So that is current at the time of writing but obviously requirements do change at short notice.
New legislation was introduced in France this month to make the wearing of face masks compulsory in all enclosed public spaces – so all shops, banks, museums, covered markets etc, bars. The fines start at €135 for a first offence raising to several thousand euros and a prison sentence for repeat offenders. Masks are the new norm.
Once here we want you to relax and enjoy your stay but we are vigilant, both for our own health and those of all our guests. To reiterate we have our own protocols in place in line with French government legislation and guidance.
- If you are unwell please do not travel
- If you have any symptoms please do not travel
- Please observe social distancing in our common areas - no hugs, no physical contact :(
- Tables for breakfast and dinner will be configured to reflect social distancing requirements
- Rooms and common areas sanitized daily
- Hand sanitizer, always available, to be used on entrance from front door and into dining area
Our aim as always, is to give you a safe, comfortable haven when you are visiting the Somme. Those who have visited us have said how calm and lovely the Somme is and how one can almost forget there is a pandemic.
Having led and filmed the 1st July commemoration at The Lochnagar Crater, small “closed” ceremonies were held at Thiepval, Beaumont Hamel and The Ulster Tower. Julie made it on to the French news for the commemoration at Lochnagar – speaking French of course to the rather dishy reporter. The UK’s Daily Mirror also carried a positive article about Lochnagar.
On 23rd July we attended the commemoration at Pozieres to mark the start of the Battle of Pozieres. Following local elections in France a new Mayor of Pozieres has been elected, our friend Bernard Delattre having retired and stood down, which is a loss to Pozieres but he will still be actively involved in projects he has started. New mayor Dominic Bierwald took on the mayoral sash for his first inauguration, aided by the wonderful Yves Potard and his Digger Cote Association with members dressed in period costume as soldiers, officers and nurses. Caroline Bartlett attended on behalf of The Australian government. Caroline, who is Director of the Sir John Monash Centre is leaving her post in September after 5 years in which she oversaw the Monash Centre project from design to fruition. She returns to a role in Canberra. The flowers laid on the day were beautiful and the Division Memorial against the blue sky was a stunning backdrop to remember the men who fought in the fields of Pozieres. We filmed and streamed the service.
Summer on The Somme
Certainly, summer is here, the days have been mainly warm or hot with very little rain, and some breezy days. Yesterday the temperature peaked at 40 degrees and ended with a thunderstorm. The blooms in our garden are at their best. Bees buzz, the baby birds are leaving their nests. Mr. Hedgehog visits at night to slurp water from the dish we leave out. Our grass is golden not green due to lack of water. The fields are parched and there have been several field fires in the region.
The cemeteries, memorials and pathways of the Somme have continued to be our haven during the month as it is much quieter than usual, We have walked, made visits, reflected and just admired their beauty. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have continued to do a fantastic job of looking after Cemeteries and Memorials. The roses are finishing, the grass is dry and the soil is cracking but still the gardeners do their best. They have been adding extra top soil by the ton around the parched graves at Ovillers Cemetery. It is a labour of love.
After closure since early March, Thiepval Visitors' Centre reopens on 1st August and the Somme Museum in Albert opened 2 weeks ago.
While we have been out and about, we have filmed some virtual walk throughs of Cemeteries and some stories of the men who lie therein and posting these via Facebook Live. Among those visited are Ovillers and Bapaume Post. A sample of the videos are shown below.
Our way of bringing The Somme to you.
There is usually a grand fete for France’s National day, but this year of course was not normal. The day has so much national importance though that is did not go unmarked. Flowers were laid at the war memorial and a socially distanced glass of champagne was offered to all villagers in the square by the war memorial in Ovillers. It was a lovely opportunity to catch up, safely, with neighbours. Vive La France.
A chance conversation with farmer Yves Ketels and his wife Bernadette at the 14th July celebrations in which we discussed Julie’s love of watching the harvest led to a very exciting day last Sunday. We were out for a walk when the mobile rang and Bernadette said Yves was harvesting the wheat and would we like to watch. Of course!! So, we diverted from our walk and went with Bernadette up the track behind Ovillers in the area towards Ulverston Trench, There Yves was harvesting the big wheat field in a cloud of dust from the parched earth. Next minute the harvester stops and Yves invited Julie on board. She hasn’t been so excited for a long time. White trousers were not the best attire for clambering up the ladder to the combine harvester but next thing she is in the cab next to Yves and off we go, harvesting. Julie filmed and streamed it. It was an amazing experience to see the harvest happening under our feet, to chat to Yves about farming and the importance of the wheat harvest. It transpires that although he farms maize, potatoes and colza (rape seed/canola) it is the wheat that is the most important. He told me it will be a good harvest. The wheat is good quality – it has not been as dry on The Somme as other wheat growing regions in France so his plump wheat will fetch a good price. There is something about wheat. It links the old and new for us. This staple crop grown in these fields for centuries. Once harvested by hand, it is now a huge New Holland Combine Harvester. But the crop itself is timeless, needing the nurturing soil, sunlight, rain and just Mother Nature doing her thing to change a single seed to a crop to feed a nation. The quote attributed to Napoleon that An Army Marches on Its Stomach, made us think of the troops who marched right where this wheat is now harvested. When you next bite into a lovely loaf of bread, think it could have been Julie that harvested that wheat from the beautiful fields of The Somme. Taking part in the harvest made Julie’s year. A special moment. Thank you Yves, one of the wonderful farmers who have taught us so much about the land here and are always charming and welcoming.
Yves and Julie
Guest Michael Rennie visited with his wife Helen this week and brought with them a very special gift. Michael is part of the leadership team of Lordswood Boys' School in Birmingham. Over the past few years we have helped the senior team with advice and materials for their Schools’ approach to learning about The Somme and events here and why remembrance is important. On behalf of the school Michael delivered a lovely letter of gratitude and a There But Not There full-size Tommy metallic silhouette which is currently standing proud on our terrace, keeping a watchful eye on No.fifty6. The letter, its sentiments and Tommy, blew us away. We love to be able to help, particularly when it is about young peoples’ education, and we were humbled by such praise and gratitude. Tommy will have a huge place in our hearts and we will continue to work with this very special school with plans in place already for 2021.
All animals present and correct and enjoying the sunshine as we write this. The chickens are still laying but the girls are getting old now. Elsie, the black and copper chicken goes to bed an hour before the other hens and is always 5 paces behind the others. But they are all happy. Shere likes to sit in the shade under our car surveying his savannah.
This month’s chicken joke courtesy of David. Where is the best place to get information about eggs? The hen-cyclopedia. Terrible David.
All is well at No.fifty6. Be safe. Stay well. See you soon.
A hitchhiker on our car.