June 2022 - Long Days, 2 Wheels Return to fifty6, Friendships Made, Work Done
Posted on 30th June 2022 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
June - Flaming June at times, other times stormy and showery, the weather has kept us on our toes this month – that ,along with all the other things keeping us busy but happy at No.fifty6.
After a very dry Spring we have at last had some rain – some heavy showers and storms which light the night sky as well as hot days. With a record 37 degrees in mid-June when all we could do was search the shade.
Generally though, it is still drier than normal and the tracks and roadways of the Somme remain dry and dusty. The rain has however let the crops that bedeck all the fields flourish and green of various hues blankets the land – potatoes in flower, maize growing, wheat nearly ready for harvesting - that cycle of agriculture continuing.
As we write this month’s newsletter we think, as always, of the soldiers who would be in the trenches, under the artillery bombardment which continued in the week leading up to 1 July 1916. How did they stand the noise, the vibration, the fear, the waiting….? One remarkable man who captured the mood of the solders so well was Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy – an army chaplain who was held in great affection by the men – earning the name Woodbine Willie as he would dish out cigarettes and pastoral care to the men. He wrote much poetry, using the language and slang of the men he moved among.
It is at this time of year, around 1st July, that we think of Studdert Kennedy’ poetry. This is “His Mate”:
There's a broken, battered village
Somewhere up behind the line,
There's a dug-out and a bunk there
That I used to say were mine.
I remember how I reached them,
Dripping wet and all forlorn,
In the dim and dreary twilight
Of a weeping summer morn.
All that week I'd buried brothers,
In one bitter battle slain,
In one grave I laid two hundred.
God! What sorrow and what rain!
And that night I'd been in trenches,
Seeking out the sodden dead,
And just dropping them in shell-holes,
With a service swiftly said.
For the bullets rattled round me,
But I couldn't leave them there,
Water-soaked in flooded shell-holes,
Reft of common Christian prayer.
So I crawled round on my belly,
And I listened to the roar
Of the guns that hammered Thiepval,
Like big breakers on the shore.
Then there spoke a dripping sergeant,
When the time was growing late,
"Would you please to bury this one,
'Cause e' used to be my mate? "
So we groped our way in darkness
To a body lying there,
Just a blacker lump of blackness,
With a red blotch on his hair.
Though we turned him gently over,
Yet I still can hear the thud,
As the body fell face forward,
And then settled in the mud.
We went down upon our faces,
And I said the service through,
From "I am the Resurrection"
To the last, the great "adieu."
We stood up to give the Blessing,
And commend him to the Lord,
When a sudden light shot soaring
Silver swift and like a sword.
At a stroke it slew the darkness,
Flashed its glory on the mud,
And I saw the sergeant staring
At a crimson clot of blood.
There are many kinds of sorrow
In this world of Love and Hate,
But there is no sterner sorrow
Than a soldier's for his mate.
In an Armistice Day address in 2009 the then Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said of Woodbine Willie:
Shocking and stark as it was, the way Studdert-Kennedy talked and wrote was pretty well the only religious response that was at all credible to those who were living through the daily nightmare. And this may explain just a little how those who did come through were able to find some deep foundation for surviving the rest of the century with courage and a kind of faith. In the heart of the terror and butchery, they had found that they were still there – they were real to themselves and each other; and if there was any God, he was what helped them be real in that darkness. Maybe the simple fact of being real was what kept that generation faithful and more than faithful, creative and brave in a century of yet more darkness.
So, our thoughts turn to 1st July and the 106th anniversary of The Somme Battle. 106 years later we still live in a world torn by War, suffering, intolerance and prejudice, but also joy, hope, kindness and tolerance. We hope the latter qualities prevail and we have seen much of those great qualities this month, as demonstrated by the kindness and commitment of our guests to do good things. .
We have continued to be very busy – we can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see so many friendly faces back here at No.fifty6, exploring The Somme and sharing stories. There have been tears of happiness, emotion and friendships rekindled. Priceless moments we treasure.
Lochnagar Working Weekend
Apart from a little ad hoc maintenance The Lochnagar Crater needed a bit of a blitz to bring it back to pre-Covid maintenance standards. Volunteers took advantage of the UK Jubilee Weekend to come over and get to work. Over that weekend the Crater had its hedge cut, inside the Crater was strimmed back (tough work at an angle!), benches and the cross given attention, grass cut etc. etc. An extraordinary effort in hot sun with volunteers aged from 12-85. It is now looking wonderful again. The renovations to the pathway were too much for the weekend, other than remedial repairs - the pathway work will begin in earnest soon. Our thanks to all the volunteers who came and helped. We had a wonderful group of the volunteers staying with us and there was always a cup of tea, beer or glass of wine to soothe aching muscles after a heavy shift at the Crater and there was much laughter too. Everyone has rebooked for the May 2023 Working Weekend! What a dedicated team!
Working in The Crater.
After a Covid hiatus David Ellis came from Somerset, and was absolutely thrilled to be back on The Somme. His days were filled with visits to interesting places and he ran out of time to fulfil his itinerary so will be back…while he was here, he met the Welsh Contingent of Lee, Dick and Bob who walked and sang and paid respects and were humbled by what they saw. They hope to join up with David for a visit next June – another amazing friendship group formed at No.fifty6.
Studying the map and making plans.
We also welcomed back The Derby Triumph Owners' Motor Cycle Club.
Bev, Martyn, Alan, Tony and Greg arrived on the hottest day of the year. Our first motorcycles post Covid. It was great to have them here again and the bikes looked glorious in the car park and as they returned from their runs out. We had some beautiful sunsets while they were here and it became a challenge to take the best sunset photo after dinner outside No.fifty6. We think Alan wins with this one.
courtesy Alan Cooper.
Greg, when he is not riding, is a top bird watcher and we discussed the birds on The Somme and he pointed out the nesting birds right under our noses. We learned so much - thank you Greg.
Sally and Chris Burge from Wales, are regular visitors and special friends. Between them they have many family members who fought on the land and in the air of The Somme – including Sally’s Great Uncle Leslie Simmonds of the RAF, who is remembered on the Arras RAF Memorial. They had a remarkable visit last week that was planned from the beginning of the year involving cross border new friendships and remembrance. Sally says:
At the beginning of 2022 I was contacted through Ancestry by a lady from Holland, who has South African family links, Susan Anneveldt, to say that she had read the information on my family tree regarding Leslie Simmonds, my great uncle, and in the same plane, his pilot was her second cousin Julian Percy Ferreira.
Leslie enlisted on 7th November 1914, initially as an air mechanic having returned from working on the Argentina railways before the war. On 16th September 1918 on a bombing raid to Caullery Leslie 22 years old and his pilot 19-year-old South African, 2nd Lt Julian Percy Ferreira, who had volunteered from school obtaining his wings in May 1918, were shot down in flames in their DH4 A7987 one mile east of Marcoing in what became known as “Black September”.
From the RAF records we had traced the approximate site of the crash to a field just outside Marcoing and agreed to meet up with Susan at Number 56 and take her to the site. It was a very emotional moment when the two direct relatives of the airmen were able to pay their respects together to two brave men 104 years later.
2nd Lt Julian Percy Ferreira
2nd Lt Leslie Simmonds
Sally, Chris and Susan have forged a new friendship and spent 4 days exploring The Somme together. Susan also wanted to see Wilfred Owen’s grave in Ors, having read so much of his poetry. Susan said after the visit to Ors, I had to say, “Well hello Wilfred old friend,” as she felt she knew him through his poetry.
At the end of the month, regular guest Terry Whenham bought The Buckley family with him – Mum Christine and her daughter and son Kate and David. Terry says:
Sapper William Hollyhead, Christine’s grandfather, was a miner and served in 185 Tunnelling Company who began the tunnel that led to the Lochnager Crater. In February 1916, 18 of his comrades were killed in the tunnel by a camouflet fired by the enemy.
Explaining his story to his family at the crater was the highlight of this tour, and it was sobering to see the Sappers buried in a line in Becourt Cemetery. One of them was 50 years old.
William survived the war and lived a long life but was discharged from the Army suffering from deafness no doubt caused by the explosion. Christine remembers her grandfather who never spoke of his War service.
THe Buckley Family at Lochnagar with a photo of William.
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.
The work at Thiepval is nearing completion, with the latest opening date scheduled for 22nd July. In mid-June CWGC placed a new group of interns to guide at Thiepval - among them our friend Poppy Mercier. The guides are there every day and provide free information and guided tours to visitors.
A Very Special Battlefield Walk
A reminder that Stephen Benson who manages The Cheshire Roll of Honour, along With David Brown, National Standard Bearer of The Royal British legion, and young Vincent Morrison, just 16, will be undertaking a very special walk, in aid of 3 charities on 7th July 2022. Please do donate if you can. Details of why the walk is important can be found in last month’s newsletter.
7 July 2022 07.30 starting at Foncquevillers Military Cemetery.
To support the walk simply scan the code to donate.
courtesy Lynn Benson
On Armed Forces Weekend just gone, Stephen’s daughter Lauren made 300 iced and decorated cupcakes to sell for the Fund. All the cakes sold rising a further £418. Now time to prepare for the grueling walk itself…
Rededication at Ovillers Military Cemetery
On 22nd June we and our guests, attended a rededication service for Second Lieutenant Ernest Lockett Cole at Ovillers Cemetery. In the back row at Ovillers, up until last Wednesday, the grave was that of an unknown Second Lieutenant of the Northamptonshire Regiment. Ernest Cole was killed on 27 September 1916 in an attack on The Flers Line. After the Armistice, Ernest’s remains were moved to Ovillers Cemetery and his name had been lost, though the initials EC were marked on his clothing. He was therefore buried as an unknown and his name was inscribed on Thiepval. After painstaking new research, the MOD and CWGC accepted the case that this was indeed the grave of Ernest Lockett Cole so his grave was rededicated with a new named headstone. The poignant service was carried out by The Chaplin to 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment in the presence of serving officers and Ernest Cole’s family, with 13-year-old Joseph emotionally receiving the Union flag which had been folded on the headstone. Rest in Peace Ernest, you are found.
Ernest Cole Headstone with Floral Tributes
Marge is fine though she has no new chicks yet – our diary and that of Chicken man Michel have not coincided yet so the new chickens wait continues! We have horses in the field, hedgehogs who visit at night and birds nesting so there is always animal activity to keep Marge company – as well as our guests of course. Talking of which we had a joker amongst our midst in Marcel from Amsterdam who placed a fake lamb in our chicken coop - It looked very realistic and we thought we had a stray lamb come to visit. David had his revenge....
David’s June Joke:
I threw a ball for my dog.
It’s a bit extravagant but he’s worth it and he looks good in a dinner jacket.
All is well at no.fifty6. We hope to see you soon.
Ovillers Military Cemetery at sunset.