June 2024  - A Month of Contrasts – Weather, Age, Stories, Landscape

Posted on 30th June 2024 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

June 2024  - A Month of Contrasts – Weather, Age, Stories, Landscape

June  - Capricious June. We started the month, cold, grey, wet, rain shower after rain shower but we end the month with Flaming June -blue skies, high UV and the hottest temperatures of the year. Soon we will be saying we need rain, but we have never known a first half of the year so wet. 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.

The landscape is full, lush, verdant with some brown where the wheat is already starting to turn golden. The popular crops this year, apart for the wheat, are potatoes and peas. The potatoes profiting from all that rain, now very leafy on their triangular ridges. The peas, already full of flowers and pods, sway in the breeze. The rape seed/colza dark brown and ready for harvest. We love the cycle of nature here.

 Mash Valley on a beautiful June day.

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….?  Letters written home, photos looked at one last time.

One of our guests this month, Ned Tate, from Northern Ireland,  paid homage at the grave of his Great Uncle James Tate of the 13th Royal Irish Rifles. James was killed in action on 1st July 1916. Through our research of his records, we discovered for Ned that although James now lies in Serre No.1 Cemetery, he was originally buried, very close to where he fell on the edge of the track leading to St Pierre Divion. The 13th RIR that morning came out of the edge of Thiepval Wood, towards St Pierre Divion. James, as a Sergeant leading his men, was one of the many who did not reach their objective, cut down in his prime. His body was not discovered in his battlefield burial place on the edge of the village until 1926, when he was reinterred at Serre No.1.

James was born in 1896 in Dunbeg, and before enlisting was a farmer.  James married his sweetheart Grace in August 1915 in Belmont Presbyterian Church . They had a son, born March 1916. James came home for a short period of leave in May 1916 and met his son – for the first and last time. Two months later James was destined to lay forever in the fields of France.

James’s parents placed an In Memorium notice in the Newtonards Chronicle:

Sleep on; thee is nought now on earth that can wake thee

No cruel guns can disturb thy repose

Nor bursting of shells can now overtake thee

Save the call of the Trumpet when night draws to a close

Until that morn dawns we are patiently waiting, While the past happy memories ever green shall remain;

And as years grow in number the anchor holds firmer,

Till hand shall clasp hand for to part ne’er again.


So, our thoughts turn to 1st July and the 108th anniversary of The Somme Battle and we think of all those like James, who paid the ultimate price, all those who were injured, all those who survived but bore the scars forever.  We will be commemorating the event here and will be at Lochnagar for the 07h28 service. 108 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.

June Guests

We began June with a contrast in ages. Young Theo (12) came with his grandad Martin to visit the Somme for the first time. Theo loved what he discovered and they have already booked in their second visit. Theo was an absolute pleasure to have here, not glued to any screens, reveling in discovering all the history here.  At the same time, we had 10-year-old William with his dad Daryl from Swindon. William has been on at his dad to bring him over for years and Darryl promised him when he was 10 he could come. So the trip was booked. For one so young, William knows so much. He lives and breathes the Somme, wanting to discuss with us and guests all the different aspects. He collected things, stopped and pondered on what he learned here and paid respects at his ancestor's grave too - his namesake William.


William at the grave of his 3x Great Uncle -  Serjeant William Edwin Barker, Royal Field Artillery, killed in action 6 August 1917 aged 23. 

William was like an old soul who has already been here. This is no fleeting fad, William will carry his love of the Somme  and lust for knowledge for a long time. Quite remarkable. He left us with a picture he drew. Capturing the spirit of a military cemetery – he said the soldiers he drew were glad that people came to visit them.

 An excerpt from William's drawing.

So from 10 year old William, we welcomed Frank Willams, aged 86 who had wanted to come for a long time. Frank wished to visit the grave of his ancestor, Lance Corporal Frank Andrew Williams who served with the 10th Gloucesters.

Frank had served in the South Africa campaign and in 1915 he was wounded at Ypres. He returned to duty. While attacking Bazentin in August 1916, Frank was killed on 18th August 1916 and now rests in Combles Communal Cemetery Extension. However, we ascertained from his records that Frank had a battlefield burial at Bazentin and his remains were not exhumed until 2nd January 1933 and taken to Combles, the “open” cemetery at that time .It was emotional for the family as they walked with David in Frank’s footsteps, culminating with visits to his first and then final grave, where a Gloucester’s poppy wreath was laid.

 The family at Frank's grave in Combles.

Frank Williams was only one of several of his family who went to War. Frank kindly sent us this newspaper article from 1916 about the Williams family. At the time it was published Frank was still serving. Of the 8 Williams family who went to War, 4 were killed and 4 survived. 

Dianne and Jamie traveled form New Zealand in search of Edgar Lewis Ackers. who served with the 3rd Rifle Brigade, New Zealand Division. In the first action for the New Zealanders  on The Somme, 15th September 1916. That day Edgar was killed and is one of the missing. His name is engraved on the memorial wall at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery. Jamie and Di left us with a glass blown kiwi, a little bit of NZ staying for Edgar on The Somme.

Robin and Jenny came to explore the area and spent a lovely few days with us visiting all the sites, Robin taking the role of tour guide for Jenny’s first visit. It was lovely having them here.

After a number of years since their last visit, Donald and Kay flew in form Edinburgh to spend a week with us before heading to The Somme coast for a second week. Kay took the role of tour manager and they visited so many places. Not just visiting a relative's grave in Cherisy, but uncovering many hidden gems of The Somme. They even went on the Somme Petit Steam Train – always worth a visit if you are over and with more departures now we are coming into summer season.

Rob and Ren last visited us before Covid but they were back with friends Clive and Jane who came on their motorbikes. They explored for 4 days and loved their time with us. Many lovely chats had around our table.

We mentioned Ned Tate earlier in this newsletter. Ned travelled from Northern Ireland with wife Margaret and friends Rosemary and Brian. They spent 6 wonderful days with us. As well as remembering James Tate, the quartet visited Louverval and The Cambrai Memorial where Brian's Great Uncle is remembered. Rifleman William Fee of the 10th Royal Irish Rifles  from Belfast was just 17 when he died on 22nd November 1917 in the attack on Bourlon Wood. Just 17, you have to stop and think about that.  Standing at the memorial you can see Bourlon Wood and imagine what young William had to face  as he approached that brooding wood.  

 Ned, Margaret, Rosemary and Brian enjoy the evening sun at No.fifty6.

We often say people find us for a reason and that is true for the Leeder family. Andy Leeder has long wanted to visit the grave of his great grandfather Arthur Leeder. Andy knew he was buried in Varennes Military Cemetery but little else of his service. Over the years Andy has searched and a random search a couple of years ago for Varennes, brought up a recording of the Facebook Live we did in Varennes Cemetery during lockdown. In that video Andy could see Arthur’s headstone and just knew he had to visit and stay with us. So Andy and wife Donna with their son  Dale and partner Lauren made a very personal pilgrimage. We were able to flesh out some of the details of what Arthur would have been involved with. He was a Serjeant with the 7th Royal Fusiliers part of 190 brigade. He died of wounds on 27th May 1918. We were able to establish that Arthur was wounded in the assault on the German positions following the Spring Offensive. The 7th Royal Fusiliers were positioned on the edge of Aveluy Wood, assaulting  German positions and huts along the railway down in the Ancre Valley. Leading his men, Arthur was wounded, and medically evacuated  to the aid station at Varennes where he succumbed to his mortal wounds.

The family made a very emotional pilgrimage to both places, where Arthur was wounded and where he now rests. They laid floral tributes and photographs of all the Leeder family including Andy and Donna’s own grandchildren. The Leeder name living on and the qualities Arthur fought for at the heart of the family’s ethics and morals.

The family at Arthur Leeder's grave. The wreath insert reunites Arthur with his wife. 

Janice and Billy came with mum Maureen and sister Hayley to pay respects to Rifleman William Chislett who is commemorated on The Pozieres Memorial. Maureen is a Chislett, and she always wanted to pay respects to her grandfather. William (whom Billy is named for) was killed in The Spring Offensive, the first day on 21st March 1918. He fought in a position near Sandeman Camp, Heudicourt near Epehy.  He is one of the many who died that day who have no known grave. He is remembered on Pozieres Memorial to the Missing of 1918. Maureen laid flowers for William.

 Janice, Billy, Maureen and Hayley remember William Chslett at Pozieres Memorial.

Mandy and dad Rob visited us last year for the first time and this year returned with mum Val. They came armed with folders of information, research which followed the footsteps of William Bierton.

Mandy writes:

“We were following the journey of William Bierton, my Dad’s Grandad, who served with Northants Yeomanry and 7th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment.  He did survive the war and we stood on the bridge over the River Selle in Haussy where he was shot escaping from German machine gun fire in October 1918.  While we were there we visited the graves of several of the Northants men who didn’t make it that day.  

We also visited Orange Hill & Monchy where he fought at the Battle of Arras in 1917.  On the last day we visited Delville Wood where Dad’s Great Uncle, John Tonsley, was ‘ last seen wounded in a German trench’ and is remembered on Thiepval Memorial.  

The picture attached is my Mum and Dad on the bridge at Haussy.


For us this photo shows the importance of research and passing on family history. This is no longer just a man on a horse in a faded photograph. He is William Bierton with a story to be told.

These stories are not just stories, they are the DNA of families who live, breath and carry values with them. Real men who gave all, over 100 years ago who, we think, would be proud to know that their legacy lives on in proud, good families to this day. Was it worth it?  Is a question we get asked around our table a lot. You only have to see and feel the strength of emotion in the families who visit us to know that it was.

From William aged 10 to Frank aged 86 and all those who visit the Somme and are moved by what they discover.  We think all the lads would be so very pleased they are not forgotten.

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 and sharing their stories.

Reburials in June

Several  burial services took place in June.  An unknown soldier was laid to rest in Caterpillar Valley, having been found near High Wood. At Serre No.2 an unknown soldier found in the fields at Beaumont was buried and finally a dozen soldiers from The Suffolk Regiment, Royal Fusiliers and unknown regiments, were buried at Wancourt British Cemetery, their bodies having been discovered during pipe laying work near Monchy . As always , the ceremonies were carried out with Military honours, assisted by the Royal Anglian Regiment and their Chaplin. Rest easy boys you can now rest in peace your duty done.

 Serre No.2

“Bonnet de Douche Rodney”  – Bluebird Room

Although June has been a very busy month, life is never dull as we had some refurbishment work completed too. Following a water leak last year, we decided to upgrade the shower room in The Bluebird Room. It took the room out of action for a week but knowing that our good plumber has to be booked in advance for such work we managed to juggle everything. Francis and Ethan did a fabulous job and we have a new Bluebird shower, toilet and vanity unit and new flooring. It looks lovely and we are very pleased with the outcome. Much better for tall people too as the shower is now much higher. The inconvenience was a nightmare but we ae are so glad it is done.

 Before -  all ripped out. 

 During.  After. 

David’s June Joke: 

I think the sun is getting to me. I’m trying to think of a good joke about ice cream toppings. But I can’t remember any.

I used to have hundreds and thousands of them.

All is well at no.fifty6. We hope to see you soon.

 The poppies blow at Fricourt. 


Comments (10)

Gary James says:

Thanks for another newsletter full of great stories. It is brilliant that the younger generation are taking so much interest. Enjoy the rest of July. I suspect it could be busy.

Gordon Christie says:

Love your news letters .
Keep well .

John D Mepham says:

Wonderful updates as always! So many stories to be told, shared and remembered!
Yes, as Les mentioned I'll have to book another stay in the Bluebird !
Take good care my friends!

Tim Brown says:

A fabulous newsletter. Wonderful to see younger visitors with such passion.
This has made me impatient to see you and the boys in September.
Take care.

Jim says:

As always brilliant informative and interesting thankyou.

David Ellis says:

Hi Julie and David. Lovely to receive the latest newsletter! I am counting the days to my next visit - can’t wait. Thinking of you all having an emotional day today - many remembrance commemorations happening today. One day I will be there for 1/7/16! Best wishes to you both - see you in September! ????????

Jim Blenkhorn says:

Thanks again for an informative and interesting news letter.
I sometimes finding myself what the battlefield smelled like. It’s hard enough to equate what it looks like today with what it must have looked like back in 1916. It must have smelled horrible!

Les Mepham says:

Absolutely thrilled to read about the youth coming to visit. They are the next generation to keep the memory and stories of these fallen heroes alive. Also glad to see that some needn’t be in front of a screen all the time.

Wonderful update on the Blue Bird room. John will be happy to hear about the shower upgrade. He was quite jealous when he saw the shower in the Senna room when we last stayed.

Enjoy all that the month of July brings.

Mark Nicholson says:

Any excuse to get the plumber back to No56????

Mike and Kathy Sumsion, Bath. says:

This month's news update . . . lovely guests, and moving stories too. The well-attended service from the crater's edge this morning was, as ever, a moving event. Congrats on the Bluebird refurbishment. One final thought regarding this morning . . . to those who never made it home, rest in peace.

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