June at No.fifty6 – wild winds, heatwaves, peace remembered and many a story
Posted on 30th June 2019 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
When it is peace, then we may view again
With new won eyes each other's truer form
And wonder. Grown more loving kind and warm
We'll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,
When it is peace. But until peace, the storm,
The darkness and the thunder and the rain.
Charles Hamilton Sorley 1895-1915
The weather has thrown everything at us this month, majestic electrical storms, wild winds, downpours of rain and then the second half of the month – unbroken sunshine and we end the month with a heatwave and record June temperatures. A gentle breeze this week has kept us sane while the rest of France is really suffering but it is too hot to be out for long unshaded. Dinner on the terrace has been the order of the day.
This month guests have come with their stories to tell, pilgrimages to be made, and we have commemorated the Centenary of the Peace Treaty.
The extract from the poem above – Soldier and War Poet Sorley was killed at the Battle of Loos but his words ring true today as peace is more important than ever.
As you receive this month’s newsletter, ceremonies will be taking place across The Somme to mark the 103rd anniversary of the start of The Battle of The Somme.
John and Sue Miller visited us from The West Midlands. It was their first visit to The Somme and they came well researched to remember their Great Uncles. John’s Great Uncle, Andrew Cameron, 5thBattalion Cameron Highlanders was killed on 18thOctober 1916 near Snag Trench near The Butte de Warlencourt. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. Sue’s Great Uncle, Private Frederick Hobbs served with the 2nd/8thSherwood Foresters and was killed 27 April 1917 fighting near Hargicourt. He too, has no known grave and is remembered on The Thiepval Memorial. 39 men were killed that day and 2 are on Thiepval. If Frederick does have a grave there is a good chance it is at Templeux le Geurard where men of his battalion from that day are buried. John and Sue made good use of their time here and followed in their ancestors footsteps, retracing the places they had visited, fought, died and are commemorated. The Somme still gives up its secrets.
Snag Trench October 1916
Peter Mason has been to the Somme many times before but stayed with us with wife Jean for the first time this month. Peter’s Grandfather was Captain Robert McKinley and it is he who he comes to remember. Robert was born in 1886 in County Donegal. He was a farmer, and joined up in 1914 with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers as a private. He rose through the ranks to 2nd Lieutenant by the time he reached the Somme. hIs battalion were involved in the thick of it on 1 July 1916 – on the extreme right of the 36th Ulster division attack, their objective to take the 3rd German Line. Here is an extract about the battalion that day:
“ The assorted detachment of the 9th was commanded by the remaining officer 2/Lt McKinley. Making a firm base at The Crucifix, McKinley patrolled down the empty trench toward Thiepval. As soon as they left the trenches they met withering flank fire and frontal fire from machine guns. They pressed grimly on – a gap in the line of their bayonets made every second as a man fell – reached the trench and forced the enemy out with steel. They passed into the second trench, a scanty remnant now, and again advanced a little more than a handful of stalwarts under 2/Lt McKinley, every other Company leader having fallen. The 3rd line was reached and held. “
They were not able to hold the line due to others failing to reach their objectives, and had to withdraw to their own trenches later that day. Robert McKinley was awarded the Military Cross for his actions on 1stJuly 1916. His battalion had 16 Officers and 461 other ranks killed, wounded or missing that day. On 2ndJuly he was promoted to Captain, a rank he retained until the end of the War. He received his MC from George V at Buckingham Palace having recovered from typhoid and married his sweetheart Wilhelmina.
He carried on serving and was discharged from the army in 1919. On returning to Ireland he joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary and served as a police officer both in Ireland and in 1945 he served in Greece, helping the Greek Police after the War. He died in 1973 aged 87 in Belfast.
Peter remembers his grandfather. A tall man, deeply religious who said his prayers at the end of his bed every night. Peter also remembers he drank a chalky white mixture after every meal, apparently due to the effects of being gassed in The War.
These stories need to be told, amazing histories of amazing men. Peter is doing his bit to keep such memories alive.
We had a Welsh contigent in the middle of the month. Sally and Chris Burge came to celebrate their 40th Wedding Anniversary and they bring with them each visit, pieces of Welsh slate which Sally and Chris paint with poppies and cornflowers and soldiers and leave on memorials or headstones that have special meaning for them. They are lovely and 2 such pieces sit on our village Frech Memorial. THe same weekend, Lee, Bob and Andy also came from South Wales. Lee has been before and with David follwoed in the footsteps of his Great Grandfather Peter Hendy who died in the 13th Welsh attack on Mametz Wood. His battlaion were all but wiped out and Peter still lies in the fields around Mametz, one of the missing in the attack on The Hammerhead section of The Wood and Peter's name is one of the missing on Thipeval. Lee in a poignant visit, laid a wreath at the Welsh Dragon.
Also in the month Lauren Nougher and her partner Nathan visited us from Melbourne. Lauren came to us following a visit her mum, dad and sister made in 2015 to remember their Great Uncle.
In 2015 with David’s help, the family found the spot where their Great Uncle Frederick Douglas Smith fell on 26 July 1916. Yong Frederick died in the Battle of Pozieres and has no known grave – his name is on the Australian Memorial at Villers Bretonneux. The family held a small service for Frederick in the field where he fell and later in Sunken Road Cemetery, Contalmaison where there is an unknown Australian soldier buried. Lauren in June 2019 made the same pilgrimage.
The family say:
“We of course, never met Fred, and until this year had not even seen a photo of him, but we have an affinity and love for him. It is just so sad that this young man and thousands of other Australians and Allies lost their lives in their prime. From his letters home, we can read that Fred was a typical Australian bloke of his day with dreams and hopes and aspirations for the future. Sadly Fred was not able to live to have those hopes realized. We honour Fred and give our thanks for what he did to give Australians of our generation the freedom that we now have. Fred did not have a funeral which was attended by his family, friends and mates, but hopefully by our visit in 2015 and today in 2019 we have shown our love and gratitude to him.”
Sentiments we echo here at No.fifty6.
Lost but now Found
On 12th June a burial service was held for Private Henry Albert Victor Wallington, Private Frank Mead and an unknown soldier of the London Regiment at Hermies Hill British Cemetery.
Private Wallington and Private Mead both served with the 23rd Battalion, London Regiment. They were killed on 3 December 1917 during the Battle of Cambrai, while withdrawing from their positions after two weeks of fighting.
The three casualties were recovered near the village of Anneux. Found among their artifacts was a shoulder title of the 23rd Battalion, London Regiment. Historical research and DNA testing by the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre confirmed the identity of two of the soldiers. Attempts to identify the third soldier are ongoing.
The story of how they were traced is being made into a new television Programme in the UK called Battlefield Detectives and presented by Davina McColl and Nicky Campbell. We did not attend the ceremony but our guests Alan and Michael did, saying it was a very moving ceremony under grey skies and rain.
CWGC Visitors’ Centre
The CWGC Experience was opened at the CWGC offices in Beaurains on 26thJune after being inaugurated by Princess Anne on 25th June. The Centre will give the public a chance to see the work of CWGC first hand and learn about all aspects of the organisation which looks after cemeteries and memorials commemorating the war dead all over the world. The Centre is just a 30-minute drive from us, is free to enter and is open Monday-Friday during office hours. Here is a link to a short film about The CWGC Experience:
We have not had a chance to visit yet, but will report back when we do.
We are always grateful to our guests who leave Tripadvisor Reviews of their experience with us. We hope it helps other travellers find a path to our door. It inspires us when we hear what we do is appreciated and are humbled that our lovely guest review have led us to receive an Excellence Award for 2019 for high standards of service and that we have entered the Tripadvisor Hall of Fame for 6 years continuous excellence. We are nothing without our guests – so thank you for allowing us to be the best we can. Our guests are amazing.
Lochnagar Peace Service 28 June 2019
28 July 2019 marked the Centenary of the signing of the Peace Treaty of Versailles which formally ended the War. After the Paris Peace Conferences the Treaty was signed in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles 5 years to the day after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, one of the triggers for the start of the war. It was not to be a perfect peace as there were many provisions in The Treaty which led to unrest and triggered further conflict.
However, striving for Peace is important and Richard Dunning wished to mark the formal ending of The War in some way, so a short, simple service was held at Lochnagar Crater on 28 June. A Welsh choir sang 2 songs, we read a letter of farewell from a German soldier, written on the eve of his death and vows to live peacefully were made.
On Monday 1stJuly there will be the annual service of remembrance at Lochnagar at 07.28am to mark the 103rdanniversary of the opening day of The Battle of The Somme. Throughout the rest of Monday services will be held at Contalmaison, Thiepval, Fricourt, Beaumont Hamel and Albert.
We will remember them.
Great Pistachio Shortage
We mentioned above Lauren and Nathan’s pilgrimage in remembrance of Fred. While they were here we discovered Nathan has a passion for pistachio ice cream but sadly we did not have any pistachio left. We have many other flavours but failed with the pistachio. This was obviously a big thing as we have be receiving pistachio ice cream photos from all over Europe as Lauren and Nathan continue their travels. Nathan – you will be glad to know we have 2 litres of pistachio in our freezer. A little too late for you, but it is delicious!
Animals have been blown by winds, dampened by rain and now dealing with hot sun this month. In the heat they all search out the plentiful shade and dustbaths to keep cool. Despite the heat the chickens are still laying. Griza the cat, like David, likes cars. She checks out each new car in the car park and then comes in to give a nod of approval. Regular guest Steve Cottam nearly drove home with her as she really likes his Discovery and jumped in as he was packing up. We had visions of him driving on the D929 with her waving at us.
All is well at No.fifty6.