March 2021 - Spring Has Come to The Somme.

Posted on 31st March 2021 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

March 2021  - Spring Has Come to The Somme.

March, a contrary month – not winter but not always spring either, however it is usually a favourite month of ours as it promises so much of the year to come…this March however continues to be difficult due to Covid,  though we hope things will get better quickly,  just as the sun lengthens the days.

Weather-wise it has been a mixed bag, sometimes cold, windy, wet, misty, other times blue sky and mild. The month has ended on a high with blue skies and very warm temperatures. So, no surprise the fields and gardens around us are springing into life, new crops growing, buds and blossom, birds nesting and chirping.  The sun warming our faces on our walks reminds us life is good.

It brings to mind this poem by Sara Teasdale. As new life bursts through it contrasts so much with the death and destruction of war…”Spring in Wartime.”

I feel the spring far off, far off,

The faint, far scent of bud and leaf—

Oh, how can spring take heart to come

To a world in grief,

Deep grief?


The sun turns north, the days grow long,

Later the evening star grows bright—

How can the daylight linger on

For men to fight,

Still fight?


The grass is waking in the ground,

Soon it will rise and blow in waves—

How can it have the heart to sway

Over the graves,

New graves?


Under the boughs where lovers walked

The apple-blooms will shed their breath—

But what of all the lovers now

Parted by Death,

Grey Death?

 Sara Teasdale

Sara Teasdale was an American poet, born in Missouri in 1884, she wrote seven books of poetry in her lifetime. She received public admiration and major prizes for her well-crafted lyrical poetry which centered on a woman’s changing perspectives on beauty, love, and death. She had strong feelings about The War, which is reflected in her poetry. She had a difficult life health-wise and committed suicide in 1933. She is buried in St. Louis. Her poems, her legacy, live on.


We have walked a lot this month. You do not have to go far to lose yourself in The Somme and the secrets it still keeps. We had a wonderful circular walk from Pozieres through to Contalmaison along Dead Man’s Road. We didn’t see a living soul. We came across some hives of bees a farmer is keeping, thankfully the bees all asleep as we passed by. We passed blossom, new buds in the hedgerows, hares cavorting in the fields (well it is Spring), startled pheasants and always the skylarks singing overhead.

We have been to many places to take photos of headstones or memorials for those who have requested, or for our own research. It is something we are happy to do, so if you do want any photographs taken do let us know. It is always good to say hello to the boys, it is just something we do.

 Pozieres Cemetery & Memorial from Dead Man's Road

Covid Update

The numbers of Covid cases have risen dramatically in Northern France in recent weeks. The “Variant Anglais” which is more transmissible has got a hold and is not diminishing. As a result, the hospitals are becoming overwhelmed and patients are being transferred to other regions as ICUs run out of beds. The area mostly affected is the corridor from Calais/Dunkerque in the north through to Paris and its suburbs, and we are slap in the middle of that corridor. Case figures in The Somme Department are higher now than in the first or second wave. As a result, 19 Departments (the Somme being one) have been in lockdown. There is a curfew between 7pm and 6am with a stay-at-home order (unless out for essential reasons with paperwork). Bars, restaurants and cafes remain closed and shops other than essential ones are also closed. Schools have until now, remained open. President Macron addressed the nation 31st March. It is now a National lockdown,  with the measures in place in our Region now the same throughout France. Schools are closing for 3 weeks, though in effect this has just brought forward the Spring holidays so pupils will only lose one week of in-school lessons. 

We can go no further than 10kms from home for exercise. The good thing is that does give us some scope for our walks and photography. 

The vaccination programme is progressing but is slow due to supply issues though it is ramping up as supplies improve. We are both on waiting lists.

We are fine and keep ourselves busy, positive and do what we can to look after our health.

Until the figures improve, it is very hard to say when travel to and from France will be allowed again, it is such a changing picture. Macron did not give any certainty but hopes measures may be relaxed by mid May. 

Some of our guests have already moved dates to later in the year. If you would like to do that then do please get in touch. You know that all our reservations are flexible and condition free. We would rather you get some dates in our diary than be disappointed later in the year.

We hope wherever you are you are looking after yourselves physically and mentally in these very difficult times. It is tough, but we know we are lucky in so many ways, compared to what some have gone through.

Thiepval Renovations

 As we have mentioned before, Thiepval closed to the public at the end of February for renovation and we will be documenting progress as the months pass. Work started in early March, a temporary works’ access road has been installed from the north side. The memorial is fenced off, though there is access to the Cemetery from the south side. Now the scaffolding is going up, no mean feat for the biggest War Memorial in the world towering over the landscape. We will keep you posted.

The link above is a Facebook Live we did from Thiepval.

Butterworth Farm, Pozieres

Regular visitors to The Somme will know of Butterworth Farm which is a gite/bed and breakfast in Pozieres – indeed some of you may have stayed there! It is a place we have been happy to recommend if we are full. Formerly run by our friends Marie and Bernard Delattre who still live in Pozieres, it was taken over by the lovely Chantal and John McColl  3 years ago, who moved to France from Australia (they are French).   They told us last year that they were planning to sell Butterworth and we learned directly from them this month,  that the property has indeed now been sold. It will no longer be tourist accommodation, it is being sold as a private residence with the sale due to be finalized this June. John and Chantal will be moving back to Australia to be closer to their family. We wish them well and will miss them.

Bluebird Remembered

Many of you know we have a Bluebird inspired guest room which reflects our interest in Donald and Malcolm Campbell and the Bluebird land and water speed records.  Thanks to guest Davina Gossage who stayed with us 2 years ago, we were invited to a Zoom Commemoration to mark Donald Campbell’s 100th Birthday on 23rd March.  Davina lives in Western Australia and is heavily involved with the Dumbleyung Community Resource Centre, which has a Bluebird Interpretive Centre - a tribute to the late Donald Campbell and his 1964 World Water Speed Record on Lake Dumbleyung. The excellent conference included input not only from Dumbleyung, but from the Ruskin Museum in Coniston in the Lake District, and Gina Campbell, Donald’s only daughter.  Gina really is the guardian of her father’s legacy and has close links with both Dumbleyung and Coniston.  Coniston Water is where Donald was killed attempting to break the water speed record again in his Bluebird K7 hydroplane on 4 January 1967. We are sure he would be pleased to know his legacy lives on and there is still a lot of interest in “Bluebird” from the UK to Australia and all places in between.

Gina Campbell & Mr.Whoppit.

Donald Campbell & Bluebird on Lake Dumbleyung

English Lessons

Though not teachers, David and I have been in demand to help French friends with their English. 14-year-old Cheyenne lives in Albert and our Zoom sessions are a joy and make us think too  - mainly how difficult the English language is. We were pleased as punch when Cheyenne received her school report showing her English has much improved. We now have other adult students from among our friends. Julie is the strict one, insisting on proper pronunciation and verb conjugation and David, well he is the one they all love as he makes everyone laugh.   So as you can tell, life is never dull and there is always something to do!

Animal Postscript

The hens are fine, we enjoy the fresh eggs we get.  When we know visitors will be coming again, we do intend to add some new chickens to our 2 old girls. However, sad news this month – Shere the cat has disappeared. While he has been known to wander off for a few days (he is an outdoor cat we adopted, not a house cat) this time he has been gone for a month so we think something must have happened to him. There is no trace of him anywhere despite our best efforts to find him. Perhaps he was fed up with not having guest cars to sit under? He has missed you all.  We are happy knowing he enjoyed his life and times here with David as his personal waiter. That chapter sadly closes. Wherever you are Shere, we loved having you around the courtyard and hope you are at peace.

On a Brighter Note - David’s March Joke:

 As the tree said; “What a re-leaf to see Spring!”

As you all groan, all is well at no.fifty6.






Comments (25)

Pauline Symmons says:

Glad you are both keeping safe and busy and hopefully will get your vaccinations soon. Thank you, as always, for a lovely newsletter xxx

Andy bond says:

Hi Julie David as you know Neil has us booked in in October do hope we can make it let’s hope so stay safe you two and keep well all my very best Andy bond

The Seaton 6 says:

Hi both.

It was really lovely to read your latest update. I am really pleased to hear that you are both safe and well. We stayed with you 3 or 4 years ago and had just the best time. As a number of people here have commented, the covid situation has disrupted several return plans. Maybe in the autumn?

Best wishes


John Mepham says:

So sorry to hear youve lost Shere.
Our thoughts are with you both as time drags on. It seems this third wave is holding us all back ! If it doesn't improve soon I may have to hike to Halifax and row a boat across the pond to visit !
Very much missing our friends in The Somme.
Take good care until we all meet again!

Martyn says:

Another lovely newsletter but was so annoyed to hear the French smear about the ‘variant Anglais’ they have never ever refered to the original as the China virus.
“I’m surprised they didn’t call it ‘la variant Brexit’ to be honest.

Ian and Jackie Smallwood says:

Always a welcoming sight, seeing the No.Fifty6 newsletter arrive in my Inbox. Not good on hearing that France is in a third lockdown, but I guess it is the way forward in this torrid time.
Sad on hearing the disappearance of your adopted cat 'Shere' . . . you never know, he just may turn up out of the blue.
You guys take care, stay safe and keep up the fab work.

Chris Prince says:

Lovely as always to read how things are going in your very special part of the world and how life is with the lockdown Hopefully this month might see you both get your first vaccinations. Sorry to hear about the lost of Shere like all of us that have stay with you I know his life would have been that much richer for it. So hopefully he is resting peacefully. And Thank you Julie and David for the great job you do. Stay safe. Chris & Bill xx

Tim Corcoran says:

Julie and David, please stay safe in these troubled times. Wish you well from sunny South Australia. BTW, how difficult the English language is depends on your perspective. After all, who can figure out why a fat chance and a slim chance are the same thing? Tim Corcoran

Laurence Green says:

A lovely newsletter! Thank you. A quote for you:
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
Alan Seeger, kia 1916.
This refers to the Great War NOT Covid!

Ian Mason says:

great photo of Serre No 2 thanks once again the relatives are most grateful. See you soon I hope

Neil Mackenzie says:

As always it is lovely to get the monthly update from No56. I hope you manage to get your first vaccinations soon and stay safe and busy.

Frances & Mike Speakman says:

Thanks Julie & David...Lovely read and update..We were pleased to see a photo of the daffs out around the Memorial Garden at Lochnagar - worth all the years of planting! Hopefully 'may' see you this year? keep safe xx

Gary James says:

Another informative read. Perhaps the Variant Anglais has provided a window of opportunity for the Thiepval workmen to get the job done without any distraction from visitors. Sorry to hear about Shere. David - at least the F1 season has started if you suddenly find that you are stuck indoors. Keep safe.

Jeanette Stafford says:

As ever lovely to hear from you.

Stay safe

Jeanette x

Michael Knight says:

I always look forward to the 1st of the month and getting the latest news from the Somme. Thank you, stay safe

Julie & David says:

Hi Andrew, yes the work at Thiepval will continue during lockdown, this type of work is allowable under the current regulations.

Jennifer Iles says:

Full of news and insights as usual. Wonderful, evocative poem.

Andrew Hulme. South West Pennines. says:

Hi guys -

Is work continuing on Thiepval Memorial during local covid restrictions ?

Stay safe.

Kathy says:

Dear David & Julie,

Glad to hear all your wonderful news. I especially love your Somme Poem by the American Poet. Especially appealing about The Somme but also because I had not heard of her before. I read it aloud to hubby Paul. I can't wait to come to you again. Can't book at the moment as we don't know this end when we can make it. Nothing to do with Covid & travel, tho' that's bad enough. So sorry about Shere. I don't s'pose he has accidently wandered far off and boarded a Ferry or stowaway, accidentally. One never knows. Keep well and enjoy your lovely walks. I may well like a certain photo when Thiepval is completed. It involves my great Uncle's plaque thereon. Regards, Kathy and Paul.

David Ellis says:

Hi Julie and David
Loving your live broadcasts! Glad you’re getting out and about and I am still very hopeful about my trip at start of September. So sorry to hear about Shere.

Jon Hill says:

As always it's lovely to hear from you and to catch up with the news from the Somme et les environs. Interesting about the sale of Butterworth Farm. We stopped there in 2017 when you were full and enjoyed the company of Bernard and Marie. What is relly scary is how quickly time passes by especially when we are gripped with the Covid situation without the opportunity to travel. Best wishes to you both and hopefully the bikes will be pointing in the direction of la belle France before too long

Malcolm and Heather says:

Hi Julie and David. Thanks for another great update. Sorry to hear about Shere ... speaking from experience, you will always wonder what happened :-( We have both had our first jabs and will have our second this month. We had planned to be at events this and last year in France but they keep being postponed. But we keep our fingers crossed that we can get to see you before the year is out ... stay safe both of you, as we will. XX

Mike & Kath, Bath, UK. says:

Glad to hear you are both well and keeping your sense of humour. How sad to read that the lanes are empty . . . not a living soul in sight.
We are very much hoping to visit later in the year. Fingers crossed that France succeeds in controlling the virus and the UK is not affected by a third wave. In the meantime, we hope you receive your vaccinations soon and we all begin to see light at the tunnel's end. Stay safe.

Gordon & Joana (and Mary) says:

Eee, l do like a good read whilst l munch on my ‘Crunchy Nut’ cornflakes - sad to read that Sara committed suicide at the age of 49. See we’re still getting the ‘blame’ for the English Variant - in Israel too! I’ve felt it necessary to point out ... we only determined it, there is every likelihood it originated in Sth Africa ... however! Stay safe and well you two - we get jab#2 this month, oh joy! Love G&J

Ashley Atkinson says:

Thank for update
Shame France is experiencing tough times
Very best wishes to you both

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