March 2024 News from No.fifty6, Spring is Here After a Busy Month

Posted on 31st March 2024 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

March 2024 News from No.fifty6, Spring is Here After a Busy Month

This comes with wishes that you have had a Happy Easter Weekend as we Spring forward an hour into the lighter evenings here in Europe.

Wow, where has March gone? It has been a busy, varied and rewarding month that has flown by, with so many interesting people and stories shared.

Weather-wise it has been a real mixed bag. Interminable rain, grey skies, with blue-sky days counted on one hand. Despite this the daffodils are defiantly showing Spring is here and the quality of the light improves, with a rich quality which illuminates the landscape when the sun peeps out from the clouds. Like a camera obscura revealing its magic.

We often think and remark that Nature does win over War. We see it here in the landscape  once so ravaged and witness to so much death and destruction has been taken back by nature, reclaimed as it were. It’s just humans who mess things up. Sentiments echoed in this lovely, poem:

 

"There Will Come Soft Rains"
(War Time)
by Sara Teasdale written in 1918


There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

 

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, 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.

 Sara Teasdale

March Visitors

There have been so many adventures shared this month. Where to start? But in the words of the song, Let’s start at the very beginning…

James and his friend Jake visited during our rainy spell at the beginning of the month. James who goes by the handle Great War Geek was guiding Jake who in his spare time is a part of a Living History Group and came dressed in his uniform. He makes as many items as he can himself, to ensure authenticity as a “Tommy” though the main components of his uniform were bought from specialist suppliers. As Jake walked the tracks of the Somme in his uniform, he was an echo to a previous era.

 Jake ready to Walk The Somme

Martin  and Angie spent the weekend with us and enjoyed the respite from the stresses of house buying in the UK. Through family connections Martin is interested in the King’s Liverpool Regiment and each trip discovers more. Angie is interested in photography and the spiritual side of The Somme. A perfect weekend!

Manon made her first visit to us from the Netherlands. On previous visits it has been a quick Somme stop en route to somewhere else with her husband but this time she came alone and spent a week exploring in some depth.

At the same time Ross was here from Denmark with his friend and former tutor Mark from the University of Kent. Ross and Mark are making a film about Thiepval and included Manon in their excursions.  It is wonderful how new connections are made here. People who have never met before sharing a love of history and sharing their knowledge. Simply wonderful. Ross, apart from making films, has written a play about the aftermath of WW1, which will be performed shortly in Copenhagen. He is also working on a book. A busy young man. Mark, an academic who happily shares his knowledge and passion for the architecture of remembrance on The Western Front will be back in July and we hope he will give talks for us and our guests.

Manon had one mishap while she was here - a shredded tyre while driving the tracks of The Somme. We received a message from Manon “Houston we have a problem”. David went out to help, as did Michel the local farmer who lived where Manon’s car had stopped.  There was no spare tyre in Manon’s car as it was a run flat  and no tyres were in stock at the garage. Manon would have been stuck but her brother Emil came to the rescue. Emil was due to join Manon for the second half of her week, so he came bearing a new tyre from her garage at home. With Michel the farmer’s help, the replacement tyre was installed and disaster averted.

 Michel with David supervising with Manon's tyre problem

 Assembled guests hear the story of Manon's tyre

It is one thing we know from living here – anyone will help you if you have a problem, it goes with the community spirit of this special place.

Terry Whenham brought Susan and Michael from Melbourne just as he did last year. Susan and Michael had “met” Terry through his Tales from the Battlefields podcasts. Last year Michael and Susan had concentrated on family members who fought on The Western Front, but this time the emphasis was on players from Michael’s beloved Collingwood football team (Aussie Rules) which took them to various locations here on The Somme. Terry also took the opportunity to record material for his podcasts, including an interview with Poppy Mercier in Courcelette, and on the link below, Lucie at the CWGC Cente in Beaurains and ourselves talking about the Lochnagar pathway.

https://podcasts.apple.com/.../tales-from.../id1611744428...

At the same time as Terry’s visit, we had two lovely Marks from the UK here and they spent 4 days walking the Somme in all weathers, finding vestiges of the War as they walked. They commented how walking the tracks helps clear your mind and the peace and quiet is wonderful. We couldn’t agree more. With lively chats around our dining table the two Marks thoroughly enjoyed meeting other guests and their time here- so much so they have booked their next visit.

As has James Condron, who visits us every year from Essex. This time coming with his friend Rich who has a relative buried in Boulogne. Jim wrote this to us after his visit:

"This was my third year staying at NumberFifty6. I visited with my friend Rich again. On our way down from Calais we went to Boulogne where Rich’s Great Great Uncle, Robert Bruce, is buried. He was killed in an air raid on 22 December 1917. We also visited the grave of John McCrae, who is buried nearby. Then on to the Somme. 

The main reason for my visits are always to remember my Great Great Uncle, Herbert Guiver, who was killed on 17 February 1916 in the area that is now the Sheffield Memorial Park near Serre. He is buried at Sucrerie Military Cemetery. As I stood on the track next to the cemetery, which is the same track, that the troops marched along to the front line, I thought of what it must have been like for the men to see the graves being dug as they moved up to the front. 

We explored other parts of the battlefield too. David took us up to Rossignol Wood near Gommecourt, which was interesting for us as we hadn’t explored any of the 1918 Somme sites before. He told us the story of Rev. Theodore Bayley Hardy, who won the VC there for rescuing wounded men. We stood by the the ruins of the bunker where the action took place.

We also walked between Carnoy and Montauban, over the ground that Captain Billie Neville led the 8th East Surreys over on 1 July, kicking footballs in front of them. Such an emotive story, so to walk along the British front line and then across no man’s land to the German front was incredible. 

There were a fantastic group of guests at NumberFifty6 this year, which Julie has mentioned elsewhere in this newsletter. It’s always so great to sit around the dinner table with people who share the same passion as you and get new perspectives on the Great War. You can always learn so much. Thanks to everyone who made our trip so memorable, and in particular Julie and David, who really are the best hosts. I can’t wait to be back next year!"

  A great group enjoy dinner and swap stories Mark, Rich, Jim, Terry, Mark, Susan and Michael

The following week we had a wonderful group who flew in from Portadown, Northern Ireland. In their trusty minibus, led by one of their own, Steve, the lads toured all over the Somme in their week with us. Many detailed conversations were had, and as well as the history the lads had a chance to enjoy each others company. Just the job.

 The Portadown Boys, Keith, Rob, Steve, Tim, Shay, Neil, Steve & Gary

Ross from Witney has been a frequent guest of ours over the years. He is knowledgeable about many aspects of the War and gives talks to The Western Front Association Branches on several subjects. This visit he brought his 2 daughters Jollie and Ellie and Ellie’s partner Barney. They came to see what Dad gets so passionate about. Despite the wind and rain they walked and toured and listened to Ross as he explained so much, with conversations continuing over dinner. The 3 of them went home on the Eurostar having stocked up on cheese, leaving Ross with us to recover for an additional day.  They had a memorable weekend.

Adam made his second visit to us, on his Triumph motorcycle. Last visit he discovered the landscape where his great uncle Alex Barclay fought and died with the Royal Scots on 1 July 1916. Alex has no known grave and is remembered on The Thiepval Memorial. Alex would have served with the Royal Scots in the area around Lochnagar on that fateful morning. This time, Adam had learned of a further great uncle and family friend. Adam wrote to us before his visit:

"Excitement is building here as my visit gets nearer... and my Uncle Peter has  given me more info. regarding Great Uncle Alex... apparently he had a younger brother called Henry (who were my Nana's older brothers.) too... and the 2 of them, along with their best mate Thomas Harold Smith were in the Territorials prior to joining up as the 'Salford Pals' in 1914.
Alex joined the 15 Battalion Royal Scots (Manchester Scots) with Henry and Tommy subsequently joining 15 Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers as part of the 1st Salford Pals Brigade. Tommy was, sadly, also killed on the same day as Alex. I found out all this part from t'internet that he was part of the attack on 1st July 1916 at Thiepval.
My Uncle Peter said it was believed both of the perished within the first hour or so of the battle. Tommy, just like Alex, was also never recovered and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial too... Service no.10722 Pier and Face 3C and 3D... so it will be nice to be able to go and 'say hello' to Tommy as well.
Now, this brings me onto Great Uncle Henry! He was stationed in Mesopotamia and he took part in the Gallipoli Landings on the Helles Peninsular at 'W' Beach. Apparently, as they went ashore from the open boats under heavy fire, the 2 soldiers in front of him were killed. One of the bullets that killed them subsequently hit Henry, wounding him in the gut and lodged itself in his spine! He was invalided out and he eventually died of old age (with the bullet still in him!) some time in the late 1970's... incredible!!
So, plenty to do and chat about in March... I really can't wait to see you all again!!"

 Adam goes exploring

While Adam was here he explored all the areas with a connection to his family as well as some new places. He also did a tour into Thiepval Wood with Rocky from The Ulster Tower and this really helped bring things alive for Adam – seeing the trenches and hearing about the attack from Thiepval Wood, Tommy would have been on the Thiepval-side flank attack with 32nd Division.

At the same time Steve Cottam bought old friend Jason, both men having an interest in aviation  which extends beyond their aviation jobs. So this visit was all about airmen of The First World War. They visited various sites where there had been airfields and took then and now photographs, as well as visiting the graves of airmen who had lost their lives in the fledging years of war aviation.

There is a great book in the Battleground Europe series – Airfields and Airmen by Mike O’Connor.

Again, the talk of aviation continued over dinner. Always interesting conversations here.

 Jason and Steve

We ended the month with James, Ash, Caryn and Keith from London. Ash and Caryn were born in South Africa so were interested in the involvement of The South African Brigades. David toured with them, explaining the role South Africa played in the First World War and showing them the land the South Africans fought over with such devastating losses. Delville Wood - the place of carnage and destruction of the past now filled with the sound of birdsong and spring flowers. A sobering introduction for them.

 Ash, James, Caryn and Keith with David at Thiepval remembering The South African Brigades.

So thank you to all our guests who have made March such an interesting and varied month for us.

Work at Lochnagar

Last month we reported how the old information panels at Lochnagar were being replaced, with the first phase of work to put in new metallic posts. Last week we worked with fellow trustee and treasurer David and Claire Disbrey to put the information panels in place. They have been cleaned and look so much better. It was hard work carrying the 20 heavy panels around to their correct locations and then security screwing them onto the mounts. The final phase of the work will take place in late May when newly printed panels will be installed  as the current ones are faded from being exposed to the elements. As soon as we screwed them on, visitors started to read them and we know they are a popular addition to the very special place that is Lochnagar.

Also we are pleased to report the next section of replacement walkway around the Crater is underway, the complicated part which includes the steps to the George Nugent cross. The steps will be removed as we are keen to make all the path accessible for wheelchair users.  Little by little there is progress. 

 Claire and the 2 Davids at work at Lochnagar

 The section of patway and steps currently being replaced by The George Nugent Cross.

Animal Postscript

A thank you to guest Adam, who brought 2 bird nesting boxes with him on his mototcycle, which he has donated for the trees at Lochnagar. Our aim is to encourage coal and blue tits to nest there, they being the natural predator to processionary moths which when in caterpillar stage, have toxic hairs , and if not managed, can become a problem. 

With the weather improving we think it is nearly time for a new family of chickens here at No.fifty6 … so watch this space. David’s friend the cat still visits the garden and the birds are nesting all around us. We have a short-eared owl who keeps an eye on us and likes to hoot at dusk. There is aways something to see and hear from our windows.

 Adam with doanted nest boxes brought lovingly by motorcycle

David’s March Joke:

I have decided that from the start of next week, I am going to dress as a different kind of bread every day.

Roll on Monday…

 

All is well at no.fifty6. Please stay safe and well and see you soon we hope.

 Wild primrose  - Spring is here.

 

 

 

Comments (11)

Jarrod Weatherall says:

Hi Dave and Jules ,

It's always a great read still after all these years gone by since our visit in October 2015 with my father Dennis John Weatherall , myself and my older brother Darryn John Weatherall . You guy's are definately a home away from home and for us it really was on the opposite side of the world . Memories and hospitality true to the heart forevermore .
RIP my beloved father 17th August 2020 .
From SYDNEY DOWNUNDER AUSTRALIA

James Brown says:

Hi David and Julie,
Always look forward to the newsletter. great to see what you've all been up to.
Countdown is on, only a couple more weeks till my visit, it's been an eventful year. So much to update ...loads of research to go through, more grandchildren, and a new growing season for the allotment. See you all soon.
James

Gary James says:

Another great newsletter. Keep up the good word. Bit worried about David's dressing up. Hope its not going to become a problem.

Jim Blenkhorn says:

A wonderful read as always. I am hoping to get out there some time this summer.

Neil Mackenzie says:

I never "tyre" of receiving the updates from No56 and so great to see that you are so popular. Cannot wait to see you in a few weeks time.

Andy bond says:

Hi Julie hope you are both well it’s count down now for me to the wonderful 56th and the wonderful cooking and seeing you both was in Ypres last week the restaurants there are fab but you are up there with them take care all best andy

Les Mepham says:

Ah, these updates are so bittersweet. Grateful to learn more and more each month, but jealous because you’re so far away. Seeing the guests around the table brings back many happy memories. Good to see Steve Cottam’s smiling face in there too. I quite enjoyed conversations around the table with him last summer.

Quite a variety of guests, I see. It’s so wonderful how they can connect while in your care. (I even noticed the comment from Roger and Elaine, the first guests we met on our inaugural trip in 2019!) Good to see David sporting his vest whist helping Manon. It “reflects” well on him. ;)

Glad to hear progress is being made at the crater. I’m certain the dear lads who fell nearby appreciate all you’re doing, even if only in spirit.

Wishing you both well from Canada.

Roger and Elaine says:

Looking forward to seeing you this Friday. We can't wait! Is there anything you need bringing over?

Kevin Price says:

Hi David & Julie. Now it's April, I can say with some authority, 'Looking forward to seeing you next month' :-)

David Ellis says:

Hi J&D. Lovely to receive another newsletter from you both. I can’t wait to be there end of April/beginning of May. New focus - just walking and taking photos and playing with my new drone! What a shame I missed your friend Adam - my cousins great uncle, James Wilding was killed 1/7/16 attacking with the Royal Scots near Lochnagar! Adam’s great uncle and James may have known one another?! James is also on the Thiepval Memoriał. Love the April joke and the thought of new chickens?!! See you soon. David ????????????

Heather and Malcolm J says:

We agree ... March went by in a flash! Lovely to hear again about all the guests you have had during the past month and their stories. They are always interesting and they always make us envious but the time will come again eventually, when we can return and enjoy the same hospitality. X

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