May News from No.fifty6 on The Somme
Posted on 31st May 2017 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
After April chills May has been hot, hot, hot and dry! The fields are looking wonderful with the grain and vegetable crops beginning to grow as the rapeseed comes to an end but it is very dry and irrigation kit is springing up around the fields we love. It has been a topsy-turvy month here at No.fifty6 with some great things going on but also some sad news about 2 of our lovely chickens, who have gone over the rainbow bridge.
Mike and Margaret Tull visited from Mooroolbark, Victoria, Australia to be on the battlefields for the centenary of Margaret’s grandfather’s death at Bullecourt on 3rd May 1917. Robert Swalwell of the 24th Battalion AIF has no known grave so is commemorated on Villers Bretonneux. He left behind a wife and 2 daughters, one of whom is Margaret's mother.
Mike and Marg spent an emotional time visiting the Somme and walking in Robert’s footsteps on 3rd May, finding the area where it is believed he died. Poignant memories they will carry with them forever.
Alan Hancock, who is a frequent visitor to The Somme came with his brother and sisters to pay homage to their Great Uncle who died here. Paul Lenton Heath was with the 1st Grenadier Guards and died on 30 March 1918. He is buried in Bucquoy Road Cemetery. Alan said that to have his siblings with him on a pilgrimage he has made many times, made it extra special for his family.
The Hancock siblings at the grave of Paul Lenton Heath
Stephen Reasback travelled with his wife, their parents and aunt from Doncaster and Durham to pay respects to 2 members of their family. John Stark, Stephen’s Great Grandfather, was killed in the Royal Naval Division’s action in the Ancre Valley of November 1916. John was a medic, having been a St John’s Ambulanceman in civilian life and made the journey from the North East of England to be with the Royal Marines Medical Unit. We can only imagine the things young John Stark saw as he attended to the wounded and suffering and he lost his life helping others. He is buried in Ancre Cemetery.
Stephen’s father Donald has researched the War dead on his local Hexthorpe War Memorial where his Uncle Fred Reasbeck is commemorated. Fred was with the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment when he was killed in April 1918 and buried in West Flanders at Wyteshaete Cemetery. Although he has a grave, Fred’s parents were informed at the time that he was missing and they never knew, despite letters to the Ministry, where their son lay. For Donald it was an emotional visit. His parting words to us were, “We have done our duty by Fred, it is just such a shame that his mother and father and his brother (my father) never knew where their son and brother lay and they never had that peace.”
Steve and Gill McBride travelled with Gill’s parents to trace where their Uncle William Holmes died in March 1918. William was one of 4 brothers who went to war and 3 were killed in the War - one buried in Gallipoli, one in Choques Cemetery and William on The Somme. We were able to take them to the area at Bethencourt where William died with the East Lancashire Regiment, defending the Canal as the Germans tried to cross it as part of the 1918 Spring Offensive. William has no known grave and is commemorated on the Pozieres memorial. Gill’s dad Ken was very emotional as he stood looking over the Canal. His father had been the only brother to come home from War.
We can only scratch the surface of the stories of the men who gave so much 100 years ago. But their legacy lives on, in proud families up and down the country and all across the world. We like to think they would be proud of their achievements and the fact that their families do care and remember and the baton of remembrance passes on. We will remember them.
BLESMA Battlefield Bike Ride
For the second time we were privileged to guide the BLESMA Battlefield Bike Ride on the Somme leg of their journey on 10th May. This is a highlight of the year for us as a team comes together to raise awareness for this wonderful charity which supports limbless and sight impaired veterans and more importantly the guys take on personal challenges for themselves both in terms of physical challenges (cycling in all weathers), and mental ones. This band of brothers, ably led by Alistair Cope took to the Somme day with good humour, determination and respect. We visited Newfoundland Park where wheelchair access in the trench walkways proved problematic, but the team were not deterred. It made us think about the importance of access at these key sites - the gravel at Thiepval is also an issue for wheelchairs! We also stopped at Sucrerie Cemetery where one of the Blesma riders had a relative buried. The team laid a wreath and said a few words. Afterwards, Poppy Reed at Musee Courcelette provided a wonderful picnic lunch before we continued our Somme day, stopping at various points to inform and pay respects. The BLESMA bike riders, are an inspirational group of men, and we thank them for their own sacrifices, and for their positive outlook and detemination which we can all learn from.
The BLESMA mascot on our tank and navigating Newfoundland Park
Last weekend a hardy team of close to 50 volunteers of the Friends of Lochnagar were on site at the Crater to carry out maintenance work in and around the crater. It was an exceptionally hot weekend and some great work was done strimming the inside of the crater, the hedges, painting the path edges, pulling up tree stumps etc. Also this year, saw the installation of new information panels which will form the Lochnagar Labyrinth. Richard Dunning’s vision is to create an informed walkway around the crater where visitors can pause, reflect and take in the views in the surrounding landscape while reading highlighted information on specially made boards. Friend Tim Rogers has also created a stunning wood carving to commemorate the work of the Tunnelling Companies and his carving is now at the Crater.
Sad Chicken News
This is the news we never wanted to write but knew that one day we would have to. This month 2 of our beloved chickens, who are the real stars of no.fifty6 have traveled over the rainbow bridge to scratch and bathe in the eternal dust bath. First, at the beginning of the month, after a very short illness, Madame Cholet, our beautiful, gentle, grey girl failed to wake up one morning. We were both inconsolable as we could do nothing to save her and she had given nothing but love, happiness and beautiful eggs during her happy life. One of the hardest things was seeing how the other chickens missed her, a big grey shaped void in the coop where she should have been. Anyone who thinks chickens are stupid has never kept chickens, they felt it too. Then, just last Friday we had another devastating blow. The rest of our flock of 5 chickens had been fine - doing normal chicken things. David was out in the garden and chatted to Joan and she wandered off into the shady area under the trees. She was fine. An hour later, Julie went out to discover Joan lying dead in the shade. It was as if she had just gone to sleep and was not going to wake up. No trauma, no illness, no suffering. Joan, Joan, you were always a very special girl. Inquisitive, naughty, beloved of guests who visited, the mischievous girl who escaped into the back field on occasion, sneaked into the Garden Room to chat with guests and always grabbed the best grapes, we really are missing you and poor Rita has lost her red soulmate. It is still very raw. So to our 2 gorgeous girls who have flown over the rainbow bridge, thank you for bringing chicken love into our lives. You will be very much missed and you will be forever part of No.fifty6. Goodbye Mme Cholet, Goodbye Joan.
RIP Mme Cholet
Mme Cholet and Joan