May 2021 - Where is Spring? After a Cold, Wet, May, Sunshine is Finally Here!
Posted on 31st May 2021 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
After changeable weather in April, it is as if a “low” has sat over Northern France for the whole of May. Day after day of chill winds, low temperatures and rain, more rain. Persistent rain, long showers, short sharp showers, drizzle, we have had them all. We have seen rainbows, different skies, stormy beauty, but it seems every day, rain. We know we are not alone with this weather across Europe. Just the last 3 days early summer has arrived with wall-to-wall sunshine and warmth, hurrah!
However, there is always beauty. A stormy Somme sky is beautiful. Rainbows falling on Cemeteries bringing a particular poignancy. The fields have now turned to vivid green as the new growth has responded to the life-giving rain. Everywhere now looks lush, renewed, we now need the warmth, which has started this past weekend.
Serre No.2 Cemetery and Somme Sky
Despite the weather there has been plenty to keep us busy this month, we have continued walking, and we have some stories to tell here.
But all this rain of course makes us think of how this affected the soldiers who were here in all weathers. After a walk, we come back to a warm house, hot tea and dry clothes - not so easy in the trenches.
Rain too, has its own poetic rhythm as we hear it on our windows. It is no better used in poetry than by Edward Thomas in his poem simply called “Rain.” Written while he was in a hut on the battlefields.
Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into this solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying tonight or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be towards what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.
Rain was written in 1916. Thomas wrote his first poems in 1914. In 1915 he enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles and was soon promoted and served as a Second Lieutenant with the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was killed in April 1917 in the Battle of Arras and is buried in the CWGC Cemetery at Agny. During his life he suffered from depression and found solace in long walks in the countryside. His poetry has stood the test of time and he is commemorated at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. There is an excellent 2011 biography of Thomas by Matthew Hollis called Now All Roads Lead to France.
Despite the weather, we have continued to explore, particularly as with some Covid lockdown easings we have no distance limit on where we can travel in France now. We have walked tracks that are new to us, seen hares, deer, birds of prey, pheasant, grouse, and heard the ubiquitous skylarks. Nature all around us which is good for the soul. When we end up at a CWGC Cemetery it is like a “reward” for our walks, with jewels to be discovered inside, be it an epitaph that strikes us, a name, an age, the beauty of the planting, or just the peace of these Silent Cities. Always, they give David a chance to capture moments on camera, photos being the next best thing to exploring in person and create a journal for us of our life during the pandemic.
Mill Road Cemetery
As the weather cheered up, we did a short live video from Lochnagar Crater on Sunday 30th May.
Father and Son Bowyer Update
It is a small world sometimes, and coincidences and connections are often made with No.fifty6 as a conduit for things happening. We know our newsletter is often well received, but this month we learned of how it has the power to connect people for good reason. In May 2019 we wrote in our newsletter how a personal pilgrimage had been made by guest Ranjit having learned of his ancestors who fought and died here. Father and son Joseph and Edgar Bowyer have war graves in France. The 2019 article can be found here.
As a postscript to this, we were contacted last month by Steve Law of Great War Medals, who we know. He had seen the article and wanted to get in touch with Ranjit, so we put them in touch with each other.
As a result, Ranjit sent us this message and he is happy for us to provide the update here:
Hi Julie and Dave, I can't thank you enough!
So grateful for you to have forwarded Steve's details, Steve explained he had possession of both Joseph Bowyer and his son Edgar's posthumous memorial plaques and some photo print plates from the local Dewsbury paper.
Myself and siblings have ordered these items from Steve and you are more than welcome to update your blog with this joyous re-union!
My mother won't know about the Plaques until we jointly give her them when we all plan to meet-up with her in Sep just prior to her 88 birthday (she's still sharp as a razor mentally ), as she doesn't use the internet much, feel free to update your blog anytime you wish.
We would love to make a long weekend trip and stay with yourselves sometime so we can revisit the Bowyer's graves.
Thanks once again both of you, I really appreciate it and keep safe. RD.
And this from Steve Law:
Hi Julie & David,
Thank you both very much for putting Ranjit in touch, we spoke earlier today & I have now posted off the following father & son plaques to him in Harrogate.
I think Ranjit will be in touch with you as well, but he did permit me to share the following details with you as we both think that this would make a great postscript to your original blog. My thanks again to you for making this family reunite possible!
Best wishes, Steve
Plaques Reunited with Family
The Mystery of the Scots Lady
Now here is a mystery we haven’t solved. We were contacted last month by Charlie McDonald.
Charlie sent us a message:
Dear Julie and David, I know it is a long shot but I feel I need to include it in a book I am writing on the 16th (Boys Brigade) Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry. My friend David, a Great War veteran, was 100 yearsold when I met him so his memory wasn’t that great. He mentioned meeting a Scots lady from Greenock, who smoked a pipe, played cards and who ran a bar/estaminet on The Somme where David took refreshment as a soldier. I would love to trace that bar/that Scots lady. David wasn’t sure whereabouts behind the lines the estaminet actually was…his battalion arrived on The Somme in November 1915 and he was there until he suffered a ‘Blighty’ wound on the First Of July 1916. I will check out all the villages where the 16th were billeted during that period which might narrow it down a wee bit. Hopefully I will be able to get over to France soon as I have been unable to do so the last two years. Yours Aye ! Charlie McDonald
We have been researching where this bar might have been but have drawn a blank so far. Charlie made this comment on last month’s newsletter:
As you both know I am totally indebted to you for your search for my pipe smoking, card playing cafe / estaminet proprietor Scots woman from 1916. I am painstakingly going through all my notes and audio recordings of my 16th Battalion HLI veteran to see if he mentions where the cafe was on The Somme. So far no luck but hey I will keep on 'digging'. I hope to get over some time in July or August.
Now, can any of our avid readers help shed any light on the bar owning, pipe smoking, card playing Scots lady?
The case numbers are greatly improved in France, they have been going in the right direction for several weeks. The vaccination programme is progressing well and is now open to all adults over 18.
We are due to have our second vaccinations on 3rd June.
Our lockdown has started to ease. On 19th May shops, museums and cinemas reopened with strict protocols in place. Also, outdoor hospitality reopened but the poor weather has not helped this sector. Our curfew moved to 9pm-6am each day.
The next easing is 9th June when indoor hospitality reopens with a maximum 6 at table and curfew moving to 11pm-6am.
France is on the UK Government amber list for travel, which means travel is not allowed to France unless essential and there is a requirement for testing (3 times over 8 days) and 10 days isolation on return to the UK.
France too has announced new measures. We were hoping to see travelers from the UK soon, but from 31st May, France has stipulated you can only enter France if you have an essential reason for travel. You must have a negative Covid test in the 48 hours before travel, a test on arrival, you will have to self-isolate for 7 days and have a further test at the end of the 7 days.
We really hope these measures are not in force for too long and of course we will keep you updated.
There has been some press coverage in the UK about the need for an "Attestation d’Acceuil” costing 30 euros for anyone coming to France from UK post Brexit. We just wanted to clarify this.
If you come and stay with us you won’t have to fill in this form nor pay the authorities. The attestation applies only for those going to stay with friends and family “for free” - those that do not own a commercial property.
So if you book with us, or indeed any hotel or other B&B or registered gite etc. in France you won’t need this, but you should have an email confirmation of booking with you to show the authorities if necessary.
As always, when you are thinking about travelling, we will be happy to provide guidance on the latest requirements for coming to France, be it Covid or post Brexit.
We hope wherever you are you are looking after yourselves physically and mentally in these difficult times and we really do look forward to seeing you here soon.
The week 21-28 May saw the first CWGC Week. War Graves Week shone a light on the work of The Commission. Local events were held in the UK and the website has been updated.
There is a great new tool to help with finding war casualties in the place where you live.
You can enter a UK postcode and it will reveal the casualties who once lived in your street. Julie has discovered a soldier who lived next to where she was born and who is commemorated on The Thiepval Memorial. We will seek him out when Thiepval reopens. The database is really worth a look. Link below.
The hens are fine and like us are not impressed with May’s weather as we potter in the garden. We get about 5 eggs a week from the old girls. Still delicious eggs though. Last month we wrote about meeting Michel (Chicken Man’s ) free range pigs. Lo and behold, this month Michel arrived with a special delivery for us, 10kgs of his free range pork! He said it was a shame “Les Anglais” were not here to feast on it. We couldn’t think about the lovely pigs as we divided up this delicious free-range pork for the freezer! Only in France.
Marge & Florence
David’s May Joke:
The annoying, interrupting bird.
The annoying inter……”SQUARKKKK”…..rupting bird who?
Also, David is concerned as Michel the Chicken Man has just thrown milk and cheese over him.
His response…How Dairy……
Well, he thought it was funny.
All is well at no.fifty6.