May 2022 from No.fifty6 - Spring on The Somme, VCs, Ancestors, Walks & More

Posted on 31st May 2022 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

May 2022 from No.fifty6  - Spring on The Somme, VCs, Ancestors, Walks & More

May  - a month which has kept us on our toes. Lots going on, familiar faces and new ones coming through our door. Wonderful weather  - hot days and no rain for weeks then a few showers towards the end of the month much needed for the fields of new crop and the wildlife. At month end The Somme has its verdant coat of new growth, the rolling landscape tinged in shades of green and the promise of summer to come. Blue skies on most days. But the ground is dry, despite some showers of rain, and irrigation devices are in place all over The Somme.

 Irrigation alongside AIF Burial Ground, Flers. 

Guests are making the most of the long evenings with walks post dinner to catch the sunset at Ovillers or Lochnagar. A perfect way to end the day. Peace, perfect peace in a once war torn landscape. The cover photo is of Ovillers Cemetery at sunset last week.

As we watch our guests sitting on the terrace after a day out walking and exploring,  taking refreshment and pondering what they have seen, or us standing in a spot we love on one of our walks, it brings to mind this poem which we find forever poignant with its musings on loss of a loved one. It is called “After The War”.

After the war perhaps I'll sit again

Out on the terrace where I sat with you,

And see the changeless sky and hills beat blue

And live an afternoon of summer through.


I shall remember then, and sad at heart

For the lost day of happiness we knew,

Wish only that some other man were you

And spoke my name as once you used to do.

Brings tears to our eyes just re-reading it! The poem is written by May Wedderburn Cannan.  May was born in Oxford and came from a scholarly family, writing poetry from an early age.  During The War, May volunteered with the Oxford Voluntary Aid Detachment and helped publish government propaganda. She spent a month in Rouen, France in 1915 volunteering at a railway canteen for soldiers, an experience that inspired her most famous poem, “Rouen.” When the Armistice was declared, she was working for MI5 in Paris.
Her fiancée was Major Bevil Quiller-Couch MC who served continuously in Flanders and France from August 1914 to 1918. He was here on The Somme in 1916. Having survived the war, he died of Spanish flu in Germany in February 1919, before they could be married.  May’s  poetry and correspondence with Quiller-Couch were edited by her great-niece Charlotte Fyfe and published as The Tears of War: the Love Story of a Young Poet and a War Hero.

  May Wedderburn Cannan

However, there has been much to cheer us this May another month which has flown by! Always so many interesting things going on.

May Visitors to No.fifty6

We have had a very busy month and it has been so lovely to have so many returning and new guests come through our door.

Stephen and Lynn Benson brought a group of Chelmsford Ramblers to the battlefields, on request from Heather who had stayed with us before and toured with Stephen last year. They had a wonderful few days based here,  taking in the Somme and Ypres. A poignant visit for the group as they remembered ancestors who served and fell here.

Dave Barras and friend Mike both veterans of the battlefields over many years, made their first post Covid visit. Dave, coming from Northumberland, has a particular interest in the Northumberland Fusiliers but both Mike and Dave have an extensive knowledge and interest – with Dave chairman of his local Western Front Association (WFA) Branch. They said it was good to be back.

After a Covid hiatus in their annual trips, we welcomed back our Notts and Derby boys – Roger and his friends Pete, Simon and new boy Andy.  Roger produces a printed itinerary for them and they spent long days out on the battlefields exploring. It was good to have them back.

We welcomed a Dutch family, The Clarks, who made their first visit and vowed to be back. Appreciative of the history and the calm here, before their daughters returned to Holland for the exam season!

Jacqui and Andy from North Wales made a trip which had been many years in the planning. David took Jacqui and Andy out on a battlefield journey tracing in the footsteps of her Grandfather George Dixon, a stretcher bearer with 27th/28th Field Ambulance RAMC, from Ferry Hill in the North East. They visited remote places where George would have been based during the Somme battles of July and October 1916 taking in Dive Copse, Bronfay Farm, The Butte de Warlencourt, Millers Post and others. What he would have experienced aiding the wounded in the thick of the Somme battles, one can only imagine. 

 Walking the evacuation route

It was an emotional day for Jacqui as she remembered her grandfather who she knew. Jacqui writes of her grandfather George:

"He was a good footballer and played in the 9th Division team but the war stopped that too. He was caught up in a gas attack at some point and suffered lung damage that would be with him all his life and put a stop to his playing. I was only 3 when he passed away but what I remember of him was his awful chest and breathing . He used to sit by the range in the kitchen with a tartan rug over his knees and hide sweets in his pocket for me to find .

Grandad on one occasion when he went out to collect the wounded and dying turned over a man and discovered it was his younger brother Nicholas who had significant leg injuries due to a shell explosion. Grandad didn’t even know his brother was there . He tended to him and got him back to the aid post but Nicholas was transferred to Wimereux and sadly died of his wounds aged 21 in Oct 1917 . He is buried in the commonwealth cemetery there.” 

Jacqui ended her visit with a pilgrimage to Wimereux Cemetery to pay her respects to Nicholas.

 George Dixon on joining up.

 George with his fellow stretcher bearers during their service. You can see the haunted look in their eyes. 


While Jacqui and Andy were here Michael & Aileen Knight, old friends of No.fifty6 stayed for a few days to explore and take photos. Michael collects old postcards of the area and likes to take “then and now” photos. It is  an amazing way to see areas of the battlefields from a new perspective.

James and Della Hyde made their first visit to us though James has visited the battlefields many times and has the Instagram name GreatWarGeek.  James and Della visited many of their favourite hallowed places and documented their visit. We sat chatting on the terrace in glorious weather during the long warm evenings.

Same for Ian Lyall, who came with his wife and sister in law Janet and Christine. Ian has been coming to the battlefields for many years with a particular interest in The Lincolnshire Regiment. You could see how pleased Ian was to reconnect with the battlefields after the Covid hiatus. It is a common theme of peace people find here in a place scarred by war.

Roger and Elaine are other wonderful regular guests of ours and brought with them “newbies” Tony and Alison.  Roger had planned a very thorough Somme tour for them to give them an introduction to events here. Tony and Alison took it all in and had many questions -as we all do when we visit the battlefields. There is always something new to explore and consider.

Roger, a keen photographer and Elaine very kindly brough us gifts of 2 framed photos of Rogers – one of “Tommy” in Seaham and the other of WW1 fighter planes  Roger took at airshows, knowing our love of aviation and history! So kind and even Marge wasn’t forgotten with a “hen plaque.” Marvelous.

 With Julie, L-R Elaine, Tony, Roger and Alison

Stephen and Lynn Benson were back again later in May in preparation for a special walk Stephen is undertaking in July – more on that later.

In the final week of May we had an amazing tour group stay with us. Stuart Baxter, of Baxters Battlefield Tours brought a VC Families group to The Somme. The granddaughter of William Barnsley Allen VC, Patricia and her son Mark visited the places her grandfather had served as a Medical Offiver with the RAMC. He was highly decorated, time and again putting himself in harm’s way to help others. He was awarded his VC for action near Mesnil. His citation reads:

When gun detachments were unloading  ammunition from wagons, the enemy suddenly began to shell the battery position. The first shell fell on one of the limbers, exploded the ammunition and caused several casualties.

Captain Allen saw the occurrence and at once, with utter disregard of danger, ran straight across the open, under heavy shell fire, commenced dressing the wounded, and undoubtedly by his promptness saved many of them from bleeding to death.

He was himself hit four times during the first hour by pieces of shells, one of which fractured two of his ribs, but he never even mentioned this at the time, and coolly went on with his work till the last man was dressed and safely removed.

He then went over to another battery and tended a wounded officer. It was only when this was done that he returned to his dug-out and reported his own injury.

Patricia and Mark stood where this action had taken place in a field in Mesnil, Somme. Remembering Grandfather Allen. A special moment.

Nigel McFadzean stayed with us last November on a great visit on his motorcycle but this time he was was joined by his wife Jo on this VC Tour. Nigel is the great nephew of Billy McFadzean VC.

Young Billy was awarded the VC posthumously for his actions on 1st July 1916 in Thiepval Wood. His citation:

No. 14/18278 Pte. William Frederick McFadzean, late R. Ir. Rif. For most conspicuous bravery. While in a concentration trench and opening a box of bombs for distribution prior to an attack, the box slipped down into the trench, which was crowded with men, and two of the safety pins fell out. Private McFadzean, instantly realising the danger to his comrades, with heroic courage threw himself on the top of the Bombs. The bombs exploded blowing him to pieces, but only one other man was injured. He well knew his danger, being himself a bomber, but without a moment's hesitation he gave his life for his comrades.

Young Billy has no known grave and is remembered on The Thiepval Memorial. Nigel has a deep interest in the history here, the legacy of his Great Uncle and continues his late father’s work in researching Billy who was a young man who had hopes, dreams and aspirations, just like many other young lads who came from Northern Ireland, never to return home.

 Nigel speaks about Billy McFadzean in front of Thiepval Wood. Photo courtesy of Baxters Battlefield Tours. 

Also with he group was Mark Scott, author of "Among The Kings" an untold story of The Unknown Warrior,  and "The Man Who Shot The Great War" - the story of George Hackney the Belfast lad who took his camera to war. The group visited some of the places important to these 2 stories. Such a wonderful mix of people on a unique tour. We spent the evenings with the group chatting and exchanging stories and comment. It was a wonderful few days and Nigel McFadzean touched us with a thoughtful gift of poetry and wise words. So, in his honour we created a new dessert. The Nigel. Our equivalent of a Dessert Gourmand! It went down rather well.

 Dessert time for the VC Tour Gang. 

Also glad to see back on The Somme at the end of the month 4 old friends Tim, Andy, Paul and Nick who are drawn to the battlefields by the stories of the men who were here and rest here still. A sunset walk to Ovillers Cemetery was a highlight of their trip – and we vowed to look after the lads until they return.

So you can see it has been a vibrant, interesting month of so many stories collected round our table with old friendships renewed in person and new friendships made. We love and are honoured to do what we do.  Thank you to all our guests for making the journey. To all those affected by War today, to the lads who made it home and to those that stay close by to us,  we salute you.

Thiepval Renovation

Work to Thiepval is nearing completion, but no formal end date yet. We said goodbye to our stonemasons this month as they have finished their stonework part of the renovation. We will miss them and thank them for their extraordinary work over many months in all conditions, and for being such wonderful guests. A pleasure to feed and look after.  Every stonemason, as they have told us,  has a dream to work on the Notre Dame, Paris renovation. We are so pleased to hear that Monument have been awarded a contract for some of the stonework and this is what Alberto and his team are moving on to. We wish them well. Thiepval has benefited from their special craftsmanship to be returned to glory.

Work to the rear terrace at Thiepval

 Alberto at work. Thank you for all you have done. 

A Very Special Battlefield Walk

Stephen Benson who manages The Cheshire Roll of Honour, along With David Brown, National Standard Bearer of The Royal British legion,  and young Vincent Morrison, just 16, will be undertaking a very special walk, in aid of 3 charities on 7th July 2022. We are supporting their Walk. 

Stephen writes:

This year the Cheshire Roll of Honour will be raising funds for three charities.  The Lochnagar Crater Foundation, Walking with the Wounded and Teenage Cancer Trust.

On the 7 July 2022 we will be walking 26 miles in one day,  following the frontline of the British sector of the Somme battlefield, starting in the northern area at Foncquevillers Military Cemetery.  The walk ends at the point where the British and French stood shoulder to shoulder as the battle commenced on the 1 July 1916. Why we are doing this can be found on our Just Giving page simply scan the code below to find out more.

7 July 2022   07.30 starting at Foncquevillers Military Cemetery.

To support the walk simply scan the code to donate.

A grueling 26 miles in 1 day to help charities close to Stephen , Vincent and David’s hearts.

Here we highlight one of the charities Stephen has chosen in his own words:

Teenage Cancer Trust.

In August 2018 I was a battlefield guide for the Leger/British Legion GP90 Tour, in my group was a young man, Max Morrison from Macclesfield. Max was 16 at the time, I asked him if he would help with a presentation I was going to make at Thiepval Memorial about a 16-year-old from Wallasey who was killed in action on the 7th July 1916. Max agreed and from one 16-year-old to another, Private Frank Steer, age 16 serving with the Cheshire Regiment was remembered.

Unknown to myself at the time Max was in remission from cancer. Sadly, a few months later cancer had returned and was more aggressive, at age 17 Max passed away 23 May 2019. Max loved music and had released a number of tracks; he also had a huge love of history and respect for the memory of those who have fallen in conflict. Max raised funds for Teenage Cancer Trust, his story can be found here. Max Morrison

 Max at Thiepval

Vincent, who will be undertaking the walk too, is Max’s brother. He will stand at Thiepval just as his brother did in 2018.

Please support them.

Stephen on a training walk at Lochnagar. 

New Sign

No.fifty6 has a new welcome sign!

After our old sign got too old and damaged by the wind, we commissioned a new sign. We know it is useful to have a sign over our hedge indicating our location for our visitors. Local Communications specialist Romain Dennis from Albert designed and fabricated our new sign for us. We love it. We hope it helps you find your way to our front door!

 Animal Postscript

Marge is fine and we have 4 horses in the fields behind us she can chat to, but our quest for new chicks to keep her company (and provide fresh eggs for breakfast) continues. We were all set to go and get some new girls from Michel, the Chicken Man, but he had to go away for a few days on Chicken Business… so the wait continues. David, stop smiling.

David’s May  Joke:

A tractor loaded with thousands of copies of Roget’s Thesaurus spilled its load turning between La Boisselle and Ovillers. Witnesses were stunned, startled, aghast, stupefied, confused, shocked, rattled, paralyzed, dazed, bewildered, surprised, dumbfounded, flabbergasted, confounded, astonished and numbed.

All is well at no.fifty6.We hope to see you soon.

 Poppies by Devonshire Cemetery, Fricourt.







Comments (17)

Jim Blenkhorn says:

Blimey Julia, that is some news letter! It must have taken some time to write. Well done you.

Pauline and Bob Symmons says:

Another great newsletter and a wonderful story about Max, so brave. Pleased that you are having lots of guests staying and the weather has been good. Love the new sign! Take care x

Gary James says:

A very full an interesting newsletter. So glad to see people on pilgrimages returning to your door. What a busy time and its not July yet.
Keep safe.

Randy James says:

David and Julie - awesome reading as usual!
We can hardly wait for our visit at the end of August, and I know it will be too short - see you soon!

Colin Boreland says:

Your Podcast with Terry was fantastic. Feeling 'homesick' now.

Laurence Green says:

Major Bevil Quiller Couch MC was a proud Cornish man. He was the son of Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, Cambridge academic and author, known as Q. Bevil's sister Fowey was riding with Daphne Du Maurier when they became lost in the fog on Bodmin Moor. They let the horses find their way back to Jamaica Inn where they were staying. The result is the famous novel 'Jamaica Inn'. Bevis and my grandfather (Major Bernard Green MC) were at Trinity College, Cambridge, at the same time. There is a monument to Q in Truro Cathedral which we saw the other day. We look forward to meeting you in August. A bientot, Laurence Green.

Graham Taylor says:

Look forward to reading the newsletter every month. Another great read, even David's jokes. All the best from Wigan.

Barbara Long says:

Another interesting newsletter as always. I love reading about life at No.56. and all your guests.
Glad to hear that Marge has company and that the arrival of her new sisters is imminent

Tony Clatworthy says:

Thank you once again for an interesting catch-up. Nearly popped in to see you last week but ran out of time.

David & Karen Callaghan says:

Another very interesting and emotional read. Thank you, looking forward to our trip in July.

Roger and Elaine says:

It was great to see you both again. We thoroughly enjoyed your company and fine food. As always, a briliant newsletter. Our companions, Alison and Tony, had a great time. We will be back!

Heidi Sandford says:

Rob: re your message above; I am a hello!

Heidi Sandford says:

I love to hear all your news and I'm sorry I didn't bring more rain with me when we saw you a few weekends ago

Gordon & Joana (and Mary) says:

How fortuitous that the poetess came from Oxford - it, too, filled my eye with a tear …. And Max: what a brave lad …

Rob says:

A jeudi! (Auto text insisted on ‘A Heidi’, so I look forward to meeting her. X

David Ellis says:

Thanks for another update. Wonderful stories including that of Max. Such a brave young man. Really looking forward to finally being back on Monday!!

Sam Gascoyne says:

What a busy month you've had!

It seems you have been blessed with some cracking weather and wonderful guests.

Another cracking read!

I look forward to seeing you very soon. X

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