May at No.fifty6 – May has brought many surprises and stories to tell
Posted on 31st May 2019 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
May - “Here, leave desolate, passionate hands to spread
Violets, roses, and laurel with the small sweet twinkling country things
Speaking so wistfully of other Springs
From the little gardens of little places where son or sweetheart was born and bred.
In splendid sleep, with a thousand brothers
To lovers—to mothers
Here, too, lies he:
Under the purple, the green, the red,
It is all young life…” (Charlotte Mew, poet 1869-1928)
May is a capricious month – promises of summer, but hanging on to spring and changeable weather. Spring flowers and rapeseed give way to poppies and wheat. Some hot days, some chilly and wet, now getting more stable with pleasant May weather. May begins and ends with Fete Days in France on 1stMay you give friends muguet – lily of the valley, to bring happiness, and the month ends with Ascension Day. It has been an extraordinary month with lots going on, stories to tell, only marred by one sad chicken story.
Ranjit David visited us with a group of his biker friends having been recommended by regular guest Ted Foreman. Little did Ranjit know that his visit here would lead him on such a personal pilgrimage. He mentioned in passing 2 of his mother’s direct ancestors were killed in the War. He only had their names, with no idea about them or where they were buried – it was something he had been meaning to find out about. We were able to fill in some of the blanks, quickly discovering that Edgar Raymond Bowyer was buried at Sucrerie Cemetery, Epinoy and Joseph Bowyer, Edgar’s father is buried at St Quentin Cabaret Military Cemetery. Ranjit visited Edgar’s grave while he was here, Joseph to be visited on a future visit as it was a little too far for this trip. He found it emotional and inspiring already feeling the link through the bloodline on his mother’s side. Wondering what these men had done and how tragic that father and son had died on the battlefield. What Ranjit did not know was that after he left we conducted further research into the 2 men’s war service. We enlisted the help of our friend Terry Whenham, who often visits the National Archives in Kew and he found for us and summarized the 2 men’s war records. It makes fascinating, yet sad reading. Lt and Quartermaster Joseph Bowyer MC was 50 when he died on 9thJune 1917. He was just 18 when he joined up in 1886. He was promoted many times, served in the Boer War and was mentioned in dispatches by Kitchener. He was discharged with exemplary service in 1908 having served for over 20 years, marrying Margaret in the intervening years. With the outbreak of War in 1914 he rejoined and served with the 11thLancashire Fusiliers. On 3rdJuly 1916 Joseph made his Will in the field in France no doubt having been shocked into action by the many casualties he would have seen. 4 days later they went into battle on 7thJuly in Ovillers, then in ruins. How odd that Ranjit stayed with us, overlooking the area where Joseph had led his men. After hard fighting for 2 weeks, Ovillers finally fell to the British on 14thJuly 1916. Joseph’s war was not yet done – he went on to fight at Thiepval and Courcelette – all the time serving with JRR Tolkien in the same Battalion. In November 1916 the Battalion moved to Ploegstreet and then in the spring prepared for the Battle of Messines. On 9thJune 1917 Joseph was killed in action at Messines, the only officer from the battalion to die that day. His widow Margaret received a telegram on 13thJune 1917. You get the feeling from reading his service record that Joseph was an extraordinary soldier.
His widow Margaret was to suffer further tragedy. Her son Edgar volunteered at the age of 19 and joined up in September 1914 in Wakefield, joining the Yorks and Lancaster Regiment. He was promoted and received officer training in the early months of the War. From 2nd-9thJuly his battalion were in trenches at Thiepval Wood and were in the region for many weeks. In July 1917, just a few weeks after his father’s death, Edgar applied for an Officer’s commission. He was commissioned in April 1918 to the 6thBattalion York and Lancasters. At the end of September 1918 the Battalion crossed the Canal du Nord on the Hindenburg Line. On 1stOctober 1918Edgar led his men into action and 49 men of the battalion died on that day, including Edgar. He is buried with his men in Sucrerie Cemetery Epinoy. Edgar just 23 left behind a widow, Amy, in Dewsbury. We hope his mother Margaret and young Amy were able to comfort each other in their loss.
When we passed on our research to Ranjit he said:” Hi Julie and David, I've just picked up your mail and attached documents and may I say I'm truly stunned and deeply indebted to yourselves and your friend Terry for taking the time to put so much detailed, fascinating and truly emotional material together. Thank you with all my heart so very, very much indeed.
I will forward it to my siblings and print it all for my mother.
To see the copy of the telegram sent re Joseph's death is so deeply emotional but it will allow us all to connect with as you say our brave ancestors in a way not previously possible.”
Simon Dickens is a regular visitor to The Somme. Whenever he comes over, he visits the grave of his Great Uncle Arthur George Allbright in Villers Guislain. On his visit this May, Simon brought with him his mum Ro and his Auntie Sue, who visited Arthur’s grave for the first time. Arthur George was Ro and Sue’s father Ernest’s brother (their uncle). Young Ernest was just 9 when his big brother Arthur was killed and he was never spoken of in the family until Simon started to research his Great Uncle. Simon has spent many hours and visits piecing together poor Arthur’s War Service. Arthur joined the 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment as he was native of that county. He left his family, mum and dad John and Elizabeth Allbright and little brother Ernest all living at Henry Street, Northampton. Arthur was the middle born son but elder brother, Jack also joined up - he was to return from War but Arthur was not so lucky. Arthur was a private and did his duty for King and Country. His battalion were in action for a good part of 1916 in Loos, Vermelles and Bethune. In October 1916 they moved to The Somme sector in camp around Meaulte and then front line at Guedecourt and Les Boeufs. The Battalion Diary shows the men played football, trained, attended concerts and church parade when not on active duty. In Spring 1917 the Battalion moved to Suzanne and Curlu, nearer The Somme River and in that Spring they were in the Front Line again. On 24thApril 1917 they took over the front line at Villers Guislain and it was here on 2ndMay 1917 that young Arthur lost his life. A young life extinguished never to be talked about in his family, until Simon wanted to know more about his Great Uncle. His Aunt and Mum were moved by their visit to their uncle they never knew, who bore their family name. Their story so familiar in times when families didn’t talk about the sacrifices made – all too painful to talk about. May Arthur rest in peace knowing he is not forgotten.
Arthur Allbright Sue and Ro at their Uncle's grave
The front and reverse of a silk postcard Arthur sent to his little brother, which has been kept by the family.
Liberation Day Commemorations in Holland
On 4th May we had 2 brothers from the Netherlands to stay – Popke and Klaas – both having visited before. Popke and Klaas love learning about the history here and spent very full days visiting and photographing the different areas, memorials and cemeteries on The Somme, a shared interest for them. From their native North of Holland Popke and Klaas brought presents of Friesland liqueur and chocolates. At dinner on 4thMay, they informed us that it was Remembrance Day in Holland and it is customary to hold a 2 minute’s silence in Holland at 8pm. Every year at 8 pm on 4 May, the Dutch commemorate civilians and soldiers who have died in the Kingdom of the Netherlands or elsewhere in the world since the outbreak of the Second World War, both in war situations and in peacekeeping missions, with two minutes of silence. Prior to this homage, commemorative services are held across the nation. During the 2 minutes silence, public transport stops and radio and television only broadcast the ceremonies. On May 4th, flags everywhere in the Netherlands are at half-mast as a sign of mourning from 6 p.m. until sundown. The next day, the flags are hoisted again everywhere to celebrate Liberation Day.
It was an honour and privilege for us and our other guests to join with Popke and Klaas observing the 8pm silence. We will remember them.
On 15th May we welcomed the BLESMA Battlefield Bike Ride to No.fifty6. This is the 4thsuccessive year we have been involved with this charity who organise a group to give wounded ex servicemen the opportunity to cycle the Battlefields. This year, led by the wonderful Alistair Cope, we had a group of 10 it was our privilege to share the Cambrai and Somme battlefields on their one day off from cycling. We visited Deborah Tank at Flesquieres and the stunning Louverval Memorial where Julie explained the magnificent Jagger sculptures.
Then a wonderful picnic lunch with Poppy Reed in Courcelette who gave us a talk on Courcelette in the Great War. In the afternoon we visited Delville Wood including the museum, and Mametz Wood both places of great beauty now but the group reflected on the violent pasts of both places. This day is a highlight of our year – we are humbled by the fortitude and resilience shown by this group of guys whose lives have been changed by their injuries. All make their own personal journeys through the week and to be just a small part of that to share the history here is a wonderful experience for us.
Lochnagar Working Weekend
Last weekend about 50 volunteers from the Friends of Lochnagar made their annual pilgrimage to give their time freely to help maintain the Crater. The Crater became a hive of activity with the Crater itself strimmed to cut away the spring growth, all the hedges trimmed, benches sanded and revarnished, every single remembrance plaque cleaned and polished, information boards cleaned and maintained, maintenance to the path undertaken, etc etc. The Crater has never looked more cared for. The team dodged showers of rain and were reddened by the sun and their activities. Their work is magnificent and despite a few aching backs and shoulders, everyone was quietly fulfilled by their physical efforts. Including David, who did a session with a strimmer. We salute you all.
We have a sad story to tell about our chickens this month – where a good deed leads to misadventure. A couple of weeks ago as we worked in the house we heard a dog barking outside. On investigating a large hound (we are told a bearded Czech hound) was in our field next to our back garden barking at our gate. He looked tired and bedraggled. Then as if from nowhere a Jack Russell came up to us in the garden, barking at our ankles having attacked the chickens. We can only assume he was small enough to squeeze under the fence into the garden. We ushered both dogs into our front courtyard, trying to keep them from going onto the road and causing accidents. The cats scarpered as you can imagine. Our neighbours came to help us including young Lucas on his bicycle who seems to know everything that goes on. We gave the dogs water and cat food (all we had). Both were hungry, thirsty and exhausted. No collars to identify them - we had no idea where they had come from. Frantic visits were made to the Mayor, deputy Mayor and the French equivalent of the RSPCA. No one knew where the dogs had come from. We put out a message on Facebook and through friends of friends we were shown a Facebook post from the dogs’ owner in Meaulte saying his 2 dogs had escaped that morning – the photos matched the 2 scallywags. With Lucas’s help we managed to track down the owner and he arrived with a van to take the dogs back home. We were so pleased the dogs were reunited with their owner and he was very grateful. But the Jack Russell (no doubt hungry) had managed to catch, kill and try to eat one of our darling hens. Dear Georgette, a black hen had a nasty end at the hands of the Jack Russell. Luckily the other hens are unscathed and poor Sausage was a little traumatized but safe in his hutch. Rest in peace dear Georgette – know that your eggs were always enjoyed and you will be missed by all your No.fifty6 friends. As a little postscript to this, when we saw Michel, our crazy chicken man who hatched our hens and provides the feed for them and we told him what had happened he was upset too. So much so that he went into his barn and returned with 72 eggs from his own hens!
Apart from that traumatic episode, all is well at No.fifty6.