Capricious May - News From No.fifty6

Posted on 31st May 2018 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

Capricious May -  News From No.fifty6

Capricious May. Oh how changeable this month has been. Record May temperatures, torrential rain, a week of storms and then to end the month blue skies and perfect exploring weather, but another storm brewing. Nothing has deterred us or our trusty guests who are now seeing the landscape in all its late Spring glory. On Monday night we had the most amazing electrical storm right over us with lashing wind and rain. The lightning lit up the sky for about 2 hours. Luckily no damage at No.fifty6 but some roads have seen mud rivers and Grevillers Military Cemetery, Mesnil Communal Extension Cemetery and Bouchoir Cemetery have had some flood damage which the CWGC will soon put right.

This month there has been plenty to keep us busy with even a spot in the recording studio for David…

Personal Pilgrimages

Regular visitors Robin Jeavons, with his cousin Marion and her husband John came to follow in the 1918 footsteps of their grandfather Ernest William Harvey, known affectionately as Grandie. He served with the Royal Field Artillery and though he survived the War was injured in May 1918 which resulted in him losing his leg. Robin used detailed maps, war diaries and his own as well as David’s knowledge to plot Grandie’s gun battery positions on the Somme and visited the places he was posted. The family have now closed the chapter on following Grandie’s 1914-1918 service but will be returning as The Somme is in their hearts and they have plenty left to explore.

Grandie and his fiance before the war.

Wendy and Tony visited from Queensland Australia. As part of a wider trip to cycle the Western Front from Amiens to Lille via Ypres they stayed with us for a few days while they explored the War service of their grandfathers - both Wendy and Tony have a grandfather who served. Joseph Dutton enlisted in Australia on 17 May 1916 and joined his battalion in France on 23 March 1917.  He fought in the first battle at Bullecourt on 11 April 1917 then went onto Messines.  He was sick in hospital for a period which meant he missed the worst of Passchendaele.  After rejoining the battalion they moved south to the Somme where he fought in the first battle at Dernancourt and received a wound to the head that kept him in Queen Mary's Hospital Sidcup for the remainder of the war.  The battalion briefly stopped at Ovillers Huts in April 1917 on the way to Bullecourt – a camp area that is now just across the road from us.

Frederick Bender enlisted in Australia on 21 February 1917 at the age of 39.  He joined his battalion in France on 28 April 1918.    His battalion moved to the Somme in August 1918.  He took part in battles at Harbonnieres, Lihons and Morcourt in August 1918.    Frederick was wounded in battle near Jeancourt on 18 September 1918 and then transferred to the Queen Victoria Hospital in Netley for the remainder of the war.

Wendy and Tony explored and saw a lot on their bicycles, but vowed to return one day, knowing that there is so much more to see here…

Frequent visitor Terry Whenham brought a family group who were tracing their ancestor Private Archie Sargeant of 7th Buffs who was killed in action in October 1917 near Gloster Farm. Terry took Martin Sargeant, his son and cousin to explore the area where young Archie fought on The Somme and also to the area where he was killed and then commemorated at Tyne Cot.  It was a poignant visit for the family. 

Steve Cottam is also a frequent visitor to No.fifty6, and brought with him the MacNab family who came to pay their respects for their ancestor who is buried in Ramillies Cemetery near Cambrai. 2nd Lieutenant Alec MacNab. Royal Field Artillery died 24 October 1918 aged 20, just a matter of weeks before the Armistice. Steve’s website is:

Bill Regan came with his friends Brian and Trish to visit the battlefields and pay respects to his Uncle - William Regan who served with the Royal Marines Light Infantry and died on 7th April 1918 fighting around Mesnil. He has no known grave and is remembered at the Pozieres Memorial. Some of William's RMLI comrades are buried in the beautiful Mesnil Communal Cemetery Extension and David took them to show the area where William died. Bill's father, also a Marine, was involved in the Zeebrugge Raid on HMS Vindictive, though never spoke much about it. 

Brian Janman  (who first visited us in 2016) came with his son Tom and nephew Adrian Janman to follow in the footsteps of their great uncle L/Cpl A. G. Janman of the Royal West Kent Regiment, who died in the Thiepval area, officially on September 27th 1916, (though this may have been 29thSeptember) while he and his platoon were defending a captured German position near the Schwaben Redoubt. He is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.  With David’s help and the research Brian had uncovered himself, they visited the area that was Paisley Avenue Trench which is likely where he died. The family found it a very emotional moment to stand near to the spot where their young ancestor was killed. 

As an aside, we are very lucky with the guests we have to stay and during their 2016 visit, the Janmans were here at the same time as a lovely couple from Australia, Mark and Catherine and the 2 families have kept in touch

Catherine wrote to us last week: “I have been researching our family since our 2016 visit and one of the most interesting things that I have discovered was that Mark had a great, great uncle, William John Clyde Kirkwood, who was killed at Pozieres on the 5th August 1916, he was in the 22nd Battalion, “C”company, he has no known grave and is remembered on the wall at Villers-Bretonneux.   Brian Janman has offered to lay a wreath for us at Villers-Bretonneux.”

It is wonderful that connections made across the no.fifty6 dining table endure and it is great that there is such a positive legacy to the Great War - bringing people together who might never have reason to meet.

The soldiers who came here, and either returned home or who still rest in the fields here, we are sure would be proud to know that their legacy is such a positive testimony to human kindness and compassion.

We will remember them.

Son et Lumiere

We have written in previous newsletters about the Pozieres Son et Lumiere. This is a spectacular show held over 2 weekends in July -  July 20-22 and 27-29 in a specially built open air theatrical setting in Pozieres.

This year there will be new scenes covering the Armistice, Animals in War, The Red Baron and soldiers with injured faces. We were asked to help with the voice sound recording for the show  - providing the English voices. Happy to oblige, we roped in our guests Rob Kirk, John and Kim Taylor (who have superb voices having worked in broadcasting) and Spencer (great voice too) who were all here to work at Lochnagar Crater for the annual working weekend there. We went along to a recording studio in Chateau Suzanne with the Chateau owner Clive Arzeian and the Son et Lumiere Artistic Director Julian, to record our voices from the scripts. It was a very interesting afternoon in amazing surroundings. So David’s voice and those of our guests will be used in the show  - how exciting! David is acting like a diva now though…

Chateau de Suzanne
Recording at Chateau Suzanne. 

Anyone here for those 2 weekends should go and see the show it is truly formidable (great French word).

 Website is:


Zeebrugge Raid Exhibition

Earlier in the month we went to the Zeebrugge Raid exhibition which is being held in Bruges. We love Bruges, so it was a good excuse to go and visit this beautiful Belgian city once again.  It is a wonderful exhibition with artifacts and the story of the April 1918 Zeebrugge Raid.

For the first time, all 11 Victoria Crosses awarded for the attacks on Zeebrugge and Ostend - on 23 April 1918 - have been united for display. It took our breath away to see them all. The exhibition in the Provincial Palace on the main market square in Bruges runs until the end of August. It really is worth a visit if only to see the 11 VCs together (no photos allowed) if you have the opportunity to visit Bruges.


Hawthorn Ridge Crater

Hawthorn Ridge Crater in Beaumont Hamel is now being looked after by the newly formed Hawthorn Ridge Crater Association (HRCA) led by historian Andrew Robertshaw. The Association will be leasing the site from the owner, the local council, on a 99-year lease. The objectives of the project are to improve the access for visitors, manage the upkeep, and protect the site for future generations. It is supported by Keele and Staffordshire Universities in the U.K, and using the services of experienced Great War archaeologists and historians in UK and France. The Crater is actually the result of 2 mine explosions one on 1 July 1916 and the second in November 1916.

The first phase of clearing undergrowth at the Crater  started in January and is ongoing and the access path to the Crater from the road has been widened and improved. The Association say visiting the site is, and will remain, open to the public at no cost to the visitor.


Lochnagar Crater

The weekend of 26/27 May was the annual working weekend at Lochnagar where Friends of Lochnagar come over to work at the crater to get it ready for the summer after the winter and spring. A group of about 50 volunteers made it and there was so much hard work done. The crater bowl itself was strimmed and raked, the hedges trimmed back, tree stumps removed, more memorial plaques put in, benches revarnished, paintwork retouched. New benches have been installed at the far side of the Crater by the Memorial Garden, perfect for school groups to gather there. Volunteers were shattered after hard labour during the day, and camaraderie by evening.   It was good to see young people as well as long standing Friends involved as  strimming and raking down the crater is a very physical job.

The Crater is now looking superb.

George and Vinny making the new benches

The New Space at No.fifty6

We have had great feedback about our new extended area (bigger than guests thought it would be) and with the summer temperatures this month the new terrace has been well used. We worried a little about losing the cosiness of the old dining room which lent itself to conversation and laughter but we are pleased to say the new area has it’s own charm and the exchange of stories around the table is just the same.

We said au revoir and not goodbye to Greg our builder who is now almost a part of the family. He will be back now and again as there are still a few little jobs to do but David is missing his morning croissant from Greg in exchange for a coffee and a crash course in Builders’ French. Ca roule ma poule.

We have been busy planting our tubs and baskets for the summer flowers in the front courtyard, as we love a riot of summer colour. The storms have not damaged the young plants too much! David is on the naughty step as he broke the lawn mower last week. Any excuse not to mow the grass! We will just have to get a goat.

 Animal Postscript

Our neighbours’ horses are back in the fields behind us and love to be fed any left over hard baguette. The bunnies are of course OK and love their carrot at bedtime. They survived the stormy weather, as did the chickens. Brigitte our old white mother hen is slowing down and takes herself to bed early but still looks after our 6 lovely new girls. Marge, Georgette, Elsie, Harriett, Edie and Florence are WONDERFUL!  They are always hungry and mug you for food whenever you go in the garden. They are very chatty as well - David has quite long conversations with them.  They are laying well with 6 yummy eggs most days, sometimes one has a day off but the eggs are always a welcome addition to no.fifty6 breakfasts. 

Monsieur the chicken farmer (who thinks we are crazy English and we think is crazy chicken farmer) came to see how they were getting on and said they were being well fed and looked great – he delivered us more chicken food and still thinks we are crazy as we have names for our chickens. The pecking order seems to have been established and all is peaceful now. Happy hens.

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Comments (20)

Gary James says:

Another great newsletter. The Son et Lumiere might coincide with the Swiss trip so may drop by. Will David be signing autographs after his voice over work.

David and Linda Brazendale says:

So hoping that as Rodney gets more mobile, we will be able to repeat our fabulous visit to No 56 - possibly 2020...there is nothing like planning ahead. Very best to you both, keep the news a-coming......x

Jon Hill says:

Always good to hear from you.
I like the fun spin on GDPR; is it at 45 rpm?

Tim Corcoran says:

Guys, it's always a pleasure to read the monthly article from No 56. Leisa and I are so looking forward to seeing you both again in August. Now you have provided us with more to do during our day visit to Bruges. Also, many thanks to you for the link for the commemoration service in Amiens; we were provided a contact at the Australian embassy in Paris who have allowed us to apply for tickets to the service in Amiens cathedral on 8th August for the 100th anniversary of the battle of Amiens. We were successful and are looking forward to it. See you both soon.

Tony and Wendy Dutton says:

Thanks again for making our stay at Number 56 a highlight of our holiday. Wonderful company and food. We departed with a wealth of knowledge about the battles in the Somme, and were able to travel in the footsteps of our grandfathers. We look forward to returning.

Trish and Brian (friends of Bill Regan) says:

We can't thank you enough for a wonderful stay. Your hospitality and generosity is second to none and, when we arrived, Bill had no idea that, thanks to David, he would leave having seen Mesnil where his uncle is believed to have died. Love Trish and Brian xx

Brian Janman says:

lovely to be back at NoFifty6 last week and enjoy David and Julies company again. many thanks to David, who, with the aid of his GPS enabled tablet computer with its in-built trench maps was able to guide me to within yards of where my Great Uncle L/Cpl Albert George Janman, C Company The Royal West Kent Regiment was killed defending a captured German trench on the Schawben Redoubt, September 29th 1916. n emotional moment.

Dennis J. Weatherall says:

Keep the news flowing, I find it refreshing to read about people still following their family history in the field. After 60 years (Australian Military - Navy) and almost 28 years as a battlefield guide (Guild Member Badge # 34) and military historian (Oz history). I've found a need in my 70's to hang up the boots and put the field kit permanently away in my foot locker. Health has been quite a problem this past 12 months, three heart attacks, just had my aorta valve replaced and a by-pass, so time to's time to eventually retire. Best regards, "The Weatherall Boys" - stayed with you in October 2015. Dennis, Darryn & Jarrod SYD Australia

Julie and Diva David says:

Indeed Keith - there were Notts and Derby boys here in May - you are not forgotten, you will just have to wait for the next newsletter which may have a Notts and Derby Special.
Julie and David

Colleen Watt says:

So looking forward to staying with you next year, after a little research on my pop's war history with the Northumberland Fusiliers. It was never divulged while he was alive, but I'm trying to learn whatever I can, and I think a little stay with you to explore the battle fields will be wonderful.

Keith Travers says:

Weren't there some Notts and Derby boys visiting?
Keith (Derby)

Karsten Lund says:

Unsubscribe?? No guys; you’re stuck with me.

Love reading the news from your lovely b&b

Simon Hunt says:

As usual a fantastic wealth of interesting information,keep the newsletters coming.
David a diva though - thought that was normal for him

Tim Pritchard-Barrett says:

It is always a pleasure to read news from No 56. After a lengthy period of staring into space I have a regenerated interest in taking tours regularly again and hope to return to you shortly. I will be in Albert next week but with a large group and hope there may be time to drop in to say hello.
I am concerned for David; as acting like a prima donna or the 'Maria Carey of The Somme', is DISTINCTLY worrying. Talking to chickens at length is confirmation...surely! Well done Julie for staying sane. I wish I had known that voices were needed earlier.
See you soon.

Pauline Symmons says:

Great newsletter as always. Looking forward to our visit at the end of June x

Mike and Kath says:

Another excellent monthly review. Fantastic job at Lochnagar and I'm so pleased to hear about the improvements at Hawthorn Ridge, it's one site I've yet to visit (I will). Translate: Ca roule ma poule . . . it rolls my hen. Mmmm???

gerald abbotts says:

Great news letter as usual, The terrace is looking good with ll the flowers, Can't wait to visit you again .

Gordon & Joana says:

Just awoken after an early morning session at the Churchill and delighted to ‘open up’ and read your news! Crikey, you must have been typing well into the night ... Reiterate Nick H (above): never thought to read ‘David’ and ‘diva’ in the same sentence - yeah, right! Love to both XX

Nick Hodgson says:

David acting like a diva? ...... nothing new there then!!!!! Ps Hope you are both well. X

Sally and Chris says:

Great news letter as usual. 56 looks fantastic. Lovely to hear all the news. Wish we could be there in person. X

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