November 2023 News - All our News from The Somme

Posted on 30th November 2023 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

November 2023 News - All our News from The Somme

November, November, where did you go? The month has past by here in a blur of activity.

So, what has been going on this November? The cover photo is of a rainbow over Grove Town Cemetery after a storm.

The weather has been wet, wet, wet! The wettest November we can remember for ages. Oh, and not forgetting Storm Ciaran who blew in with a savage intensity. Luckily, no damage here, but the Pas De Calais just North of us, has seen some of the worst flooding for a generation. Storm Ciaran also blew down some of the large trees in Newfoundland Park.

 Newfoundland Park

We have had the occasional, chilly, blue-sky day thrown in and even our first frosts of the Winter. The light has sometimes been exquisite, the rain bringing clouds and rainbows and the mists bringing a surreal, ethereal beauty as we look across our beautiful landscape. Still the farmers toil, the tractors clogged with mud, deep ploughing and reseeding in evidence. Final crops such as sugar beet have been collected. The landscape while the same, changes its quilt for winter, already a green hue from new seedlings.

 Misty landscape with Longueval Road Cemetery

What poetry has inspired us this month?

Well, there are so many poems we love which help convey a mood, a feeling, a landscape, a loss. But this poem spoke to us this month as we thought – what must it have been like to make it through to Armistice Day and stand in the trenches. Here one poet describes that:

November Eleventh by Hilmar Baukhage

We stood up and we didn’t say a word,
It felt just like when you have dropped your pack
After a hike, and straightened out your back
And seem just twice as light as any bird.

We stood up straight and, God! but it was good!
When you have crouched like that for months, to stand
Straight up and look right out toward No-Man’s-Land
And feel the way you never thought you could.

We saw the trenches on the other side
And Jerry, too, not making any fuss,
But prob’ly stupid-happy, just like us.
Nobody shot and no one tried to hide.

If you had listened then I guess you’d heard
A sort of sigh from everybody there,
But all we did was stand and stare and stare,
Just stare and stand and never say a word.

Hilmar Baukhage enlisted with the US Army in May 1918. Fluent in French and German and working as a journalist for the Army newspaper ‘Stars and Stripes’, he was in a unique position to document the First World War.

 Hilmar Baukhage

November Guests

We have had a wonderful mélange of guests this month, some visiting for the first time, others who are frequent guests. 

As the month turned from October to November we had frequent guest and friend Terry Whenham with friend Jon and their guest Fred Dudley, who was following in the footsteps of his father Herbert Dudley. It is unusual to have a direct descendant of a soldier who fought here – Fred Dudley was born in 1940 and for many years his father did not talk about the War. Fred does have his father’s personal effects from his period of military service. It was a very emotional pilgrimage for Fred, seeing the landscape first hand where his father Herbert suffered and witnessed so much.

Herbert Dudley enlisted as a Private with the 2nd Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment in 1915 and arrived in France on 31 May 1916.  He was involved in the horrors of The Battle of The Somme, attacking the village of Contalmaison -  surviving when many of his comrades didn’t.  In October 1916 Herbert was holding a position at Rainbow Trench on the Le Transloy Ridge suffering in the most dreadful weather conditions, not unlike what we have been experiencing recently. In the cold, wet, mud of the trenches, Herbert caught dysentery and trench foot and found himself in a military hospital. While recuperating he applied for a commission and became a 2nd Lieutenant and joined the 7th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment and returned to France, serving right through the rest of The War. For the rest of his life he suffered from the effects of gas and pneumonia.

 2nd Lieutenant Herbert Dudley

After Fred’s personal pilgrimage on the battlefields, Fred came back to No.fifty6 where Terry interviewed him to get his reminiscences of his father Herbert. The interview can be heard in one of Terry’s podcasts – “Tales from The Battlefields”.

  Terry with Fred at no.fifty6 as Fred talks about his father Herbert.

We had a house full for Armistice weekend with everyone taking part in the commemorative events. Warren and Mel brought Sheila with them, all longtime supporters of Lochnagar. Stephen and Lynn Benson came, with Stephen putting together a special exhibition for Armistice in our Village Hall. Colleen our dear friend from Kent  and our Essex/Herts wonderful boys Paul, Jim & Clive came too. A wonderful chance to catch up with everyone.

At the end of the evening on Armistice we all visited a floodlit Thiepval Memorial, shining like a beacon in the dark night. Special moments shared as we remembered those whose names are etched on the walls of this edifice of loss.


The Hawthorn Crater guys Terry, Rick and Dane popped in to see us while they were over to work on the Crater and carry out commemorative events. Always a pleasure to see them.

Stuart and Jeremy led a special Battlefield Landscape Photography Course  – a first for us here - the landscape perfect for autumnal photography, with many moody skies and great light thanks to the rain.

James (@GreatWarGeek) and friend Rob walked the tracks of the Somme, and though not a first time Somme visitor, a first-time guest of ours, Kevin Price from Norwich also spent many a hour and kilometre walking the muddy tracks. The Somme weaving its magic on the soul.

We ended the month with a group of Old Cheltenham College chums on a battlefield pilgrimage. Their first visit, and we are sure it won’t be their last.

Armistice Day

Armistice Day is a national holiday in France and events always take place on the day, rather than Remembrance Sunday. This 11th November, we joined our Maire and many villagers at all the sites of remembrance at  Ovillers and La Boisselle. We think our Commune is unique in that we visited 8 places of remembrance, walking solemnly between each site, accompanied by bagpipes.   Thoughts  of course turned to those suffering in Ukraine, Gaza and Israel.

 Jim, Paul and Clive lay the wreath at Ovillers Military Cemetery

We then held a service at Lochnagar Crater, led by Julie on behalf of Richard Dunning, and filmed by David.

Afterwards, at the Village Hall as we shared “Une Verre D’Amitie” a Drink of Friendship, Stephen Benson was on hand to discuss his exhibition of soldiers who died in Ovillers La Boisselle.  It was very well received, adding faces and names to the men we had just remembered.

Then later in the afternoon, we paid homage to Harry Fellowes in Mametz Wood before finishing at the German Cemetery in Fricourt. A full day of remembrance.

 Alan and Karsten lay the wreath at Fricourt German Cemetery  - they came especially for the day to join us, Alan from Portsmouth, Karsten from Denmark.

We Will Remember Them.

Rededication of Company Sergeant Major David Parfitt

On a wet November morning we attended the rededication service of Company Sergeant Major David George Parfitt at Regina Trench Cemetery. CSM Parfitt had lain as a Canadian “Known Unto God”, for over 100 years but after extensive research it was accepted by CWGC that this was his grave.

Serving with the 8th Battalion Canadian Infantry he died on 26th September 1916.  What was particularly poignant was that  current Canadian Military soldiers had flown over for the rededication. They were from the Winnipeg Rifles which was CSM Parfitt’s own battalion. Each knelt at his grave and laid a Canadian poppy, their uniforms soaked by the rain.

Rest easy soldier, you have been found.

   At the grave of CSM Parfitt.

Happy 11th Birthday No.fifty6

 On 22nd November 2012 our removal lorry pulled into the gates of what was to become No.fifty6 all the way from England, and a very excited, apprehensive and daunted Julie and David signed the papers for this special place on 23rd November 2012. So this month we have celebrated our 11th No.fifty6 anniversary.

When we think back to what we have learned, what we have achieved, the friendships and connections we have made, the soldiers we have remembered, the personal growth we have undertaken in those 11 years, it is almost too much to comprehend. We also remember friends who we have made who are no longer here – “To Absent Friends.” So thank you to everyone who has helped us make this the place it is today. We couldn’t have achieved all we have in 11 years without your loyal support.

Roadworks Completed

We are pleased to report the roadworks outside our door are now completed and the road reopened in Armistice week. A good job done. The workmen appreciated the supplies of coffee so we think the tarmac outside No.fifty6 is particularly smooth. 

David’s November Joke

Storm Ciaran has blown the roof off our local cheese farm. There’s de brie everywhere.

All is well at No.fifty6. Be safe. Stay well. Keep smiling. See you soon.


Comments (22)

Jackie Rose says:

Another wonderful newsletter. Beautifully written and so descriptive; I can just picture us back there with you. Thank you for all you do to honour the memory of so many fallen soldiers. Truly wonderful. Brian & Jackie

Jennifer Iles says:

Another great newsletter - thank you. Fabulous photographs of the local landscape.

Jane says:

A happy 11th anniversary to you both. I have only just got round to reading this newsletter so interesting as always and I will go over and listen to the podcast as soon as I can.

Gary James says:

Thanks for the newsletter. Great to see another soldier has a known headstone in Regina Trench Cemetery. Congratulations on 11 years.
Keep safe and well. See you in 2024

John Mepham says:

Thanks for sharing the pics of the rededication for Sgt/Major Parfitt ????
Happy 11th anniversary and 56 certainly will always hold a special place in this Canadians heart!
Stay safe you two!

Janet and Ian says:

Hi Julie and David, as aways a wonderful newsletter, as busy as ever, particularly liked the poem . Congratulations on 11 years, here's to a few more. Have a great Christmas and New Year.

Tim Brown says:

Congratulations on your 11th anniversary. Number56 is not just our Oasis on the Somme, it holds a special place in the hearts of so many. Julie and David thank you for the past 11 years and here's to many more. See you in January, have a lovely Christmas.

Neil Mackenzie says:

Many congratulations on 11 years of running the best place to stay. Have a great Christmas.

Heather and Malcolm J says:

Another lovely newsletter, thank you both. Well done on reaching 11 years at No.56 - here's to many more years of being able to visit you at your "Oasis on the Somme" !! xx

Susan Anneveldt says:

Congrats on your 11th anniversary! I thought of you recently when I saw a report on BBC One's "The One Show" where they featured the life of Arthur Fred Whitrod who was killed 7th July 1916 during an attack on Ovillers la Boisselle. His family are preserving his memory.

Roy Drakeford says:

Congratulations on your 11years Julie and David,always a pleasure to read your stories especially this one about Herbert Dudley as my great uncle was also killed in the battle of Transloy, and remembered on the adenda panel at Thiepval,
Anyway hope the both of you have a wonderful Christmas and a well deserved rest
Thank you

sandy biback says:

Happy 11th anniversary & a zillion more years of bringing joy & history to others

Randy James says:

Thanks again for the always uplifting newsletter! July and November must always be very special months with all the events and remembrances. And a Happy 11th as well to No.56.

Graham Taylor says:

Hi Julie and David

A great read as always. Congratulations after 11 years on the Somme. Merry Christmas from the DLOY boys and hope to visit again soon.

Pam &Jan Luyten , says:

Hi ,Julie and David ,
Wow what a busy November it’s been for you both,still looking for your well earned break ,I hope you manage it soon,
Such an interesting read ,some very poignant moments ❤️.
Lovely that you put the time in to do this wonderful news letter ,I’m sure I’m not the first to say that, hope you will always find some time to write a few lines ,
Congratulations on your 11years in No56 ,time must have flown for you both ,with all your guests and what knowledge you put into helping everyone ,care,and kindness ,thank you ,So pleased we met you in October this year ,we would hope to visit again ,but we have distance and age against us now ,????????
Have a Wonderful Christmas best wishes for all you desire in 2024 ,
Love Pam and Jan xx????????????????

Ian Campbell says:

Great to read this newsletter for the first time, and so looking forward to seeing you both again next August. Have a wonderful blessed Christmas and happy New Year, but David - those jokes. ????

Tricia Rothwell says:

Lovely newsletter as always. Particularly enjoyed the photos this month

Mark Hallam says:

Always beautifully written. Have I ever told you I Love that place!

Gordon & Joana (and Mary) says:

Happy Christmas everyone ..! Congrats on your 11th anniversary. And equal congrats on the roadway - well done lads!

Les Mepham says:

December greetings! Really enjoyed Fred’s story. A busy month indeed but I’m sure it’s your favourite time of the year like the rest of us who continue to honour the fallen.

Congratulations on your 11 years! Many more to come too! Wishing you both a wonderful holiday season!

Frances & Mike Speakman says:

Thank you both for all the news, always a joy to read together with lovely photos. Keep warm and safe this winter and have a lovely Christmas xx

David Ellis says:

Hi Julie and David. Lovely to receive your latest newsletter. The poem is lovely. I’m very upset to hear about the storm damage in Newfoundland Park! No doubt it will all be repaired and cleaned up. Congratulations on the no.fifty6 11th anniversary! Counting the days until April! Have a lovely Christmas! ????

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