November 2023 News - All our News from The Somme
Posted on 30th November 2023 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.