November News from Number 56.
Posted on 30th November 2017 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
November – Where has this month gone? As usual there has been lots going on here. The weather has turned decidedly chilly, sometimes wet and 30th November we even had a snow shower. This hasn’t deterred those who wish to explore the area nor the work continuing at No.fifty6. As always, thank you to those who comment on the blog, send us emails, photos etc. The little community we have of guests who have been or are coming to No.fifty6 is unique and we are truly blessed to meet such wonderful people.
Happy Birthday No.fifty6.
On 23rd November 2012 we signed the papers in the Notaire’s office which meant that no.fifty6 was ours. We had packed up all our worldly goods in England and a road train delivered our belongings on a cold November day. We remember that first week. So apprehensive. So many boxes to unpack! So much to do! What had we done? What would become of us? Would we like our new life? Would we ever be ready to receive guests? Those 5 years have flown by in a flurry of activity, stories told, adventures had, new friends made. It has been a wonderful 5 years. Of course we have our moments when we could (and do sometimes) cry but it is joy that we feel most days. Joy that we live in such a beautiful region, joy that so many wonderful people come to stay and bring their stories, joy in French life, a real sense of community and finally joy in so much laughter that the walls of No.fifty6 have absorbed. So Happy 5th Birthday No.fifty6 - we hope there are many more birthdays to come.
The Somme never fails to surprise us and the stories we learn of the men who fought here just get richer and richer. It is almost as if the fields of the Somme want to give up their stories, little by little. As if the land whispers – “my story needs to be told now…”
John Ellis, Ray, Bob and Howard have stayed with us before but have always stayed in the summer – this time on David’s advice they came in November to see The Somme in its late autumn beauty and get a different perspective. They did not regret it and found it an enriching experience. These 4 friends are passionate about the men of Devon who fought in the Great War. John left us a copy of his book which he has written "Newton Abbott's Great War, Forgotten Times, Forgotten Men". Keen photographers they also enjoyed the different November light and made some early morning sorties to capture the dawn…
Colin and Jenny Caddy made their first visit. They came not really knowing what to expect. Colin knew he had a grandfather buried here in Pozieres, but beyond that, had few details. We were able to trace that Private W Caddy was with the Lancashire Fusiliers and died on 19th September 1916. He was involved in the attack to the North East of Mouquet Farm toward Courcelette. He was originally buried in a battlefield grave somewhere in the area near Regina Trench, but after the Armistice his grave was moved and he now lies in Pozieres Cemetery, a beautiful place. Colin was relieved to know more about his relative and has vowed to return one day… see, The Somme and it’s stories get under your skin.
At the end of the month Don Miller, his wife Denise and daughter Monique visited from Perth, Australia. Don had been to the Somme on a whirlwind trip before but this was Denise and Monique’s first visit. Don has 2 great grandfathers involved in the war. Lieutenant Roland Shaw of the 9th Cheshire’s was killed in February 1916 near Neuve Chappelle. He had been out with sappers examining German mine craters when he was killed. He is buried in Pont du Hem Cemetery. The other great Grandfather is Eric Miller who served with the 3rd Light Horse before transferring to 43rd Battalion AIF. Eric had a full war, joining up in August 1914; he was at Gallipoli and then The Somme and Ypres where he was wounded with a gunshot in October 1917. After hospitalisation and rehabilitation he returned to the front line and took part in the Battle of Le Hamel on 4th July 1918 when he was again shot and wounded. Though not fatal this ended his war service, as he was not fit to return to duty until after the Armistice. Don has Eric’s hand written diary of his time in the War. It is eloquent, full and rich with description and we are privileged to have read it. As David and the Miller family visited Le Hamel together on a personalised tour it made the event so much more the richer for everyone, seeing the landscape through Eric’s eyes – with its guns, planes, tanks, and thousands of men etched in the imagination. A description of a very different Somme dawn which is inconceivable today.
Lieutenant Roland Shaw
Laurie Peacock has visited the battlefields for many years with his friend Mike who we affectionately name The Gatwick Pals. On 30 November Laurie made a very special pilgrimage with his wife Jo, sister Julie and son Steve to commemorate Laurie's Great Unce who was killed 100 year ago on 30 November 1917. Young Cyril Wilson fought with the London Regiment, Civil Service Rifles and was killed in the attack on Bourlon Wood on 30 November. He has no known grave and is commemorated at the Louverval Memorial. We met up with Laurie and his family at the memorial as we too were there to remember a family member (more on that later). With snowflakes falling it was a very poignant moment. Laurie had planned to be here for many years on his ancestor's centenary. He and his family quietly remembered with pride the man, young Cyril, who had left his home to fight for a better world. And never came home.
We will remember them.
The Peacock family wreath for Cyril
Saturday 11th November was a very wet day. The house was full of those who wished to be involved in commemorations on Armistice Day. Julie met with our Mayor Christian beforehand to help coordinate events for the 11th as there was a lot of flower and wreath laying, children’s readings, songs and exhortations to be organised. Here in our Commune we met at 10.15 am at Ovillers War Memorial and visited every war memorial and cemetery in our Commune - 10 in number, including The Glory Hole. In procession, with umbrellas and raincoats, spurred on by pipers, it is truly a moving event to see both young and old of our village come out to pay respect, side by side with the British, and other nations who had come too. Refreshments and an opportunity to get together were held in the village hall over lunchtime. At 14.30hrs there was a short service at Lochnagar Crater, organised by Richard Dunning and the Friends of Lochnagar. Julie read a poem by guest Shirley Harvey, whose own Uncle was killed in action on 29th October 1917. A poignant part of the service was when 3 children placed 3 helmets signifying a French, British and German soldier on 3 iron crosses at Lochnagar. Those present were then invited to throw poppy and cornflower petals over these representations of the 3 nations who fought. After Lochnagar short services were held at Mametz Wood and as dusk fell, at Fricourt German cemetery. 11th November is always a very special day here.
Remembrance at OvillersLochnagar RemembersRemembrance at The Glory Hole (L'Ilot)
20th November 2017 saw the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Cambrai.
This battle often overshadowed by Ypres and the Somme, was an important battle with its plans to attack the German strongpoints at Bourlon Ridge and environs near Cambrai and weaken the German Hindenburg line. The Battle is known for the first mass use of tanks but we must also remember the high number of casualties on both sides. The Louverval Memorial commemorates the over 7000 allied missing of Cambrai who have no known grave. The battlefield is also dotted with cemeteries. Silent sentinels.
One man who died was Private Reginald William Sparkes of the 13th Essex Regiment. Young Reg was killed in the 13th Essex’s attack on Lock 5 of the Canal du Nord near Moeuvres on 30th November 1917. It was an heroic stand as the Companies involved ran out of ammunition and agreed to fight to the last. Reg has no known grave and is on the Louverval Memorial. Reg is Julie’s Great Uncle. Julie’s grandma Eva Sparkes was Reg’s sister. Eva vowed that if she had boys, they would be named for her brave brother. So Eva’s first 2 sons were called Reginald and William. Julie is proud that her dad was called Reginald – in honour of the young man who gave his life far from home and who now rests somewhere in a French field.
The Canal Du Nord near Moeuvres today
We attended the official commemoration at Louverval on 20th November, and laid a posy of flowers on the centenary of Reg Sparkes' death on behalf of our family on 30th November at his place of death near the Canal and at the Memorial. We will remember him.
The Louverval Memorial 30 November 2017
Various other commemorations have been held in Cambrai and continue through until 7th December, battle end. The new home for a tank called Deborah has been inaugurated at Flesquieres. This amazing old girl found after many years research and recovered from her buried location on the battlefield, is unique and is representative of all those early tanks and their brave pioneering tank designers and tank crews. Her new location is in a purpose built facility next to Flesquieres Hill British Cemetery where some of her tank crew are laid to rest, falling on the first day of the Cambrai Battle. We made an unofficial visit with the builders’ permission (Carpe Diem) for a sneak preview. It will be a wonderful addition to the Cambrai battlefields to have a permanent facility to see Deborah.
Deborah in her new homeThe entrance to Deborah's new home
Our friend, author and historian Andrew Rawson has written the next in his series of books covering all the major battles of the Western Front. It is called The Cambrai Campaign 1917, published by Pen and Sword, and is recommended.
Pozieres Son et Lumiere
Advance warning that the Pozieres Son and Lumiere show will be back July next year. This amazing biennial spectacular, unlike anything you have ever seen is truly magical. We went in July 2016 when the focus was on the Somme Centenary. The 2018 Son et Lumiere will cover the 1918 battles and the Armistice. This really is a must see. We will never forget the night we went in July last year watching a truly magical, poignant theatrical spectacular under the skies of Pozieres. Tickets go on sale in January and we will keep you posted. The dates are: 20,21,22 and 27,28,29 July 2018.
Stop Press – this week we have moved into our new quarters! After 5 years in our bedroom we have now moved (like Deborah tank) into our purpose built new lodgings. It is wonderful to have more space!!! Greg our builder has done a wonderful job. Oh what fun we had getting our bed up through the outside of the building across the balcony into the new bedroom. David still bears the scars.
Now Greg has started ripping out our old bedroom which will be completely overhauled – including a brand new ensuite shower room to become a guest room by the time we have new guests in early 2018. We are already arguing about what the new room should be called. We are so glad we will at last have a room for guests on the ground floor for those who cannot climb stairs.
And at long last, the verandah (conservatory area for the new dining room) has started. The framework was put up on 28th November in pouring rain. The roof will go on 7th December and then a little after that the glass front and sides, before internal fit out. Petit a petit l’oiseau fait son nid.
Winter covers have been put on the animal quarters and Rita tries to sneak into the garden room when she can. The rabbits are still partial to a comb and lap stay if any guests are willing. Our pampered chickens and rabbits are always the stars here. Sam Gascoyne frequent, lovely guest even bought grapes for the girls and a packet of mixed vegetables for the bunnie boys. David got…nothing. Just how we like it.