November, The Start of Winter, Remembrance and More, News from No.fifty6
Posted on 30th November 2020 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
November, it’s as if the clocks changing strikes a chime to wake winter up from its slumbers and start to wrap its cold arms around autumn. Gradually as the month has gone on it is getting chillier, with freezing fog over this last weekend, but the first part of the month has been mild with some blue-sky days – just one ground frost so far and not too many grey wet days. This poem by Edward Thomas, who died in the fields of France in 1917 evokes the month so well…
November’s days are thirty:
November’s earth is dirty,
Those thirty days, from first to last;
And the prettiest thing on ground are the paths
With morning and evening hobnails dinted,
With foot and wing-tip overprinted
Or separately charactered,
Of little beast and little bird.
The fields are mashed by sheep, the roads
Make the worst going, the best the woods
Where dead leaves upward and downward scatter.
Few care for the mixture of earth and water,
Twig, leaf, flint, thorn,
Straw, feather, all that men scorn,
Pounded up and sodden by flood,
Condemned as mud.
But of all the months when earth is greener
Not one has clean skies that are cleaner.
Clean and clear and sweet and cold,
They shine above the earth so old,
While the after-tempest cloud
Sails over in silence though winds are loud,
Till the full moon in the east
Looks at the planet in the west
And earth is silent as it is black,
Yet not unhappy for its lack.
Up from the dirty earth men stare:
One imagines a refuge there
Above the mud, in the pure bright
Of the cloudless heavenly light:
Another loves earth and November more dearly
Because without them, he sees clearly,
The sky would be nothing more to his eye
Than he, in any case, is to the sky;
He loves even the mud whose dyes
Renounce all brightness to the skies.
Edward Thomas 1878-1917 (in his uniform below).
November is always a reflective time for us, not just because of the anniversary of Armistice but it is the month we moved to No.56 in 2012, so 21st November saw our 8th Birthday here. We reflect on how much we have seen, learned, the people we have met, how our lives are so much richer for it. So happy 8th Birthday No.56.
The farmers continue to work hard, the last of the harvests are in, there has been ploughing and reseeding, the fields already have a soft green glow of new growth. The agricultural wheel never stops turning.
Despite having no guests again this month and a tough lockdown here, we are always occupied. We are feeling hopeful that next year will bring good things, our diary is getting bookings as familiar faces wish to visit the battlefields. We know as much as we miss you, you miss the special place that is The Somme and the secrets it contains which pull people back.
Covid 19 Update
Things change so quickly with Covid but we hope it is useful for us to update on the current situation in France. France remains on the UK’s travel ban, with a need to quarantine on return to UK if you visit France. There is currently no reciprocal quarantine in France. There is talk in the UK to reducing the quarantine to 5 days if you pay for a private test from an approved supplier, on your return to UK.
For all of November we have been in strict lockdown so have only been allowed out for exercise within a 1km radius of our front door for a maximum of 1 hour. This has been tough, our wings to explore clipped, but we have walked daily to either Ovillers, Lochnagar, Gordon Dump Cemetery or other places around the village.
The Covid case numbers across France are improving and now below 10K cases per day, and the ICU capacity in the hospitals is also improving. The R number for France as a whole is now 0.56. Figures are much better than the national average here on The Somme, though Lille and the area around the Belgian border remains a higher rate cluster.
From Saturday 28th November lockdown has been slightly eased. Shops have opened and our allowable exercise has been increased to a 20kms radius from home for a maximum of 3 hours. We cheered when President Macron announced it. It means we can visit our favourite places and walk without worrying about time or distance. Our walks will have a new vigour. 20kms feels like freedom even though we still have to have signed paperwork - an attestation giving the reason for being out - with us.
If numbers continue to improve, there will be a further deconfinement on 15th December, with the 20kms and 3 hours removed and ability to travel anywhere within France, though there will be a curfew everywhere between 21h and 7h.
Bars, restaurants and cafes are remaining closed until at least 20 January 2021 dependent on the Covid figures. The hospitality industry is hit particularly hard.
A vaccine programme, once the frontrunning vaccines have been approved, will commence in January on a priority basis agreed by The French Government.
So, for us, we know it will continue to be a hard winter, but we gradually get more freedom to explore and we make good lockdown buddies for each other. We hope the good news about cases dropping and effective vaccines continues so that in the spring we see green shoots of recovery alongside nature’s green shoots...
Lockdown meant a very different 11th November for everyone this year. In the days leading up to the 11th we visited Ovillers Military Cemetery and Gordon Dump Cemetery, both within our 1km walk. At both sites of Remembrance, we laid crosses for those who had contacted us requesting we remember a special someone, which we were happy to do on their behalf, with short Facebook lives bringing the Somme to those who couldn’t be here.
Then it was a wistful Richard Dunning who contacted us about Lochnagar. For the first time in 45 years he was not able to be at the Crater - a place very close to his heart and that he has lovingly respected for nearly half a century. So, on Richard’s behalf we agreed with our Maire Christian Bernard that there could not be an official cemetery but that we would lay a symbolic wreath and gerbe (French red white and blue flowers) on behalf of everyone. So, on our allowable walk, we stopped with Christian at La Boisselle Monument Aux Morts and laid a wreath there before walking to The Crater. There, our neighbour Real and his wife Arlette Delplanque, long term friends of Richard, laid the wreath after an introduction by Julie. To our surprise and delight, Cyrille Delplanque had also come along in his piper’s uniform and played The Flowers of The Forest on the bagpipes. Andy Lines, Daily Mirror journalist, based in France, also came to cover it for the paper showing that even in lockdown, simple acts of remembrance have a special significance. We read the names of French, Commonwealth and German names of those lost in the War – just a few – to represent everyone. The flowers and wreath were laid and a minute’s silence.
We know many people stopped both on Remembrance Sunday and 11th November to quietly remember. Our own doorstep remembrance on Remembrance Sunday was captured by The Mirror online photographer. But it is not about us, it is about remembering. Something we do every day.
Which brings us on to a general offer. If anyone would like us to remember an individual here on The Somme, particularly as we can now travel 20 kms, we are happy to visit Thiepval or a memorial or grave on The Somme on your behalf and take a photo. It is something we have always quietly done and happy to continue, seeing as you cannot be here at the moment.
Here are links to the short films we did live from Gordon Dump, Ovillers and Lochnagar.
ABF The Soldiers’ Charity - Walk and Book
Regular guest and friend Terry Whenham is an ambassador for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and he has been an integral part of The Frontline Walks, which every year raise money for this great charity. With no walk this year due to Covid, the charity has produced a wonderful book all about the walk and some of the personal stories which make it such a unique event and charity. Terry co-authored the book.
We have a copy and it is magnificently produced, easy to dip into and has some inspiring and poignant stories. Great photos too. 100% of proceeds from book sales go to the charity. A bargain at £18. It can be ordered from the following link. It would make a great Christmas Gift for anyone interested in The Great War and ongoing Remembrance.
Marge and Flo, our 2 remaining hens, our old girls, are doing OK after a period of moulting (normal for November) they are now plump and feathery again (there is probably a word for that) and have even started laying again. So happy hens, who are tucked up in bed by 5pm now. The wild bird feeders are also kept full for our regular garden visitors who are numerous.
Shere the cat is fine too. He has his sunny, sheltered corners to survey his estate. Or even the tank. Still taps up David to keep his food bowls full.
But the cat star this month is a black and white cat who has become a media star in Albert. Pirate, as he has been named, was found abandoned near Aveluy Wood and despite the best efforts of the lady who adopted him, he likes to explore, rather than stay at home. He can be found walking round Albert town centre where the shopkeepers know and welcome him. He pops in for a rest on a cushion or food of course. He now has his own Facebook page – Pirate The Globe Trotting Cat. The other day he was found in Lidl! He covers several kilometres a day and he has caught the imagination and cheered up the people of Albert and surroundings during lockdown.
All is well at No.fifty6. Be safe. Stay well. Stay cheerful. Look after each other. Better things are around the corner.