October 2023 - Summer gives way to Autumn ….All The News from No.fifty6.
Posted on 31st October 2023 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
October– we normally talk of mellow mists and fruitfulness for an October Somme and while this is true for the last week, summer stubbornly held on for the first half of October with warm, sunny days and perfect light which is confusing Mother Nature. We kept saying the weather is bonkers. Guests were wearing shorts and sunhats and sitting on the terrace. Now though, the heating is on and it is time to get Autumn cosy. The farmers are busy – potatoes and sugar beet being harvested and already The Somme has a green coat of new crop carpeting its contours, compared with the deep brown of those that have just been ploughed and await the next sowing. There is a quality to the light in October which is very specific to the month. Lower sun means the light is more golden, softer, gentler, as if winter is being held back as long as possible. We have had some beautiful sunrises and sunsets too. The cover photo shows 3 deer on our walk this month in Ancre Heights.
As usual, there has been a lot going on this month and life at no.fifty6 keeps us busy but happy.
Knowing our love for poetry, one of our many guests this month put us onto this poem. “Ici Repose”.
Bill Pinfold visited with friend David Middleton. Bill wrote after his visit:
“I forgot to mention my second cousin, Bernard Freeman Trotter, given your interest in poetry. He and I share an ancestor from Thurlaston in Leicestershire and it was with the Tigers that he served as an officer. He died on the 7 May 1917. I visited his grave at Mazingarbe and have been fortunate to read some of his papers that are held in the archives at McMaster University.
My favourite of his all-too-few works is Ici Repose, written shortly before he died in a shell explosion.”
A little cross of weather-silvered wood,
Hung with a garish wreath of tinselled wire,
And on it carved a legend — thus it runs:
" Ici repose — " Add what name you will,
And multiply by thousands: in the fields,
Along the roads, beneath the trees — one here,
A dozen there, to each its simple tale
Of one more jewel threaded star-like on
The sacrificial rosary of France.
And as I read and read again those words,
Those simple words, they took a mystic sense;
And from the glamour of an alien tongue
They wove insistent music in my brain,
Which, in a twilight hour, when all the guns
Were silent, shaped itself to song.
O happy dead! who sleep embalmed in glory,
Safe from corruption, purified by fire, —
Ask you our pity? — ours, mud-grimed and gory,
Who still must grimly strive, grimly desire?
You have outrun the reach of our endeavour,
Have flown beyond our most exalted quest, —
Who prate of Faith and Freedom, knowing ever
That all we really fight for's just — a rest,
The rest that only Victory can bring us —
Or Death, which throws us brother-like by you —
The civil commonplace in which 'twill fling us
To neutralize our then too martial hue.
But you have rest from every tribulation
Even in the midst of war; you sleep serene,
Pinnacled on the sorrow of a nation,
In cerements of sacrificial sheen.
Oblivion cannot claim you: our heroic
War-lustred moment, as our youth, will pass
To swell the dusty hoard of Time the Stoic,
That gathers cobwebs in the nether glass.
We shall grow old, and tainted with the rotten
Effluvia of the peace we fought to win,
The bright deeds of our youth will be forgotten,
Effaced by later failure, sloth, or sin;
But you have conquered Time, and sleep forever,
Like gods, with a white halo on your brows —
Your souls our lode-stars, your death-crowned endeavour
The spur that holds the nations to their vows.
Bernard Freeman Trotter
Bernard’s story is told at:
and many of his letters home can be read at:
I have a copy of Bernard's poems that I will send over for you to have in your library.
Thanks again - I'll be back!”
With the weather so good this month (for the most part) we think October lived up to its ranking for us as one of the best months for visiting the battlefields. No high crop so the views are splendid, weather usually pretty good, and as we said above, with a beautiful quality to the light. Oh yes, and the history to see around here is not bad either! So we are pleased to have shared the month of October with our guests.
Terry and Richard made their second visit to us this year. From Eastbourne the gents are both interested in the history here and have been visiting the region for many years. Terry and Richard made the most of their visit in glorious weather, walking the fields, visiting old haunts.. They also took in the large Amiens Autumn Street Market and bought a few WW1 related items. Terry, knowing of David’s love for all things Titanic and TE Lawrence, left a special book for him - The Letters of TE Lawrence which was owned by the family of Bruce Ismay (chairman of The White Star Line of which Titanic was the most well known ship). Odd how 2 interests collide!
Tim and Deb Brown, regular visitors, bought friends Colin and Kim, and spent a wonderful weekend exploring. The evenings around our table were joyous and full of good conversation.
Colin, Kim, Tim and Deb on thier trip - Tim sporting his no.fifty6 cap.
As mentioned in the introduction Bill Pinfold came with friend David Middleton. They have researched the war dead of Bottesford and Muston and produced this book. Bill has also researched his family ties to The Great War - more on that next month. They ended their trip with a ride on Le Petit Train - part of the original narrow gauge on The Somme.
David with his book.
As October was the month of the Rugby World Cup we had Scotland represented by Elizabeth and Tosh from Edinburgh who had had a French adventure travelling around France watching the Scotland matches in the various venues. They had had a wonderful time, When they left us they were off to Paris for the final match Scotland were involved with. Bravehearts all the way.
Then The Irish Team were represented by Alan and Dermot from Dublin. They too had followed Ireland to all the RWC venues and spent a packed couple of days following the history of the Irish on the Somme, including the Irish shot at dawn soldiers. David took them on tour inspired by The Irish engagements here on the Somme which included the fields around Guillemont and Ginchy where the Leinsters and Munsters fought. Also a visit to Guilemont church where there are many memorials and plaques to the 16th Irish Division. We are just sorry the Irish RWC campaign came to an end when it did.
Heather and Malcolm came as they do each year from Colchester. Heather is the author of the book The Poppy Lady, the story of Anna Guerin, the lady who put the poppy on your lapel. Heather brought us some more copies of the book and sold signed copies to our guests. Fantastic! Heather and Malcolm also remembered their ancestors who fought here - more on them in next month's newsletter.
Jim and Carl (in cap) with Heather and her books.
Jim Harker came with his sister Julia, son Gary and friends Carl and Debbie. It was Jim’s first visit back since Covid and they made the most of the glorious weather and explored for long days and it was a great opportunity to catch us with The Harkers over the dinner table. Jim kindly donated a wonderful scrapbook of press cuttings taken from the newspapers during 1916. He found them in a sale and thought they deserved a wider audience here. The press cuttings provide an interesting insight into how the 1916 campaign was reported at the time. Have a look through it on your next visit.
The Press Cuttings Book 1 July 1916
Americans Wes and Candice (though Candice was born in South Africa) were escorted on a tour of many battlefields with Ian Rutherford their guide, The some being part of their European history adventure. The tour was a 40th birthday present for Wes who just loves history. He said no.fifty6 and The Somme was the perfect place to spend his special Birthday. Maybe the cake and fizz helped…
Mark Hallam spent a special weekend with wife Di and sons Mike and Paul. The boys had put the trip together for Father’s Day for Mark as they know how much he loves the battlefields and wanted to share their family history as a family. Mike flew in from San Francisco just for the weekend. It was so special having them all here as they followed in the footsteps of their great grandfathers.
Corporal Richard Chatten, service number 18358, served with 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, Notts & Derby Regiment.
Richard is Mark's Grandad and fought at the Somme from July to November 1916 fighting with the Canadians taking Mouquet Farm on 28th Sept 1916.
Private Leonard Isherwood service number 202407, 2nd/5th Manchester Regiment.
Leonard is Di’s Grandad and was younger than Richard. He was involved with the tactical withdrawal during the Spring Offensive and his Regiment blew the Peronne bridge over the Somme in the process.
The Hallam family with Julie and David.
Dennis and brother-in-law Bob came from Halifax, Nova Scotia to explore the Somme. They came to us via Sicily where Dennis’s father had come ashore during the Italian Campaign of WW2. A journey rich in emotion for them. They found The Somme so interesting, taking in not just Canadian points of interest and Vimy of course, but a real feel for all the events here. Bob left us with some commemorative Canadian coins depicting Canada’s involvement in WW1. They will be treasured.
The Canadian Commemorative Coins
David and Trish Taylor joined us for the first time, though they have visited the battlefields before as David has walked the ABF Charity Front Line walk on many occasions. He caught up with this years walkers in Normandy before coming to us, then catching up with the Western Front Walkers finishing in Ypres. It was an emotional visit for David in many ways, but we were so happy he stayed with us on his journey, even though he supports Birmingham City! The City connection means he had to visit Ovillers Cemetery and the grave of Captain Lauder, son of Harry Lauder who wrote “Keep right on til the end of the road” which has been adopted as the Blues anthem.
The 3 Musketeers Kurt, Julian and Colin made a return trip and spent the days field walking. Find of the visit was a Napoleonic French Cannon Ball weighing 16 pounds near Quadrangle Wood. A find confirmed by Mark Smith of the Antiques Roadshow who they bumped into at Thiepval.
Colin with Mark Smith and the Canonball. Photo courtesy of Colin Evans.
Pam and Jan Luyten made their first visit to us. Pam’s grandfather and great grandfather served in the War. Great grandfather John George McKnight from Sunderland, served with the 22nd Tyneside Scottish and was killed on the 1st July 1916 in the attack on La Boisselle in the land around Lochnagar. John has no known grave and is commemorated on Thiepval. He was 42. His son Tom, also served, first a s a pioneer in Salonika and then with the 3rd Border Regiment. Tom was wounded in the ankle, thigh and arm but survived the war. He went on to have Pam’s mother Bessie. Pam has discovered most of this history since her mother died at the age of 103. Pam was deeply moved as she visited the ground where her grandfather and great grandfather had fought, one paying the ultimate sacrifice, the other always scarred by the War. We will lay a wreath to John and Tom McKnight at Lochnagar on 11th November on behalf of Pam and Jan.
John George McKnight 22nd Tyneside Scottish 1 July 1916
Tom McKnight, Pam's grandfather.
So, you can see October has been a busy month and it has been wonderful sharing The Somme history with everyone.
To all those affected by War today, which seems worse than ever in modern times, to the lads who made it home and to those that stay close by to us, we salute you all.
Employee of The month
We reported last month that despite trying over nearly 11 years, David has never been Employee of the Month. Some of our guests were saddened by this, so on his visit, Jim Harker started a Facebook Campaign to get David the recognition he so badly craves. The deal was that if David was to get 1000 likes, he would be awarded this highest of honours. So always keeping our word, with the social media campaign really getting going, David made the benchmark and we are pleased to say he was crowned October Employee of the Month. We are so proud of him.
Guest Steve Cottam presented David with a BBC style news story with :
Breaking News: La Boisselle man wins Best Employee title for an unprecedented first time.”
Now take off your crown and back to beans and toast please David.
Thiepval Reopening Ceremony
On 21st October, a wet and windy day, we were invited to the official reopening ceremony of The Thiepval Memorial. The ceremony to mark the end of the restoration work, was due to have taken place in September 2022, but the chosen date fell in the official mourning period for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, so the ceremony was postponed.
It was good the reopening and 90th anniversary of Thiepval (completed in 1932) was marked in this way, with speeches and musical interludes. We hadn’t planned to, but recoded the ceremony on Facebook live. It can be viewed here.
The D929 which runs outside No.fifty6 has been closed between Pozieres and The Ibis Roundabout for much of October. The road is being resurfaced and improvements made to the junction at the bottom of the village by The Tyneside Seat. We alerted all our guests due to stay with us and everyone has managed to come and go without any problems, as local access has been allowed. We have got to know the workmen and bring them coffee in the mornings when they are working outside No.fifty6. Julie has now become an asphalt specialist. The work is due to finish next weekend (a week ahead of schedule).
Thoughts turn to commemorations for Armistice Day. We are full here of course for the 11th November period and we are sorry we cannot accommodate everyone who wishes to stay for this special period.
We have confirmed with our Maire, Christian, the events which will take place in our Commune on 11thNovember and we are planning the short service which will be held at Lochnagar Crater at 12 noon on 11th. Guest Stephen Benson has arranged an exhibition in the village hall on 11th November about the men of Cheshire and our Commune.
Here is the Commune programme of commemorations.
David’s October Joke:
As it was Trafalgar Day on 21st October…
Lord Nelson was about 5ft 6.
His statue is 17ft 4.
That’s Horatio of about 3:1.
All is well at no.fifty6. We hope to see you soon.
Rose hips and autumn light, Ancre Heights.