October News from The Somme

Posted on 31st October 2017 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

October News from The Somme

October – One of our favourite months with a certain lady at No.fifty6 having an October birthday and we cannot believe the weather this month. Warm, sunny days for most of October with many guests making the most of the last sunshine, exploring then sitting in the garden with afternoon drinks. And as always, there has been plenty to keep us on our toes this month. Thank you to those who comment on the blog, send us emails, photos etc. We never thought when we started No.fifty6 we would meet so many wonderful people who have enriched our lives in countless ways. 1st November in France is Toussaint - All Saints Day - the day families remember the dead and civilian cemeteries are filled with pretty flowers. It is a holiday here, so Bonne Fete!   

Chere Cosette

Just as a postscript to last month’s death of Cosette. We are sad to report that after opening temporarily the little shop has again closed, as the baker could not make it pay. You see - it wasn’t just the baguettes and the little bonbons, the shop WAS Cosette. But given time things may change again, our Mayor and local council will be discussing if there is a solution to keep the shop open and has canvassed opinion from the inhabitants here. Certainly, we miss Cosette and the shop – somehow the bread from everywhere else is just not as nice?!

Personal Pilgrimages

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…”

In early October Margo, an American living in Germany came with her 2 American friends John and Jenny. They visited the battlefields with David and were amazed at the scale and sadness evident here. John is a writer and his and Jenny’s story of life with their dog was the bestseller Marley and Me – later a film. John writes: thank you so much for making our time in The Somme so pleasant and deeply meaningful. Your hospitality was unparalleled, your delicious breakfasts the best of our travels, and of course, your insights into the war eye-opening and heart-rending for us all. David, your tour was like taking a miniature university class, but even better as we were able to stand on the ground where it all took place one hundred years ago.

Paul and Janet Jeffery visited for the first time. Janet has researched her family and has a great Grandfather, George Darling in Hangard Communal Cemetery. With David, they walked the ground where George fought in the spring of 1918 in the battle for Villers Bretonneux and the tricky line near Hangard Wood. Janet was moved to be able to visit the place he fought and died and his final resting place. Another bridge made across nearly 100 years of unanswered questions. Then, back in the bosom of no.fifty6 we discussed many things around our table –Janet and Paul are medieval re-enactors and we discussed the finer points of medieval cooking, siege warfare and early guns!

Martin Oestreicher contacted us about a Pilgrimage he wanted to make with his father, Paul and sisters Barbara and Nic. Paul’s father, also Paul Oestreicher had fought with the German army in the Bavarian Field Artillery and saw service on The Somme. The family have sponsored a plaque for Paul to remember his service and wanted to visit to see it in situe. After his service with the German Army Paul went back to Germany but in 1938 he and his young family had to flee the Nazis. They went as refugees to New Zealand where they lived for many years, before moving to England. Paul junior has had a varied and fulfilling life as a priest, conflict resolution and reconciliation advocate – becoming chairman of Amnesty in the Seventies.  Our thoughts turned to why it seems almost impossible for man to live in peace. As conflicts across the world continue and new refugees are created in great numbers.  Do we never learn?

 Paul Oestreicher and the Bavarian Field Artillery

Bushra and Robyn Hamid visited wanting to know more about Frank Leonard Kemsey-Bourne who served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 11th Royal Warwickshires. Frank is a relative on Bushra’s mother’s side of the family. Bushra had picked us to stay with at random and David took them out in Frank’s footsteps. When we researched Frank we discovered he had fought very near to us, having been in Sausage Valley and fighting on the La Boisselle- Contalmaison Road and being killed somewhere near Contalmaison Wood. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. Bushra reflected on his relative, leading his men from the front, probably terrified, knowing they were facing stiff resistance. Just the noise alone on those fields now so peaceful, then terrifying.  Frank is not forgotten.

The Green Family visited from Cheltenham. Stephen Green has 2 great uncles who died on the Western Front as well as other relatives who fought and survived. Norman Green with the Seaforth Highlanders as a Machine Gunner died in the Armentieres sector in September 1916 and is buried in Bailleul. Hugh Bowditch, with the Civil Service Rifles was fatally wounded in the Battle of Cambrai and the attack on Bourlon Wood on 30 November 1917. He was taken to a Casualty Clearing Station but died 2 days later and is buried in Rocquigny-Equancourt Cemetery. Stephen and Fiona came with their 3 children one of whom is also called Hugh. They found it an emotionally challenging trip as keys to doors past were opened.

James (Jim) Harker is a regular visitor to No.fifty6 and makes several pilgrimages to The Somme each year. Like us, The Somme is never far from Jim’s thoughts. Jim works as a furniture restorer and a while ago someone came into his workshop and said they had found a bottle of beer, a note and a killed in action letter in an old chest of drawers, relating to the War. Knowing of Jim’s interest they gave the items to him. The killed in action letter was for Samuel Bentley, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment who died 26th July 1916 and is buried in Lonsdale Cemetery, between No.fifty6 and Thiepval. The bottle of beer, made a 100 years ago in an old glass bottle with string round the cork just had a handwritten note with it. “Welcome home Sam, love Mum”. Lovingly made by a mother for the son who never came back through her kitchen door? She had kept it, along with the news of his death, hidden in a cupboard, never bearing to throw it away. Jim and his partner Paula wanted to reunite Sam with his mother’s present. So we held a short cemetery at his graveside with Jim and Paula and 2 lovely boys Charlie and George Cayley who were also staying with us that week with their parents. Jim retold the story, telling Sam that he is not forgotten, what his mother had done, and pouring a bottle of beer over his grave. We laid a poppy cross and said the exhortation followed by a moment's silence.   So Sam Bentley got his beer and we hope he and his mother rest in peace. As we left the cemetery a rainbow came out. A beautiful moment. 

A short video of our visit to Samuel Bentley:



We will remember them.


 Journey’s End by R C Sherriff

On 11th October we were invited to the Gala Night of Journey’s End. Mesh Theatre are reviving the classic play, live in the battlefields at the historic Kruitmagazijn (Ammunition Store) close to Ypres Station. Performed in English the play runs to 12 November 2017.

As the Director Sally said at the start of the play, “here in this band of soldiers, are ALL soldiers.”

 It is an intimate play about relationships in war, how men react in extraordinary circumstances. It is emotional, highly-charged and speaks across the years.  There is a new film adaptation of the play due to hit cinemas in 2018.

If you do get a chance to see the play – please do.  It has been positively reviewed in The Telegraph. Mesh Theatre plan to bring the production to Thiepval Church here on The Somme next autumn.

 The Journey's End set, in the ammunition dump



Further details: http://www.meshtheatre.com/tickets.html


We have been helping the Mayor of Pozieres (our friend Bernard), and Australian Mike Lee, trace the line of OG2 trench, as this will be signposted on the Pozieres Memorial Park. The grassed area has been cut back to show the line of the trench.  Further works to the Park will happen in the spring of next year.

 A low hedge will be installed soon around the War Animal Memorial to protect it from the winter winds.

 David and Mike at site of OG2

Villers Bretonneux

CWGC write:

Work on the Sir John Monash Centre, to be located at the Australian National Memorial near Villers-Bretonneux in the Somme, commenced in January 2016 and will continue through to the official opening of the Centre in April 2018. During this period, there may be short periods of disruption to visitors at the site and the adjacent CWGC Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery. As part of the works, the Australian National Memorial will be also cleaned and refurbished. Over the winter months from 14 November 2017 through to mid-February 2018, temporary scaffolding will be placed and the tower closed. However, visitors will still be able to visit the Villers-Bretonneux Cemetery and view the Commemorative Wall. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

 November 11th

For anyone coming to The Somme for 11th November each village will be commemorating the 99th Armistice. It is a national holiday here. In Ovillers La Boisselle we will be starting at 10.15 at the Ovillers War Memorial before visiting every war memorial/cemetery in our Commune (9 places of pilgrimage), and there will be a service at Lochnagar Crater at 2.30pm.

For those who have visited Lochnagar recently and seen the new information boards, we are pleased to report that the boards that had suffered badly from print lifting off due to problems with the printing process and the exposed nature of the weather at Lochnagar, the boards with faults have been replaced by the printer. 


Trumpets sound and angels sing….our kitchen worktop has been delivered. Ta-dah. All the frustration melts away as we hug our new worktop. We love you.  Now safely installed and the kitchen is now FINISHED – drumroll please.

Heating has been installed and the outside of the building has been repointed and painted. It is ready to go. We just need to find the time to move in.

Now…we await the verandah (conservatory) link which will be the new dining room which was scheduled for installation mid September -  but the manufacturers tell us is being lacquered in the factory.  Any day now….

 Enfin, the new No.fifty6 kitchen

Animal Postscript

The horses are going into stable in the far field ready for the winter. The chickens have enjoyed the sunshine and getting spoilt by grape-giving guests. The rabbits have been moulting, getting their fur ready for winter. They too receive treats of carrots and dandelions from guests.

We get the feeling it is going to be a cold winter as there have been so many berries on the trees the garden birds have been fattening up.

David THe Horse Whisperer

 PPS Fancy a Tattoo?

Of all the things – for anyone feeling in need of a tattoo on their visit – Albert has a new Tattoo Shop – El Diablo – where the tattoo artist we are told, has turned his hand from being a book illustrator to a tattoo artist with a love for the history here. So if anyone wants a permanent souvenir…  

Comments (15)

Kathy Smyth says:

Such a lovely lot of visits, tributes and services this Autumn, David.

It was great to read it all. I loved especially the Samuel Bentley memorial as well as the story of the Beer that was thrown over the soldiers grave from his Mum's old bottle. What a wonderful idea for that to be done. K

Gary James says:

Another great newsletter. Nice tribute to Sam Bentley.
Glad the kitchen is finished. Look forward to seeing it next year.

Jon Hill says:

Always good to catch up with your news. It enthuses me to plan another visit sometime. The update on OG2 was interesting - a great project.

Dot & Rodger Humphries says:

We just love to read your newsletters & realise what a passion you both have for all those who fought on the Somme,died or returned to their homes. You made us feel that my dad George & his 3 Mirfin brothers(all lucky to survive) were so special but you see so many people,all with tales to tell. We would love to come again one day.

Pauline Symmons says:

Another great news letter and once again very moving reading the personal stories. Kitchen looks fab!

William and Elizabeth Stretton says:

Samuel Bentley bought tears to our eyes.What a tribute...the circle is complete...the lad got his beer.
His mother will be so pleased.

James Harker says:

Thankyou so much dear friends for what you did for our little service for Samuel Bently and thanks Julie for your video skills.We have officially adopted sam and on every visit to the Somme we will visit him to say hello.I also intend to find out more of what happened and where and when he met his untimely demise.The somme takes your heart forever.11

Didi & Ron Dickens says:

Thank you both so much for newsletters. You are doing a splendid job reuniting so many families, Wonderful stories which leave us smiling sometimes and sometimes tears.
See you next year. love from us

gerald abbotts says:

Once again a great news letter,love the new kitchen, Does that mean David doesn't have to go down the cellar now? lol.

Sally says:

What a wonderful news letter. I agree going out with David onto the battle fields puts it all into perspective. Lonsdale must have been so moving made even more so by the rainbow. Sam and his Mum must have had something to do with that. Wish we had been there.
Really glad kitchen finished. It looks amazing. Looking forward to seeing it in March. Xx

Tony & Rosemay says:

Love the kitchen............

Jude & David Sheddon says:

Feeling quite emotional reading your newsletter; remembering our trip to visit No 56 in 2014 to visit Jude's maternal Grandma's first husband's grave at Rocquigny Equancourt. Today November 1st is the 99 year Anniversary of his death. Our hope for next year, his 100 year Anniversary is to be back with our son to pay our respects on the day.

Sandy Biback says:

Once again your news brings me laughter and tears. My best history lessons. Personal stories. Someday we’ll make it back for more wine conversation and history

Jennifer Iles says:

Once again, a fabulous newsletter, and very moving too. And I agree with John's comment that "your tour was like taking a miniature university class". On our walking tour with you, your clear explanation of the complex Beaumont Hamel site washed away years of confusion - thank you.
With regards to building works, I do sympathise. We are having a new extension built at the back, the fitters came a couple of days ago to install the folding doors, and Lo and Behold! .... they were the wrong size. They are having another go tomorrow, apparently. Looking forward to November's issue.

Mike and Kath, Bath, UK says:

Lonsdale Cemetery, one of our favourites . . . we'll raise a glass to Samuel Bentley this evening. A touching story, blessed with the beauty of a rainbow. Rest in peace Sam.

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