Phew What a Scorcher - July News from No.fifty6
Posted on 31st July 2018 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
It has been quite a month. Dominated by the scorching weather, with record temperatures and a prolonged dry spell. While we, the crops and our guests wilted on several occasions in the heat there has been much to celebrate and be thankful for. A World Cup win for France, Bastille Day, July 1st and Australian commemorations, the Son and Lumiere Spectacular, unexpected kindnesses and of course our wonderful guests bringing their personal stories as they explore The Somme.
Everyone has been talking about the weather. No rain since the end of May, record temperatures in the second half of July means scorching crops and even field fires in some areas of The Somme. The farmers have labored to bring crops in and the wheat fields in particular are now just short stalks with straw bales dotting the landscape. It is parched, golden, and has an arid beauty. Irrigation systems Heath Robinson would be proud of have been spotted all over the Somme. Incidentally, the name Heath Robinson came into popular use during The First World War. Our guests have kept cool as far as possible and the on-tap ice machine here has seen good use! A storm on Friday night broke the extreme heat and humidity and we have now returned to normal summer weather…still no rain to speak of though. It’s a long, hot summer of 2018.
Personal Pilgrimages – including a La Boisselle liberator
Len and Lorraine Jones came to make a very personal pilgrimage. Len’s grandfather Harry Jones served with the 10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment and was killed in action in La Boisselle on 3rdJuly 1916. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. With our location in the heart of La Boisselle, David was able to walk Len ad Lorraine through Harry’s last actions with the Worcesters, which involved fierce fighting in the rubble of the village in a pre-dawn attack on 3rdJuly. Many Worcesters lost their life that night/morning and there were many heroic deeds as the village was eventually cleared of German defenders.
Len and Lorraine spent time walking Harry’s final journey and on the 2ndJuly watched a beautiful sunset from our terrace with Len saying “ to think 102 years ago my grandfather would have watched the sunset as he prepared for battle, and it was the last sunset he was to see.” Len and Lorraine, thank you for sharing your family history with us. Harry now has a special place in our hearts knowing he helped liberate the village we call home.
Brian and Sally Halford made a return visit from Northampton having first visited in 2014. Sally has a great Uncle, Harry Turnham, who died on 5thJul 1918 whilst serving with the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment. Harry died of his wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station near Doullens. We were able to establish that Harry was mortally wounded while defending an area of trenches known as the Hairpin NW of Albert. He is buried in Pernoy British Cemetery. Sally and Brian made their pilgrimage to his graveside. They brought with them one of the Tower of London poppies. They planned to leave it at Harry’s grave and indeed they did place it there and took photos. However, knowing that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will eventually clear personal items away from the Cemetery they decided the Poppy should remain here with us at No.fifty6. We were incredibly moved as Sally and Brian handed it over to us for safe keeping knowing that it will be treasured, Harry will be remembered and we can use the Poppy to help tell his story. The men who fought here are not forgotten and it is their stories that motivate us to do the best we can to ensure their stories are told and history explained.
Sally, David and Brian with The Poppy.
Graham Taylor and 5 of his old comrades from the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry visited us on their pilgrimage to remember the men of The Great War. Spanners, Nobby, PK, Lol, Gaz and Ginger have all served with DLOY and came to pay their respects to those who fought here. It was a wonderful pilgrimage for them. Nobby even had a birthday while he was here and birthday cake and champagne ensured he had a special birthday breakfast!
Nobby's Birthday Breakfast
Graham made a return visit with his wife 2 weeks later to see the Son et Lumiere. He said the DLOY boys had enjoyed their time with us so much they wanted to give us a memento and we were presented with their Regimental Plaque. This blew us away. Thank you boys it was our pleasure having you here and sharing The Somme with you.
John Ellis, Howard, Bob, and Ray have made several pilgrimages to The Somme from Devon. These men, devoted to remembering the men of Devon who served, have stayed with us before and we were sad to learn that one of the gang of 4, dear Bob has recently had a severe stroke and could not make the trip. Ray’s son Jem, made up the 4 and this summer’s trip had a special poignancy for them – often saying Bob would have loved this… Bob indeed loved visiting places to remember the Devonshire Regiment and the boys (all boys even though they are retired) have researched the men on Newton Abbott War Memorial and are incredibly knowledgeable about their fallen. Their trip this time took in the Soissons Memorial as well as small private memorials and various cemeteries across the Somme. We hope Bob makes a good recovery and that once again he is able to remember his beloved Devonians.
Bev and Ross McGuinness from Denmark, Western Australia made their 3rd visit to us. Bev and Ross have researched the fallen of their town of Denmark, WA and Bev has produces a wonderful book which covers the men and nurses of Denmark who fell in both World Wars. The care taken by Bev to research each person’s story, with photos, letters, military documents etc. is extraordinary. Pozieres has a special place in their hearts as several of the Denmark lads fell in the fields of Pozieres and have no known grave. We have a copy of Bev’s book in our library.
People come from all parts of the world and remembrance and knowledge sharing is at the heart of everything we do here. For all the fallen, we will remember them.
Son et Lumiere
The last 2 weekends in July saw the Pozieres Son and Lumiere take place. After much preparation and rehearsal the biennial Spectacle was a huge success. With a cast of 150 aged from 6 to 88, horses, dogs, tanks, planes and ships and the most amazing sound and light, the show played out over the 6 nights to very appreciative audiences. Many of our guests came especially to see the show and were not disappointed. Covering mobilisation in 1914 to the Armistice and The War’s legacy, it really was quite incredible. We recognised our guests’ voices who had helped with sound recording (thank you – you know who you are) and of course diva David with his long narrations…the English sound track was in perfect sync with the French. Starting as night falls at 10pm the show finished at about 1am with fireworks each night. For a small, rural community in Northern France, Pozieres and the Son et Lumiere Association know how to put on a show! We hope there will be a new edition in 2020…
July Somme Commemorations
1stJuly saw commemorations held across the Somme to mark the 102ndyear of the start of the Battle. The 07.28hrs ceremony at Lochnagar Crater was well attended in warm temperatures and the day only got hotter as ceremonies continued for the day at Thiepval, Ulster Tower, Newfoundland Park, Fricourt and Contalmaison.
Guests Pauline and Bob at the Lochnagar Ceremony
On 4thJuly the Australian Government marked the Centenary of the Battle of Le Hamel with a ticket only service on site at Le Hamel, scene of the successful John Monash led battle which heralded a turning point in the War.
On 23rdJuly the village of Pozieres held a commemorative event to mark the 102ndanniversary of the Battle for Pozieres where so many Australians, British and Canadians were to lose their lives in subsequent weeks. The ceremony was held at the 1stAustralian Division Memorial in Pozieres and Julie said the exhortation at the event which was also attended by our Australian guests Bev and Ross.
On 8 August there will be a service of commemoration at Amiens Cathedral to mark the final 100 days of the War. We will report on that next month. It is rumored Prince William, Duke of Cambridge will attend.
Bastille Day 14thJuly and The World Cup – a Weekend to Celebrate
Life in rural France often seems to our guests genteel and peaceful. Those around the weekend of 14th/15thJuly realized what a vibrant community this special place has. 14thJuly is National Fete Day in France (only non French people call it Bastille Day) when the unity of the French People and the Republic is celebrated. In our Commune we remember the fallen with flowers laid at the village memorials and then there is a party atmosphere with a street party, food, music, games, dancing and conviviality. It is a chance to socialise and have fun and all ages enjoy this special day. For the third time our guests Paul, Alison and Tom came with us to the Fete as they enjoy it so much. Then, almost buoyed by the Nation’s celebrations on 14th The World Cup final saw the French football team win an amazing final with cheers of Allez Les Bleus reverberating around the streets. Good-natured celebrations took place all over France. Here flags were waved, car horns sounded and people danced in Albert’s fountain in front of the Basilica. Cries of Vive La France echoed well into the following week and there are still plenty of smiley faces about.
Just a reminder that from 1stJuly the new speed limit came into law in France. Roads that were 90 kph are now 80kph. This is all roads outside of villages which have no central reservation. In villages the limit remains at 50kph.
We have mentioned the Tower of London Poppy and Regimental plaque which were kind gifts from our guests. Guests generosity never fails to astound us. The James family, regular visitors, know we love to serve a cheese platter at dinner and they brought with them a lovely inscribed slate cheese platter. We will think of them whenever we use it.
Yvonne Pressdee has been getting crafty! Yvonne with husband John who is the Chaplin to Lochnagar Crater were with us over the 1stJuly period as they are every year. Yvonne knew we had been having work done to the house and a new bedroom created. This got her thinking and she hand-made for us themed tissue box holders for each of our individual rooms. How clever and so unique. So the Senna, Wilde, Lawrence, Bluebird and Florentine Rooms all have wonderful, quirky tissue boxes in them now. Thank you so much Yvonne. Guests have already commented on them.
Neither rabbits nor chickens like the extreme heat so we have been keeping an eye on them and giving them shade where possible and iced water bottles to cool their houses. They are all doing fine. The chickens producing very tasty eggs for breakfast, even in the heat.
To cool down chickens love to bathe in dust. With our love for historic Formula One and chickens the ideal dust bath receptacle is a classic Jaguar F1 tyre. Typical of David to keep such a thing. It is good to know this old tyre is much loved by our chickens.
We even have a new nightly visitor to the garden, a hedgehog, which guest Ross has named Eric. Animal lovers that we are, we now even provide special food for our hedgehog visitor. Did you know that hedgehogs are VERY noisy eaters?