Remember, Remember, November on The Somme
Posted on 30th November 2021 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
November, November, where did you go? The month has past by here in a blur of activity. It has been a month of making new acquaintances and reconnecting with established ones – and we have loved every moment of having guests through our door. It has been a month of special events, remembrance and commemoration and we have been able to do what we love doing best – looking after people whilst they explore The Somme, or indeed while they work on The Somme.
So, what has inspired us this November?
The Somme in November
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 9th 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. Nine years, we could never have imagined what those nine years would bring. So happy 9th Birthday No.56.
The weather has turned decidedly colder. The month started wet, then dry and cold and ended with sleety showers and a blustery wind which brought the temperature down. Still the farmers toil, the tractors clogged with mud, deep ploughing and reseeding in evidence. Final crops being harvested. The landscape while the same, changes its quilt for winter.
There is still plenty of wildlife to see as we go out for our walks. Pheasants always look startled, hares, run so fast and birds of prey hover over the valleys looking for their next meal. Guests have even seen deer, a sure sign winter is coming.
Late autumn sunset at Lochnagar
The cover photo for this newsletter was taken by David at Point 110 New Military Cemetery, Fricourt.
So what poetry has inspired us this month?
Well, with the commemorations for Armistice Day this month, we will all have heard the Ode to Remembrance recited at some point – “They Shall Grow Not Old….”
But what of the full poem it comes from? Laurence Binyon’s For The Fallen (which Julie recited to music in July in St Riquier if you recall) deserves reading in its entirety.
Binyon (1869-1943) was too old to enlist, but he volunteered as a hospital orderly in France. He had been moved by the high number of casualties in the early months of the war and indeed his most famous poem was published in The Times in September 1914. It was written while he sat on cliffs in Cornwall looking out to sea, thinking of the men serving overseas. Though the poem talks of England, it resonates for whatever nation sent it’s young off to war. Both before and after the war, Binyon worked at The British Museum and moved in artistic circles. He married in 1904, the historian Cicely Powell and had 3 daughters, all of whom went on to become artists. He carried on writing poetry, even into the Second World War. He died after an operation in 1943. There is a memorial to him in St Mary's Church, Aldworth, Berkshire, where his ashes were scattered. He is also commemorated on a slate stone in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.
For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Those who have traveled in November have found the experience pretty simple with the paperwork down to a sworn statement of not having Covid to enter France along with proof of vaccination, and the Passenger Locator From and booked Day 2 Lateral Flow Test required by the UK Government to enter UK. Thank you to all our wonderful guests for making the journey and dealing with the paperwork, it has been fabulous seeing so many people here in November. And for those who sent generous thank yous for our help, seeing you here is all the thanks we need.
As we write this though, regulations are changing again due to the new Omicron variant. From 30 November, just announced by the UK Government, anyone returning to the UK must takea a PCR test on or before Day 2 and self isolate until a negative result is received.
This will be reviewed in 3 weeks. Makes travel to the UK more problematic again. No changes on the French side at the moment.
December is usually a quiet month for overseas visitors anyway, but If you have any queries about current regulations, we will be happy to help. We mean it. We are used to it, know all the regs and how to deal with them and we are with you every step of the way.
We have our vaccine boosters booked in for mid-December and follow all Covid rules here.
The International Guild of Battlefield Guides Somme Event
In the first week of November, we hosted The International Guild of Battlefield Guides Somme Recce. An event which had been 2 years in the planning, postponed since last year, due to Covid. Its aim was to bring Guides together and share history in effectively what was a Somme Masterclass. It was a busy week as we hosted guides not only from The UK, but Channel Islands, The Netherlands, Germany and Canada. Our dining room became the event room, and while we couldn’t accommodate everyone here, those we could not allocate a bedroom, stayed locally. The Guides spent each day out on the battlefields in all weathers, covering all the Somme Front, from Gommecourt through to Maricourt.
We were impressed by the spirit of sharing knowledge and striving for excellence in guiding. The kitchen here has never been busier, but it was a sheer delight to have the buzz of conversation around our dining area as stories were exchanged. As guild members, it is good to know that there are so many passionate guides out there and it was good to see their feet back on The Somme again.
Armistice Day is a national holiday in France and events always take place on the day, rather than Remembrance Sunday. This 11th November, we joined our Maire and villagers at the Monuments aux Morts at both Ovillers and La Boisselle. Richard Dunning had made the journey over and he and Julie laid wreaths at these French memorials after the children of the village laid the Commune flowers. It was poignant to hear Christian, our Maire, read out the names of soldiers who had been killed in Combat “Mort pour France” since last 11th November. Conflict sadly continues and those who serve continue to pay a heavy price.
We then held a service at Lochnagar Crater, led by Richard and Julie. The event was filmed live for those who could not make the journey. It was particularly poignant to see Arlette Delpanque, widow of friend Real, lay the first wreath with Real’s brother Jean-Claude.
We then laid wreaths at the 19th Division Memorial (outside the church in La Boisselle) and the 34th Division Memorial at the end of the village in a field. In the afternoon we paid homage at Harry Fellowes headstone in Mametz Wood before finishing at the German Cemetery in Fricourt. A full day of remembrance and it was lovely to see so many people make the journey, including Karsten from Denmark, whose grandfathers had fought here.
Alan and Karsten lay a tribute at Fricourt
The Tyneside Seat
We Will Remember Them.
Ulster Memorial Tower 100
Our final special event of November had also been over a year in the planning. The Ulster Memorial Tower was the first permanent memorial erected on The Western Front. It was inaugurated on 19th November 1921 when the vestiges of War were still all around – trenches, barbed wire, shell holes. But the Tower rose as a fitting memorial out of the devastation, to remember men of Northern Ireland who gave so much.
The Somme Association in conjunction with The Royal Irish Regiment, organized a fitting commemoration 100 years to the day at The Ulster Tower. Many from Ulster had made the journey and we had a wonderful group from Northern Ireland staying with us and we attended the service together.
In the afternoon a commemorative concert was held in the Basilica, Albert. With the band of The Royal Irish Regiment and The Band of 2 Brigade, Defence Forces Ireland.
It was a wonderful programme of Irish, British and French music, some military, some popular, including a Les Miserables medley. We were entranced by the beauty of the music in such an evocative setting. Julie was rather smitten by the charismatic conductor from The Royal Irish Regiment who knew his way round a flute too!
A wonderful day ended with a march behind the pipes and drums of the band up to Albert Town Hall where the musicians had a civic reception.
To the men of Ulster, we remembered you.
Wreaths and Floral Tributes Ulster Tower 100
The Colours at The Ulster Tower
The Band in Albert Basilica
Scaffolding has been removed from the top section of the memorial, but there is still lots of work to do to the stonework. Our 2 regular stonemasons have been continuing their work at Thiepval and now the team has been increased for the next few weeks. It is good to hear first-hand from them, over dinner, how work is progressing. They do an amazing job working on the cold, exposed walls of Thiepval in all weathers. We salute you.
Marge is not impressed with the colder, wetter weather but she is still going strong. She is a character, and enjoys any titbits from the kitchen, She takes to her bed mid-afternoon and makes herself cosy for the night. Too cold and not enough daylight for egg laying though! Marge has also asked if Christmas is coming as she has noticed some Christmas cards already arriving in our post box - thank you. She's not worried, she's a chicken not a turkey.
As the weather has turned a little Scandinavian this week:
"Did you know the word Ikea is actually made up of two Swedish words? Ik, meaning Sunday, and keya, meaning 'b****y ruined.
All is well at No.fifty6. Be safe. Stay well. See you soon.