September at No.fifty6 - Stories and News from The Somme

Posted on 30th September 2021 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

September at No.fifty6 - Stories and News from The Somme

September – what an interesting month it has been. As well as some amazing September weather and lots of things going on here, most of all we have had the joy of guests walking through our doors again.  We feel so privileged to have our guests come back to visit us again after such a long gap due to Covid. As the saying goes, it is as if you have never been away. We are grateful to everyone for making the journey and dealing with the necessary travel administration.

So, what has inspired us this month?

The Somme in September

The farmers have been toiling away. Though the wheat is in, the potatoes have started to be harvested but the maize and sugar beet are yet to be brought in. Those fields that have given up their crops have already been ploughed and reseeded and new shoots of winter crops are already giving a green tinge to the landscape once again. There are many butterflies and bees as we go on our walks. Nature at play once again. We have had stunning September sunrises and sunsets. It is always a joy for us and our guests to watch the sunset as we have dinner – we even managed several leisurely meals out in the lovely September evenings on warm days. Though at month end there is an autumnal chill to morning and evening. The cyclical nature of the seasons here is something we love. With the cemeteries and memorials so well maintained by the CWGC workers, the landscape and its silent cities of the dead have never looked more beautiful.

With stunning September light, and all that is going on in the world at the moment, this poem by Amy Lowell (1874-1925) inspired us this month. Amy, born in Massachusetts, flouted convention and was a feminist. Her poems glitter with colour and feature vivid, concise depictions of nature. She was a lady who liked to get to the point.

As she writes here, we too feel like treasuring all the good bits of life. This poem of Amy’s  is called September 1918.

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;

The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;

The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,

And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.

Under a tree in the park,

Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,

Were carefully gathering red berries

To put in a pasteboard box.

Some day there will be no war,

Then I shall take out this afternoon

And turn it in my fingers,

And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,

And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.

To-day I can only gather it

And put it into my lunch-box,

For I have time for nothing

But the endeavour to balance myself

Upon a broken world.

Amy Lowell

Travel/Covid Update

Those that have visited us in September have found it much easier to deal with the travel requirements than they had feared. No one has had a problem getting here, while they were here or getting back home. We have become a regular at the pharmacy and with our local nurse, as our guests have had their pre departure Covid tests. All negative and all with exemplary paperwork!  We have helped guests with passenger locator forms and uploading documents. It is always our pleasure to help with such things to make your stay as easy as possible.

There is even better news for anyone traveling  from the UK in October. From 4th October, you do not require a pre departure test in France so our pharmacist and nurse are stood down! One less thing to do and one cost eliminated. 

We hope it is not too long before we see visitors from further afield  - we miss our Canadian, Australian, New Zealand visitors for example, but we know there are particular Covid challenges in so many nations. Please stay safe.  

Current Covid case numbers are going down in France, (about 6500 per day nationally), and numbers are low in our region as we have high vaccination uptake. Even with the start of the new school year there has been no increase in the Covid caseload. Though no one is complacent and the health pass restrictions/mask wearing are still in place.  

So the rules to enter France -  you need proof you are fully vaccinated and complete a sworn declaration that you are not suffering from Covid.

Link to the English version of the declaration here:

Our recommendation is that you carry paper copies of your Vaccination Certificate with you and ideally have the certificates uploaded to the French government Covid App which is called Tous Anti Covid.

This then becomes your health pass “Pass Sanitaire” while in France to get in restaurants, museums etc. It is law in France to show your Pass Sanitaire to get in any bar, café, restaurant, cultural place such as museum or event. No pass, no entry. It all works no problem and does not delay anything as it is a simple zap and go on entry. Masks too, are obligatory in any closed space such as a shop, museum or public transport.

To prepare the Tous Anti Covid App for your trip to France: Scan in the QR code of your NHS vaccine certificates.

The app has an English language option..

1. From within the NHS App (not the NHS Covid App) download a copy of your Pass and print it off. It will show 2 QR codes

2. Download and install the French "TousAntiCovid" App from the Google or Apple Play Store: don't worry it will open in English! (If this doesn't work download the one ending Verif)

3. open the section under Health Pass which says Open my Wallet.  Click the Certificate Button at the bottom.  Using the App scan the two QR codes in the order of vaccination.

The App will accept them and confirm your vaccination status has been verified and you will be able to show that status through the App to any enquirer. 

While the App is French Government, it is accepted throughout the EU.

So now you are here and enjoying your holiday. What do you need to do before travelling back to the UK.

You will need to complete the UK Government Passenger Locator Form no more than 48 hours before travelling to the UK. On this you need to show proof that you have booked a Day 2 PCR test for when you are back in the UK. The rules on this may change later in October, to allow a lateral flow test, but at the time of writing a PCR test on Day 2 is the current rule.

So with your passenger locator form completed with these details before you leave us, that is it. We can help with any form filling.

The other non-covid change this month affects anyone bringing their car from the UK. It is a small thing, but GB stickers will change to UK stickers. Here is a link to the new requirements:

This sticker change came into effect 28 September 2021.

So, it really is getting simpler to travel, and we hope none of the rules  impact on the joy of coming away and escaping to our corner of rural, historical France. 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. “C’est normal!” as we say in France!

Returning Guests

As we mentioned at the start of this newsletter, it has been lovely having returning guests here during September.

Peter and Jean Mason were last with us 2 years ago as they followed in the footsteps of Peter's Grandfather -  2nd Lieutenant Robert William McKinley MC, of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who fought here on 1st July 1916 and for his brave actions that day was awarded the Military Cross.  He survived and went on to have a full career in public service. Peter has memories of his grandfather, and on this visit he brought his  medals, beautifully presented.

Our Devon Boys John and Howard were delighted to be back and we shared many a story, catching up for lost Covid time and raising a glass to absent friends as the Devon Boys, once 4 are now 2.  The Devon Boys made the most of every day, out from breakfast ‘til dinner time visiting and photographing what inspired them. Thank you,  Devon Boys you are a delight.  

Laurie and Mike “The Gatwick Pals” made an emotional return visit after 2 years away due to Covid. David took them to High Wood and Point 110 where Mike’s relative Richard Green, is buried.  We know how much these trips mean to everyone. However, what we were not expecting was to be presented with a “56 plaque” by the Gatwick Pals which says “Thank you for all you do.”. Humbled. It is us who thanks you.

Mike & Laurie with the Gatwick Pals "56" Plaque

 A "thank you" of beautiful roses from The Devon Boys

Michael and Aileen shared laughter and stories with us and other guests and visited their favourite Somme places. Thanks to Michael and Aileen we now have a special Hartlepool monkey adorning our dining room – he is called Angus, and is very special to us and the people of Hartlepool!

Terry and Jon came from Northampton and explored each day in magnificent weather. Terry is a huge supporter of ABF (The Soldier’s Charity) and has co-authored a book on the Charity’s Frontline Walk which will be taking place in mid-October this year after a 2 year Covid break. Here is Terry signing his book which we have copies of which we exchange for a €20 donation to the charity.

Terry signing his ABF Frontline Walk book

We also had a group of Americans stay with us with their guides Dudley and Jip this month. What lively evenings of stimulating conversation we had. Pam and Doug travelled from California and Charlie and Susan from Idaho. They were so pleased they are able to travel again. As they say, travel really is the greatest educator.

Even Karsten from Denmark stopped to say hello on his motorbike on his way through to Normandy. Chris, Tom and Andy came to explore and reunite with The Somme they love so much. Old haunts and new discovered.  Sam and Alan forged a friendship at no.fifty6 several years ago, and they traveled together as they have a mutual love of the battlefields.  They enjoyed their pre breakfast walks before exploring all day. As they left, they looked reinvigorated yet chilled after their stay. The Somme has a unique ability to inspire, bring inner peace and invigorate.    

Apologies if we have missed other intrepid visitors by name this month. You are all very special to us and we have loved the September vibe at no.fifty6. Can you tell we have missed everyone and its good to be back doing what we love to do!

Renovation, Remembrance and Reburials 

The restoration of Thiepval continues and we have had the artisan stonemasons from Belgium staying with us again as they continue their highly skilled work.  They ask David in jest if he will give them a hand as they have a lot to do, but their work scares David as they are so skilled.  Best left to the artisans.

The façade and memorial walls  of Pozieres  Cemetery have been deep cleaned this month. So, as you drive past this beautiful cemetery the  Portland Stone sparkles like new. Good to see it restored to glory.

Pozieres newly restored.

Within its walls, CWGC have reburied 4 “unknown” soldiers this month at Pozieres. There is a backlog of burials – soldiers whose remains have been discovered on the battlefields over the last few years, and now those reburials are taking place as Covid restrictions are easing. We attended the reburials at Pozieres, and interments were also made at Guillemont Road and Les Boeufs Cemeteries. May they all now, Rest in Peace.

 New burials, soldiers now at Rest. 

On 15th September we remembered the sacrifice of the first Tank Crews, and all those who fell during the Battle of Flers Courcelette. At the Tank Memorial in Pozieres we laid a wreath and filmed this short "live." We will remember them.

Remembering the First Tank Crews 

Lochnagar Appeal

Since its construction in 2012 the pathway around Lochnagar Crater has borne the weight of hundreds of thousands of pairs of feet. In driving rain, ice, snow, winds and blistering heat the path has provided a steadfast footing for young and old alike.

However, in the past 18 months, Mother Nature has exacted a terrible toll upon the structure. Record temperatures in summer over a prolonged period, plunging winter temperatures,  followed by an unseasonally wet spring, followed by another late spell of freezing temperatures. The net effect on the wood of the path has been devastating, particularly to the supports beneath the slats which provide support and stability to those walking on the pathway. The wood is now simply crumbling, literally to dust.

We regularly  carry out checks to assess the damage and prioritise sections for stabilization and repair but after 10 years of constant service, the pathway is now in dire need of a major overhaul. And that requires time, expertise and money. It is why Richard Dunning, proprietor of The Crater, and The Trustees of the Lochnagar Foundation, have appealed for funds to enable the necessary work and protect the safe passage of all those who visit the site.  Many friends and guests have donated to the appeal and every donation is very gratefully received.

As Richard says:

The Lochnagar Walkway Crisis Appeal. Thank you everyone who has donated so far. We have been able to make many of the most critical repairs and will start a full review of urgent work to follow. We still need your generous support to ensure we can make all the necessary repairs.

To donate, contact Julie and David directly on ways to help, or  use our QR code link

Thank you.

 Urgent repairs to the pathway


Animal Postscript

Marge is fine, though she wonders why so many people have come to see her this month. Steady on, she says, I can only lay one egg a day not feed the 5,000. She is however, enjoying any leftovers from the no.fifty6 dining table. Not that we have many leftovers. The crème brulee torch has been flaming again, always a sweet treat favourite with guests.   David is trying to teach Marge how to help load the dishwasher.

David’s Joke

After dinner at No.fifty6  I started to pack the dirty dishes into the dishwasher, when it suddenly started talking!

In a really dejected, pitiful voice the dishwasher told me, "Don't bother David, I'm useless. I'll never get that crusty lasagne off that pan. I'm terrible. The glassware will all have water spots by the time I'm done. The cutlery won’t shine. The pans will lose their non-stick coating. I'm the worst appliance in this house!! Boo-hoo!"

I said, "What's wrong with you?!"

"Nothing… I'm a self loathing dishwasher."

All is well at No.fifty6. Be safe. Stay well.  See you soon.

 Feathered guests enjoying the sunset from our Y Tree. 


Comments (15)

Gary James says:

Thanks for another great newsletter full of useful travel info. Glad to hear that guests are now returning. Keep safe

Sarah Lamont says:

Great to read of your delight at having guests again. Loved the Amy Lowell poem, thank you. And as for self-loathing dishwashers - priceless!!

Ferris Hatheson says:

So good to receive some good news after all the months of gloom, thank you both so much for brightening up our day. Ferris

Pauline and Bob S says:

Great informative and entertaining newsletter as always and happy to hear you have guests returning. Hope we will be able to see you next year x

Julie Cauvin says:

Thank you so much for the very helpful travel info - it is much appreciated!

Tim Brown says:

Great to hear the news and the return of guests. I know the lads and me cannot wait to get back in February to see you.
All the best

Karsten says:

Always lovely to hear news of whats going on at my home away from home.
See you next month

Ian and Jackie Smallwood says:

Thanks to you both again for the newsletter and updates. It's so nice to hear your guests have been returning after what is probably almost two years of the ghastly Covid pandemic. Fingers crossed we can all get back to some form of 'normality'.
Good health and best wishes to you both.
Jackie and Ian

Randy James says:

Very nice, thanks! We're sorry we aren't able to stay there next year, but perhaps can stop for a meal if that's available. Looking forward to seeing the area - indeed, travel is education!

Alison SELMES says:

As always, useful, informative, and entertaining ! Keep safe and well, hopefully we'll see you soon.
Alison and Don x

Michael Knight says:

Another wonderful newsletter and fame at last, being mentioned. We always enjoy staying with you and look forward to our next visit. Stay safe

Malcolm and Heather J. says:

Yet another great newsletter, they never disappoint ... thank you. Thanks for all the tips, they will come in handy and we'll find it easier when we pop over. Take care and stay safe you two.

Gordon&Joana (and Mary) says:

Sooper newsletter … now, if we can just get some petrol! Lovely sunset photos David.

Rob says:

Onwards and upwards!

David Ellis says:

Lovely to get another Number56 update. Sounds like, unsurprisingly, you have been brilliant helping your gusts with certificates and all things Covid! I really miss Number56 and the Somme! June 2022 booked - I hope and pray. Stay both of you!

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