September at No.fifty6. Autumn Comes Knocking.
Posted on 30th September 2019 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
Grodek by Georg Trakl, German War Poet.
At evening the woods of autumn are full of the sound
Of the weapons of death, golden fields
And blue lakes, over which the darkening sun
Rolls down; night gathers in
Dying recruits, the animal cries
Of their burst mouths.
103 years ago, The Somme battle raged on for the 3rd month. This September there is peace, there has been lovely sunny weather though the month has ended with rain and breezes. Most crops are in, save some maize, potatoes and sugarbeet.
Views of Mametz Wood show the first tinges of autumn colours in the trees. The starlings are gathering and the red squirrels in Newfoundland Park are busy collecting winter provisions. Above all our guests have continued to bring their wonderful stories.
Dear friend Ian Smith visited us for the first time. David and Ian went to University together and Ian has been a clergyman for 30 years. He is the vicar who married us and David keeps asking if it was legal. On Ian’s first visit to see us here, he was inspired by what he saw and learned.
This is an extract from a piece Ian wrote following his visit.
“Imagine walking in fields that have largely been harvested except for sweet corn standing over head high. It’s hot despite being morning, the suns shine requires shaded glasses and/or a hat. You are searching using maps that are roughly drawn for a spot where 103 years ago a British general watched the troops under his command launch the Somme offensive – 1st July 1916. From somewhere here he allegedly could see almost all the German and British lines. It was near where we stood. We were fairly sure we stood, approximately where he stood and began to see the heaviest casualties so far of the Great War.
A car pulled up with two French men in it who got out to speak to us. Were we on their land? As if from French actors central casting one was elderly, balding, lively and stout in very old working clothes, the other young, handsome, thin, dressed with a casual country elegance topped by a flat cap.
It was not their land, they were on their way to hunt duck. But wondered what we were searching for. Between the young man’s decent English and my passable French vocabulary we spoke and explained. The old man said we needed to be in the standing sweet corn where, when he was a child, there had been a little wall where the English general had stood to survey the front lines.
And so we spoke – the young man translating his girlfriend’s Grandfathers words to us and ours to him. He was 84. He explained how his mother had wept as she recalled the Great War and recalling her tears began himself to cry. He spoke of the fighting coming again to that same farm land in the second war that involved the whole world.
Nothing was too much for them; they asked us to follow them to another hardly known spot. The young man lived in the village where the German ace pilot Baron Richthofen was shot down and initially buried with honour by the British. By the young man’s own home was a large German war cemetery, many of the soldiers buried as French and British were, without names, but with respect. The graves tended and never damaged by the French whose land they had invaded.
We parted with handshakes and embraces. A brief and unprepared meeting across generations; across cultures, across language. But united in memory and feeling. We do not forget.”
Roy and Cathy Curtis visited us from Royston. It was their first visit to No.fifty6 though a year ago they had made an extended family pilgrimage to honour Cathy’s Great Uncle Archie on the Centenary of his death. This time they visited Archie’s grave on what would have been the 100th anniversary of his 21st birthday.
Archibald Denys Irving was the eldest son of Edward and Dorothea , he had 4 younger siblings who formed a tight bond as their parents were based in Hong Kong and they were looked after by their Granny Bray near Bedford. In 1907 Archie won a scholarship to Bedford School where he was recalled as a quick-witted fly half, enthusiastic debater and a good student. He attended Lincoln College, Oxford but war service called. He received a commission and was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant Royal Field Artillery on 29th September 1917. Posted to C Battery, 82nd Brigade, he served in France from May 1918. He took part in the 100 Days Offensive. On 6th September C Battery crossed the Tortille River and dug in at Signal Copse near Moislains. The Brigade Major decided they needed to be further forward and took Archie to reconnoitre a new position nearer Nurlu. By September14th the Battery was near Lieramont and again Archie recconoitred positions near St Emilie. They did not like the new positions as they were close to the enemy lines. Orders were received to move large amounts of ammunition to these positions in readiness for a creeping barrage. Archie was put in charge of 17 ammunition wagons and went out the evening of 15th September. There was a full moon. Major Rice was woken to be told though the ammunition had been delivered the party had taken casualties by shelling near Saulcourt Wood. Archie had been hit in the head and taken to a dressing station in Gurlu Wood. The next morning, 16th September news came that Archie had died at 1am, just 4 days short of his twentieth birthday and 2 months before the Armistice. His funeral was attended by his Sergeant Sykes, little did he know that he was to be buried next to Archie just 2 days later. After first being buried in Moislains, Archie is buried in Peronne Communal Cemetery. His headstone bears the inscription “A cheerful giver.” He is also commemorated at Bedford School.
The family have wonderful photos of Archie and his family. A handsome young man full of promise. We will remember them.
His original gravemarker.
Regular visitors Mike and Diana Taylor (who arrive on their motorbike and tour Europe) came this time with details of Diana’s grandfather. Diana has some wonderful letters and keepsakes of her grandfather and his picture hangs in her hallway. While Diana was on a touring holiday of Corsica between her visits to us, we researched Jack’s service. There will be more to find out but we know a little about the time around when he was wounded. Jack Clifford was newly married when he went to the front line. Jack was a stretcher bearer in the 43rd Field Ambulance. His Ambulance was in the area around Woodcote House, also known as Bedford House, a couple of miles south of Ypres near the Menin Road. The site is now Bedford House Cemetery. While tending to the wounded in August 1917, Jack was injured, shot in the chest and the bullet entered his abdomen. Diana has letters written to her grandmother advising that Jack was very seriously wounded, giving the impression that although he was receiving great care, he might not make it, written by A D Cornett, Canadian Chaplin. A second letter was also handwritten by the Presbyterian Chaplin of the No.1 Canadian Hospital where he was being treated. In the best copperplate writing it urged Jack’s wife to write to him. Jack was evacuated along the medical chain to Etaples Hospital and eventually he was well enough to travel to hospital in Halifax, England. He went on to recover sufficiently to go home though he was never the same again. He went on to have 2 children, a girl, Diana’s mother and a boy, Diana’s Uncle. Sadly, Jack did not live to old age dying in 1946 having lived through a Second World War. Diana wonders about her Grandfather. What must he have seen, tending to the wounded? What must he have endured himself? She comments that in the Wedding photo she has Jack is young and fresh faced, and the photo of Jack with his young children taken 2-3 years after The War is the face of an old man. Diana's mother is the young girl seated. Amongst his possessions is some trench art. A penknife fashioned from a piece of shell cartridge, a bullet and an army button. It is beautiful but we do not know the story. Did he make it while he was convalescing, did someone give it to him? Rest in peace Jack having suffered the horrors of war but knowing the love of your family.
Diana's mother is the young girl.
Ulster Remembrance and a Special Gift
Regular visitor Dan Steele came from Northern Ireland with 3 friends, Tommy, Tanya and Billy. On a 4-day pilgrimage they visited many sites, not only on the Somme but Rouen and Ypres and many other places. They visited the grave of Billy’s Great Grandfather at Ste. Marie Le Havre and of course paid homage at the Ulster Tower, Thiepval and the Menin Gate. Dan presented us with a picture of the Ulster Tower. It is a print of an original painting of The Tower painted by Dan’s wife Lyn and it was adopted by The Royal British Legion in Northern Ireland. It is a fine painting and it now hangs in our lounge alongside the Regimental plaques we have. Thank you Dan and Lyn. Over dinner we toasted The Fallen, knowing that ongoing Remembrance is safe in their hands. Lest We Forget.
The group around the Ulster Tower painting.
Visit by the Royal Irish Regimental Association
On the last weekend of September, we received a visit from the 18th Regiment of Foot Royal Irish Regiment & South Irish Horse Association on their battlefield tour. Kay, Mary-Anne, Trevor, Robert and Scottie regaled us with stories of their adventures and how important the Regiment is to them. The Regiment was formed in 1684 and disbanded in 1922. It is the Regiment that has the earliest Battle Honour in the British Army, from Namur in 1695. The Regiment fought in the First World War in France and Suvla Bay. As part of their trip they had a civic reception hosted by the Mayor of Herlies where there is a memorial to the Regiment for the Battle of Pilly. They also explored Bomy church, where Robert Reid saw graffiti his ancestor Robert Reade (the family spelling of the name changed) had made in the wall of the church on New Year’s Day 1916. At the end of their visit Kay Neagle, who is President of the Regimental Association presented us with their Regimental Plaque, which now proudly hangs on our wall. Thank you for such a wonderful gift and an entertaining visit.
Napoleonic Fashion Exhibition at Querrieu Chateau
What a treat this month as we attended a special fashion exhibition at Querrieu Chateau, Rawlinson’s 4th Army HQ in 1916 which is now the ancestral home of Comtesse D”Alcantara. The Chateau is housing a special exhibition of fashion, jewelry and art from the period of Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie. We were amazed that the Comtesse gave a personal tour of these wonderful gowns, art and objets d’art. We could almost hear the swish of the ballgowns to a waltz in these historic surroundings. The exhibition runs until 6 October. We will be returning for another personal tour with the Comtesse to examine the history of The Chateau itself.
Very, very sad news this month. Our lovely Grizabella the cat was sadly run over a few weeks ago. Only now have we been able to write about it as she had found a special place in our hearts. She did not suffer is our only solace. She was the gentlest cat, who had found a warm, loving home here. Despite a hard start in life as an abandoned cat she had a year of love and luxury. Rest in Peace dear Griza. You will always be part of No.fifty6.
Her son…Shere (Khan – King of the tigers), the tabby who was born in our woodstore when Griza found us after being abandoned, is slowly wriggling his way into our affections…not a replacement, but Griza’s legacy.