September Centenary News from The Somme

Posted on 30th September 2016 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

September Centenary News from The Somme

September should announce the beginning of autumn and the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness but the summer weather continues here with generally lovely days and tea still being drank in the garden after our guests’ hard days battlefield visits.

Personal Pilgrimages

The Somme Centenary has continued to inspire families of those loved ones who served and returned or served and died on the Somme to visit from near and far, as well as those with a general interest in the events here. September 1916 was another notable month of planned offences within the overall Somme battle, as the allied forces tried to push forward. Remembrance here is everyday. We continue to feel very honoured to play a small part in helping families who wish to pay their respects at a specific place or specific time.

We like to think that those men who now lie in the fields of France would be so proud to know that they are not forgotten 100 years on. Indeed it seems the years only make our bonds to the past and our gratitude for their sacrifice stronger.  

Alan Laishley, Bob Beech and and Barry came from Portsmouth to pay homage to the lads of The Hampshire Regiment who went over the top at The Ancre on Saturday 3rd September. They stood vigil in the fields along the Ancre as dawn broke on that day.  Paul and Tina Bailey came from near Bath to remember her grandfather who died while serving with the Royal Field Artillery in Caterpillar Valley and is buried in Heilly Station Cemetery. Amanda Gill from Yorkshire left her holiday in Cornwall early so she could travel to be on The Somme on 3rd September as her ancestor died on that day with no known grave  - so he is recorded on Thiepval. John Crutchlow's father fought on the Somme with the Royal West Kents as an 18 year old. He was wounded in the battle of flers as he went over the top in the area north of Delville Wood toward Flers. John, his wife and Paul his son and Sara his daughetr made the pilgrimage to see where their father and grandfather had fought and was wounded. It was that wound that ended his war and the family wondered if he would have made it through the war had he not been wounded... They laid a wreath at the Divisional  Memorial in Flers and brought with them letters, photos, medals etc which are so precious to their family.

David Harvey and his son Sam came to follow in their grandfather and great grandfather’s footsteps as he served with The Guards in the attack on Ginchy and Les Boeufs in mid September. Their grandfather survived, and went on to fight in Belgium, and was always reluctant to speak about the war. Separately, Roy Crosby travelled from Scotland to follow in his ancestor’s footsteps who was also in The Guards Division and fought around Ginchy and Les Boeufs.  Terry, Graham and John made their Somme pilgrimage to be here for the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of the tank. The Mark One tank (tank was a code name which stuck) appeared in the Battle of Flers Courcelette on 15th September 1916 and commemorations were held on 15th September in the village of Flers.  Frank and John Lomas came to pay respects to their Great Uncle Arthur Webb who was killed on 15th September near High Wood while serving with the Post Office Rifles and is buried in Caterpillar Valley Cemetery. September 15th also saw a visit by Charles, Prince of Wales in his role as Field Marshall of the New Zealand Army – marking the date of the first battle the New Zealanders were involved in on The Somme. Prince Charles laid wreaths at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery and at the New Zealand Memorial in Longueval. Striking wreaths bearing the Prince of Wales feathers.  The New Zealand commmeorations included a dawn and dusk service as per Maori tradition.

Prince of Wales Wreath

Andy Bloomfield booked with us over a year ago as he was determined to be here with his sister and their families – one family living in Yorkshire and the other in Northern Ireland as their Great Grandfather was killed on 24th September and is buried in Lonsdale Cemetery. David took the family to where Walter Bloomfield fought in September at Thiepval Wood and to the place where he was originally buried in Paisley Avenue Cemetery (which no longer exists save for the land is still there), before he was reinterred in Lonsdale Cemetery. Andy’s brother in law Dave is running to raise money for the British Legion – he is running 5kms very day for 141 days – the duration of The Battle of The Somme. We encouraged Dave as he did the 5km circuit from us each morning he was here – followed by a good breakfast of course!

Walter Bloomfield

We were at Lonsdale Cemetery twice in the same week as we were humbled to be asked to attend a private vigil with Warren and Mel Osborne, whose ancestor Thomas Lemon died on 17th September and is also in Lonsdale Cemetery, Thomas was with the Duke of Wellingtons Regiment.  Brian Janman and his nephew Adrian visited this last week to pay homage to their great uncle Albert George Janman of the Royal West Kents who is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial and died on 27th September.  Albert left his home in Sussex to be a gardener in Kent before joining up with the local Kent regiment.

Jane and Chris Roberts from Yorkshire spent the final week of September walking the battlefields in the wonderful weather and have blisters to prove it! Jane and Chris  have had a lifelong interest in the First World War and atttended the 1st July service at Thiepval. They returned to the Somme this week to visit Jane's  ancestor Percy Hill's grave in Warloy Baillon. Percy died of his wounds on 30th September 1916 after being injured in the abdomen and leg serving with the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He left behind a widow and baby daughter he never met who was born in November 1916.  

The month finished with a poignant trip for Tony Forbes and his father Joe, who traveled from Peterlee in the Northeast of England to pay respects to their grandfather Michael Forbes. Michael was wounded while serving with the 14th Durham Light Infantry – he was shot in the head and back while tending to the wounded – but fighting at that time was extremely intense.  He was  taken to Etaples Hospital where he sadly died of his wounds. Tony and Joe travelled without a car and managed the journey via Paris to Etaples by plane and train and then on to us by train and bus where we showed them the area of ground where Michael was wounded.  We like to think the men of 100 years ago would be proud and humbled to know that today’s generation recognizes their sacrifice and still remember, often with difficult personal journeys being made. We salute you all.

Green Howard’s commemoration

In the middle of the month the Somme played host to a large contingent representing the Green Howards Regiment (now The Yorkshire Regiment) who chose the weekend of 10th and 11th September for their Somme commemorations. The weekend was in the planning for over a year and we hosted the Leake family here – Richard Leake being the driving force behind the Donald Bell memorial at Bell’s Redoubt. Richard has family who  served and died in the Great War. A service was held at Bell’s Redoubt with representatives from the Regiment, the Regimental band and Donald Bell’s family who came from all corners of the globe. Services of commemoration were also held at Contalmaison Chateau Cemetery, Contalmaison War memorial, Fricourt Cemetery and Gordon Dump cemetery. Donald Bell was the only English professional football player to be awarded the Victoria Cross. He left a promising football career where he was known for his speed and tenacity, to join up for the war. He played football for Bradford Park Avenue FC, at the time a significant club, which still exists. Bradford Park Avenue and the Yorkshire Regiment fielded a football team and played in Albert against Albert FC in a commemorative football match on 11th September. Despite being 2-0 down at half time the visitors managed to claw back and win the game 3-2. BBC Look North covered the weekend’s events on what was a glorious September weekend.

The band of The Yorkshire Regiment

Richard Leake and his delightful family put immense effort into organizing a very special weekend. Richard has also written abook on the story of Donald Bell- A Breed Apart – which he has kindly signed some copies of for us, which we have here at no.fifty6.  

Richard signs his books, also in the photo the maquette of Donald Bell he was presented with at the weekend. 

A reminder about the daily service at Thiepval which will continue until 18 November, marking the 141 days of the battle. Commencing at 11.45 there is a short service of commemoration and the last post is played. It is open to all and you can just turn up and attend or register to attend to lay a wreath etc.  Many of our guests have attended the ceremony this month.

 Building Works continue (slowly)

There is progress to report with our building works but it has been a little slow this month. The cause? What happens when you have a great builder who has a dangerous hobby? Gregory is motocross champion of Northern France and in a championship meeting in Maricourt a few weeks ago he came over the handlebars of his motorbike injuring his foot and sadly, breaking his collarbone. We wish Gregory a safe and speedy recovery but it has of course slowed down the work in the last few weeks while he recovers. Not sure who was most concerned with Gregory’s injury – his wife or David!  Both of them have banned him from competing again!!!


Chicken Postscript

We have happy, healthy hens, but egg production is still slow at 2-3 per day… and the chickens do not have a dangerous hobby to account for that! We think they are spending too much time with our guests and have forgotten the need to produce delicious eggs for breakfast. Everybody loves the chickens!


Comments (10)

Jane Roberts says:

Hi Julie & David
Thank you for your fantastic hospitality during our stay with you last week. After a day out walking coming back to No 56 was like returning to a real home from home: full of friends, fantastic food & fabulous entertaining & informative conversation. We loved it.
An update on our visit to Percy Hill's grave: on the 30 September, the centenary of his death, we got talking to 2 ladies who were on their to Boulogne to commemorate the centenary of the death of their ancestor that day. It turned out he too was in 1/4 KOYLI & as the conversation progressed we discovered he was injured around the same time as Percy in the area near Ulster Tower.
They had photos of their ancestor, Jonathan Pearson. I showed them the one I had of Percy with a group of his pals. We couldn't believe it. When we looked closely we identified Jonathan amongst the group. It was an incredible moment. A century to the day of their deaths our families were brought together.
Thank you once again. We hope to be back in 2017.
Jane & Chris

Gary James says:

Another very interesting newslatter. I managed to get to the area on 19th Sept and visited the Regina Trench Cemetery. Also attended the service at Thiepval the next day. Hope to be able to stay with you next Feb.

Brian Janman says:

Hi David & Julie,
Just a few lines to say a big thank you for your great hospitality during our stay last week. I have never had such entertaining evening meals such as those round your table, and with some lovely fellow guests. Not to mention either the lovely grub and David's depth of knowledge on matters re the Somme battlefield. 10 out of 10 all round. Best wishes, Brian.

Jennifer Iles says:

Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with the comments made by Rob Kirk - your newsletter is a wonderful record of people's stories and a valuable archive. I always look forward to receiving the next one.

Dennis Weatherall says:

The old storage shed looking good !

Yvonne Gracey says:

Hi David & Julie, I so look forward to your news letter every month. Once again you two have taken me back to the Somme. I feel with each story that I am there with you. Keep up your good work. So sorry to hear about your builder hope he is well and truly on the mend. Also glad the chickens are doing well. See you both next year take care Von

Sally and Chris says:

Thanks for another great news letter. It is lovely to hear all the stories and keep up to date with news from Number 56. Will be in touch soon to arrange next visit xx Chris and Sal

Andy Rawson says:

Great to hear all the stories from the Somme and No 56.

Sam Gascoyne says:

Possibly your best Newsletter yet!

Fantastic to read of the pilgrimages that relatives and others continue to make to remember the events of 100 years ago.

Look forward to seeing you again soon.

Rob Kirk says:

Once again, a wonderful record of individuals' personal stories. This is such a valuable archive. Do keep it going! Well done, and hope to see you soon.

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