Spring is in the Air - April News from No.fifty6
Posted on 30th April 2018 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
It has been quite a month. The weather can’t make up its mind whether it is spring, summer or winter with 10 days mid month of very hot temperatures and endless blue skies and now we are back to rain and chilly temperatures. The grass has had its first cut and is growing abundantly. There is always something to do here. It has been an extraordinary month here with lots going on, many personal pilgrimages, wonderful guests providing memorable moments, Australian Remembrance, commemorations for the Red Baron, a BLESMA visit and this month there is both sad and ultimately happy chicken news.
Tony Nash visited with his 2 daughters Jane and Clare to mark the 100thanniversary of the death of Tony’s grandfather James King in Aveluy Wood on 6thApril 1918. James of the 23rd Battalion London Regiment is buried in Delville Wood Cemetery having been taken from the Aveluy Battlefield wounded on 5thApril. Jane, Clare and Tony made a poignant visit to the places their grandfather fought, was wounded, died and is ultimately laid to rest under a tree in Delville Wood Cemetery, now a place of peace and tranquility.
Three generations came with Elizabeth Rogers from Middlesborough. Her mum Pauline, husband Nigel and daughter Sarah made the journey from the north of England to pay homage to their family members who served in the War. Elizabeth’s relatives are: Albert Cope – Private, Yorkshire Regiment. Died 11July 1916 age 25. Remembered on the Thiepval Memorial
Thomas Cope elder brother of Albert - Private Yorkshire Regiment . Died 23 April 1917 Aged 42. Buried in Wancourt British Cemetery.
It is believed that Thomas was so upset to hear of his much younger brother's death, he enlisted in anger leaving behind a wife and six children. Elizabeth’s great aunt once told a tale of when she and her mum had visited the grave there had been some mix up with the service number at the plot, resulting in her never believing her husband was dead and she waited for years for him to come home making herself a bit of a nuisance at the local red cross office.
Also Elizabeth’s grandfather: Joseph Bradbury served at the Somme but was one of the lucky ones to come home. Elizabeth says “I was a teenager when he died but I do remember him as a lovely quiet gentleman who never spoke of his time in France. We do know he was injured with a gun shot wound on the 5 March 1917 was sent home to recover but then returned to France before he was finally discharged in February 1919.
This lovely family spent time with David tracing their ancestors’ footsteps, seeing the places they would have seen and visiting their graves and memorials.
Clare and Andrew Mitchell made the journey from South Africa. Clare’s brother had visited us on the centenary of their Great Uncle’s death in 2016 and recommended Clare should visit the area too. Two years later Clare made her own pilgrimage. Errol Tatham was a Second Lieutenant in the South African Infantry and died 18th July 1916 in Delville Wood and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. David took Clare and Andrew to the place in Delville Wood where the records and witness statements show Errol was last seen tending to the wounded and giving out water and rations to the men in the Wood that had become a hellhole.
As they made their pilgrimage on an April morning David was aware of something/someone watching them. As they walked along “Errol’s” moss covered trench line their was an eerie silence and David looked up to see a deer staring back at him. It looked straight at David, Clare and Andrew, knowingly, before gently turning around and walking away into the depths of the Wood. Clare could not stop thinking about their encounter with the deer in this special place.
Gordon, Joana and Mary made their pilgrimage in April too. Joana’s grandfather, David Barber was a Sapper with the 174 Tunnelling Company Royal Engineers and died 13th November 1915 in the area around Bois Francais in a tunnelling incident and is buried in Point 110 Old Cemetery. Joana has carried out a lot of research and finds Point 110 a place of comfort for her as she reflects on her Grandfather, his short life and the baby he left behind. Joana named her own son after her grandfather. What Joana longs for is a photo of her grandfather, which she does not have. During their visit we explained the work of the Tunnelling Companies and traced where 174 Company had been, both in La Boisselle and Bois Francais. Joana found some peace knowing the work her grandfather had been involved in and pouring over the books we have here. Her research continues.
Angela Day brought 3 generations of her family to The Somme. Angela had told us before her visit:
“The only information I have to hand about my Great Grandfather is that his name was Arthur William Underwood, he died on 18th August 1916 aged 35, serving as a sergeant in the 13th Bn of the Middlesex Regiment and he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. My mum lived with her Grandmother, Edna Isobel Underwood (Arthur's widow) as a child but very little was ever said about him, however, mum does have a range of documentation and medals together with a letter from a member of his battalion who witnessed his death and commended his conduct (evidently he was like a father figure to the young members of his battalion). We would like to understand more about the tragic circumstances of the Somme battlefields and pay our respects to all the fallen, particularly to Arthur. We are keen that our children also gain an incite into this period of history (and understand how lucky we all are!).”
David spent time with the Day family on the battlefields, showing where Arthur was when he was killed in the area around Guillemont. It was an emotional moment for the family.
Pete Harris who has visited the battlefields several times visited with his daughter Emma to commemorate the 100thanniversary of his great Uncle’s death. William Nelms of the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry died on 22 April 1918 and is buried at St Venant Robecq Road Cemetery. Pete also remembered Sidney Nelms also of the Ox and Bucks, who died 3 May 1917 and is remembered on the Arras Memorial. Pete visited the area where Sidney died and had his own moment of reflection with his daughter on the sacrifice of their forefathers.
Each family has a tale to tell. Photos and medals to be taken out of boxes, letters handed down through the generations, stories, even names passed on. Even just a faint mental image like a poorly made negative of someone we never knew or have no photograph of. This, for us is remembrance. Holding dear in your hearts the legacy of a generation who in their own way continue to tell their own stories through those who are dear to them and who hold them dear. We will remember them.
Anzac Day and the Sir John Monash Centre
Locally, the week which includes 25thApril is known as “Semaine Australien” or Australian Week, when Australians visit in number for Anzac Day commemorations and to make their own personal visits to the battlefields.
This year marked the 100thAnniversary of the Battle of Villers Bretonneux and therefore the Anzac Day commemoration was a huge affair. More than 8000 people attended the Dawn Service at the Australian National Memorial at Villers Bretonneux amid tight security. Prince Charles, the Prime Minister of France and the Prime Minister of Australia were all in attendance. Despite the air turning very cold overnight and some rain toward the end of the service everyone said what an excellent commemoration it was. As one of our guests said – “losing a night’s sleep and getting a bit cold is nothing compared to what the boys endured 100 years ago.”
Our guests came from Victoria, Tamworth NSW, Perth and Queensland and all said it was an event they will never forget.
Commemorations were also held at Fromelles and Bullecourt with the New Zealand nation commemorating as it does every year on the preceding Saturday at the New Zealand Memorial at Longueval.
On 24thApril the new Sir John Monash Centre at VB was inaugurated by the Prime Ministers of France and Australia. This new interpretive centre is well designed, sympathetic to the location and we were very impressed with the contents. Yes of course it has an ANZAC focus but the films and interactive displays are excellent, educational and well thought out. Very sensory with use of sound, music, light and images. You need to have the Sir John Monash Centre SJMC app on your phone/tablet and earphones and then your visit is at your own pace. The app can be downloaded in advance from your usual App Store or at the Centre itself with use of their Wi-Fi making the experience very immersive. Parking, disabled access is good, toilets and small cafe to give a complete experience. Highly recommended. Allow a good couple of hours for a visit. Website: https://sjmc.gov.au/
On 18thApril we welcomed the BLESMA Battlefield Bike Ride to No.fifty6. This is the third year we have been involved with this charity who organise a group to give wounded ex servicemen the opportunity to cycle the Battlefields. This year, led by the devilishly dapper and smashing bloke Alistair Cope, we had a group of 13 (and guide dog Freddie) and in glorious sunshine we guided them around The Somme on their one day off from cycling. Claudie Llewellyn kindly let the group visit the Glory Hole for a private visit and this was the highlight of their day, being able to see and experience the underground areas. Our thanks to Kieron and Poppy in Courcelette for providing a very welcome picnic lunch. This day is a highlight of our year – we are humbled by the fortitude and resilience shown by this group of guys whose lives have been changed by their injuries. All make their own personal journeys through the week and to be just a small part of that to share the history here is a wonderful experience for us. https://blesma.org/how-we-help/activities/cycling/
BLESMA visit underground
Baron Manfred Von Richtofen
21 April 2018 saw the centenary of the death of Richtofen, the Red Baron. Commemorations were held at Vaux sur Somme (where he was shot down) and at Fricourt German Cemetery where he was interred for a time before his body was taken back to Germany. The commemorations were attended by descendants of Richtofen and a replica Fokker DR1 plane made the journey too. In Vaux sur Somme there is a new memorial to the man who is probably the most famous military aviator of all time.
The Poppy Appeal
Here at No.fifty6 We have a box of British Legion poppies, memorial crosses, pins, wreaths etc. for those who wish to put a cross or wreath on a memorial or grave. Over the months we or our guests pop the donations we receive into the poppy box. This week Isabella our Somme Poppy Coordinator came to replenish our stocks and empty our donation box. We are pleased to report the box contained €376.78 and a further £13 sterling. Thank you to all of you who kindly donated.
A further drum roll this month please….
Our new 5th bedroom and breakfast/dining area has been appreciated by guests. We have had such lovely comments about the new space which has added a new dimension to no.fifty6. With the few days of summer weather in April we even made use of the brand new terraced area - a great place for relaxing and enjoying good weather after the day’s explorations. We have also replaced the font doorstep with a ramp and this blends in to the new terraced area. So much better! We can’t tell you how pleased we are to have achieved our vision. There now remains just a little bit of snagging which Greg the builder will do on his return from holiday and then we will be at the end of our renovations. We can hardly believe how far we have come.
The bunnies are of course OK and have enjoyed the spring sunshine. Having lost 4 of our original chickens to old age, we decided it was time to hear the patter of new chicken feet in the garden of no.fifty6. Just as soon as the decision was made our lovely old girl Suzanna, the big white mother hen, decided it was her time to go and search for grapes in chicken heaven, leaving just our original white girl Brigitte. And you can’t have just one chicken…so a quick visit to the special farm in Buire Sur Ancre where our previous girls came from and voilà, we now have 6 lovely new girls to keep Brigitte company for the rest of her days. Monsieur the chicken farmer (who thinks we are crazy English and we think is crazy chicken farmer) told us these are guaranteed good layers and full of personality (that's probably farmer speak for trouble). We have 3 new red hens and 3 black. We have told the new arrivals that they will have a good life here and that our guests are lovely. And of course, as we watched them for the first few days to discover their personalities, we had to give them names. So may we introduce you to Brigitte’s brood: the black ones are Marge (in charge), Georgette (for George Michael) and Elsie (also known as Duracell as she has a copper neck) and the reds are named for redheads – Harriet (for Prince Harry as there is a Royal Wedding coming up), Edie (for Ed Sheeran) and Florence (for Florence and the Machine).
As if our stress levels are not high enough at times we have had settling in issues while they sort out the pecking order and Brigitte is very much making her presence felt as the matriarch. But these 21 week old girls are a delight and already rush over to say “hello and feed me” whenever we go in the garden. Welcome girls!
Ps. Crazy chicken farmer gave us a dozen eggs as we were packing our new girls into the car (seat belts on of course) and something in a carrier bag - which on closer inspection turned out to be a frozen oven ready chicken. See - crazy chicken farmer!