The Centenary of The Somme - July News from no.fifty6

Posted on 31st July 2016 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

The Centenary of The Somme - July News from no.fifty6

It has been an eventful, busy, thought provoking month on The Somme. We will capture here, some of the key events and happenings in this past month. For us, the important thing is that Remembrance has been at the centre of the commemorations and our guests have been moved and inspired in equal measure as they remember the fallen. We are pleased to report that the security measures put in place around The Somme to protect us all, meant that the commemorations were without incident. However, we have been shocked by recent terrorist attacks in France which have rocked our adopted homeland. In our piece of rural France it is difficult to comprehend man’s inhumanity to man. We hope for peace in our time just like the men who were here 100 years ago.


Though we did not go to the Thiepval commemoration those who did have reported that it was an excellent event which hit the right note. The event was attended by President Hollande, Prince Charles and Camilla, William, Kate and Harry as well as close to 10,000 VIPS and members of the public. The event was televised in France and the UK. The TV coverage and programmes about The Somme around the centenary have brought the subject to a wider audience and sparked new interest.  All the grandstands and tents have been removed form site and there is, remarkably, no evidence of what went on there, with Thiepval looking glorious on these summer days.

Many of our guests this month have attended 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 register to attend to lay a wreath etc.  We have had really positive feedback about this daily event.


We were at Lochnagar at 05.45 on the morning of 1stJuly. It was quite a moment to walk to the crater as the sun rose, surveying the landscape now so peaceful just as those who were here 100 years ago did – as they contemplated the day ahead. The Lochnagar event’s strength is in its simplicity. As the maroon went off and whistles blew at 07.28am it was the most poignant moment  - almost like a bridge to 100 years ago – but we can only imagine the difference in the thoughts, feelings and landscape 100 years ago. Amongst the wreath laying, poems and prayers, it was wonderful to see our local children from La Boisselle lay white posies on a specially constructed giant wreath of reconciliation and sing La Marseillaise, a feature which will be repeated now at the annual ceremony.  The commemoration closed with everyone linking hands around the crater and poppy petals being thrown. Again, the event was televised by various UK and French media companies. 

The children of La Boisselle rehearse for 1st July

 Delville Wood

For some reason the South African government decided to commemorate the Battle of Delville Wood a few days early on 12th July. We attended along with our guests. President Zuma made a speech and the new garden and wall of remembrance, which has the names of all those who died in the War from South Africa whether black or white, was opened. The President also inaugurated the reworked Delville Wood Museum.  It is good to see Delville Wood Museum is open for visitors again as it has been closed since the beginning of the year. The site is unique on The Somme and is well worth a visit. As the change of date of the official commemoration was announced quite late, we already had guests from South Africa booked in with us for the “real date” of 15th July, who were determined to be at the Wood for dawn on that date. After a fabulous Fete National (Bastille Day) celebrated locally in our village we did make the pilgrimage with our South African guests (who were retired South African military) and our French friends to Delville Wood for dawn on the 15th. We woke to the terrible news from Nice, and the mood was somber as we headed to Delville Wood. Being there at dawn was a highlight of all the Somme commemorations for us. It was a misty morning and the Wood was eerily quiet. A deer ran across ahead of us, fleeing into the trees. Each of us there took our time for quiet reflection. Then out of the mist, a lone figure walked. He approached us and this was what he told us as he stopped to talk. Neil from South Africa had been planning his visit for 40 years. Since he was a young boy he had wanted to be at Delville Wood at dawn on 15th July 2016, one hundred years after his grandfather entered the Wood, fought and survived the Battle. On that day in 1916 his grandfather was wounded, and as he lay there, he found a rosary in the mud which he clung on to. He survived and went on to be awarded a gallantry medal for his actions that day. Neil produced the rosary that his grandfather had taken home and his grandmother had worn from that day until she died. Neil had walked from Montauban that 15th July morning, just as the troops did 100 years ago. To share a personal commemoration that clearly meant so much to someone far from home was very special. For us, these personal moments are what makes the Somme a uniquely special place.

Delville Wood Cemetery at dawnOfficial ceremony at Delville Wood President Zuma opens the memorial wall


Pozieres is another special place, and it is appropriate that this village had its own special commemorations which lasted all weekend of 22-24 July 2016. We remember that the British and Canadians fought at Pozieres, but for Australians it is a special place of pilgrimage. More Australians died at Pozieres in 8 weeks than in the 8 months of the Gallipoli campaign.

On 22nd July an All Nations commemoration was held at the 1st Division Memorial at Pozieres, organized by Barry and Von Gracey of the Pozieres Remembrance Association.  It was a beautiful evening event.

In the days leading up to 23rd July 7000 white crosses each bearing a knitted Pozieres poppy was put into place at what will be the new Pozieres Memorial Park next to the Windmill site. The 7000 crosses were laid out in the shape of the rising sun emblem synonymous with Australian remembrance. One cross for each man who died. On 23rd July at 08.30 a very special service was held at the park by the crosses.  After that, the new Pozieres village hall was inaugurated in the presence of Dave Chalmers representing the Australian Government.

7000 crosses at Pozieres

In the afternoon at 4pm on a hot sunny day was the official, ticketed Australian Pozieres commemoration. We attended along with guests and it was an incredibly well organized and fitting event. The highlight for us was seeing the Australian Colours presented – representing the battalions that fought at Pozieres. The event was televised live in Australia. For us, this was probably the best organized event the Somme has seen this centenary.

 3 Very Special Awards 

Also as part of the Pozieres weekend 3 very special awards were made to some very deserving people who we are lucky enough to call friends.

On 23rd July Von and Barry Gracey were recognized by the French state by being awarded France’s highest honour. They have been made Chevaliers of the Legion D’Honneur.  It is the first time a couple have been awarded entry in to the Legion of Honour. They were recognized for their ceaseless quest to have the men of Pozieres given the recognition they deserve. Von and Barry have worked tirelessly to raise funds for the memorial park and to raise awareness in Australia of the sacrifice made by Australians in this battle. Von and Barry have very strong links with the people of Pozieres, have travelled 1000s of kilometers across Australia to ensure this small but significant French village and the sacrifice made there is not forgotten. and have done so much to ensure the men of Pozieres are remembered.

Also on 23rd July our good friend Bernard Delattre, Mayor of Pozieres was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) by the Australian Ambassador to France -  for his efforts to ensure Pozieres is remembered and is a suitable place for those who visit this historic village, and for his work with the Australian people and for Franco-Australian relations.

It was quite a day!

Bernard Delattre receives his OAM Barry and Von in the Memorial Park
(photo by David Bailey)
Barry's Legion D'Honneur

On 24th July we attended the last night of the Pozieres Son and Lumiere. This event, in the fields of Pozieres, takes place as night descends. We were blown away by the professionalism of the troupe of actors who all live locally and are passionate about this event which they rehearse for for 6 months.  In a series of Tableaux, stories from the War around Pozieres are brought to life with sound, lights, special effects, costumes, sets etc. It was moving, amazing and humbling all at the same time. And yes, our recorded voices were part of it along with Jacques, the Newfoundland dog who lives in our village! It finished with spectacular firework display at half past midnight with Bruno Sauty singing his wonderful song Terre De Combat live.  Quite a weekend!

The Son and Lumiere happens every 2 years and will be a must see in 2018.  

Improvements to No.fifty6

For those who have visited in recent months, you will be aware that we have been planning renovation work to our stable building which up until now has held all our storage. We are pleased to report that after months of getting plans drawn up, planning applications etc. we now have the necessary official authorisation to proceed and work has begun! We have employed French builders, Sebastian and Gregory to undertake the work and Phase 1 is underway. If you are staying with us, do take a moment to say hello to Seb and Greg, they are a delight. The stables have been cleared of all our storage (there lies another story) and necessary demolition and rebuilding work has begun inside and out. It will be some months before the work is completed but at last it is underway and we are very excited. The work will create a new larger breakfast and dining room for our guests, a new kitchen, and private living accommodation for us. We will keep you posted as work proceeds. As the building is independent to the main house, (until the work is finished and the buildings are all joined up) it does not impact on our service here. It also means David gets to learn new French words for concrete mixer, RSJ and supporting wall!  

Chicken Postscript

Egg production has decreased as the chickens are moulting! The recent hot weather has meant they are shedding their old feathers and growing new ones. The energy which normally goes into laying eggs is going into feather growing. So from 5-6 eggs a day we have been getting 2, but we think the moult is nearly over and the girls are beginning to look fabulous again.

We have also had a new visitor – a hedgehog (herisson in French) comes at night to clear the chicken food so Joan and the girls have prickly competition!   

 Joan and Brigitte  Our prickly visitor

Comments (19)

Richard Scott says:

Hi Julie & David, this was a very interesting read, thank you. Hopefully I'll be back over in a month or two.

George & Brenda Moore says:

A very moving Newsletter. We so look forward to staying with you and hopefully next year we will be able to make it. The whole sequence of events commemorating the Somme have been very emotional even though we had no relative involved. It was great to see you both on Sky News and now we can say we know some very famous people.
The new build will be wonderful for you and more folk can enjoy your splendid hospitality.
Kind Regards
Brenda & George
Harrogate North Yorkshire

Wendy Stringer says:

Very good newsletter with some moving editorial. Enjoyable reading and just love the cute hedgehog visitor. Cheeky monkey!

Robin of Robin, Marion and John says:

Thank you both for a memorable account of the events of last month. This newsletter, our recent visit and especially reading about Neil in Delville Wood has more than made up for being unable to be there at the centenary our own grandfather's (Grandie) arrival at the Front on the 20th July 1916. Only 9 miles from No.56!
So reminiscence of our own pilgrimage, memories, emotions again flooding back.

Dennis Weatherall says:

Dear friends at 56, it's always a pleasure to receive your "dit" it's read by sons Darryn & Jarrod as well. We the "Weatherall Boys" are off to Vietnam in a few days to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, this will be my last return and last battlefield guiding in Vietnam. After 26 years in the field the mind is willing but the body isn't ,so time to hang up the boots. Also after almost 50 years married and as I've been away 52 years maybe it's also time to give my # 1 girl, some home time. Feb-March will be my absolute last infield Battlefield journey, finishing off my 26 years of infield guiding time with an Anglo-Zulu Boer War study tour. All can be viewed on my web site, which is
Best regards, keep up the great work, OSD Weathers (Weatherall Boys From October 2015)

Sam Gascoyne says:

Many thanks for such a tremendous and comprehensive account of the events that have been taking place.

I look forward to visiting at the end of the month and hope Terry & his guests have a great time with you this week.

Much Love,


Terry Whenham says:

The story about the lone figure in Delville Wood sent a shiver down my spine!

Gerald Abbotts says:

Hi Julie & David.
Once again a very informative news letter. Looking forwards to seeing you both again in 2 weeks time.

Phil Rickaby says:

Many thanks for this report it brings back those moments of reflection and the lovely memories the Derby Triumph Club had during the week in June we spent on the Somme.Watching the TV coverage on the 1st of July was a moving experience. Give our regards to your French friends and their children and hope to see you all again in 2018.

Sally Burge says:

Thanks David and Julie for another interesting and informative newsletter. The Delville wood was really poignant. We are really looking forward to seeing you in Sept - and the girls of course. The renovations look fantastic. Sally and Chris

Claire Alford says:

What a special month! It was a privilege to spend a few days with you both as always, and to pay our respects to Joseph again. Thank you for everything that you do, and good luck for the exciting renovations xx

Len Chaganis says:

Great as always to hear your news have a great summer see you soon.

mike bridgestock. says:

Thank you Dave & Julie for another extremely well thought out email. I had a fabulous week around the area & the Thiepval service was amazing (although rather spoilt by the mad crush to get on the coaches at the end). Thank you also for the pins & pen David, Ava nicked the pen as soon as she saw it but I do get to use it occasionally.

Andy Rawson says:

Thank you for keeping those of us who cannot get to the Somme this summer informed about the centenary commemorations.

Marie Wallet says:

Always a pleasure to read you. I enjoyed every word and relived those moments in my thoughts.
From a friend "Oviboisselloise"
to wonderful friends "Oviboissellois".

Mike and Kath, Bath, UK says:

Your newsletter this month is a tribute to those who died during the battle of the Somme and recognition too of those whose dedication and professionalism enabled the commemorations to take place. Thank you.
I found your piece on meeting Neil at Delville Wood particularly moving, your words captured his journey perfectly.
Good luck with the renovation work and to help David . . . bétonnière (concrete mixer).

Terry Sponder says:

Terry enjoys your monthly newsletters enormously. Terry and the boys are looking forward to seeing you next month.

Rob kirk says:

Dear Julie and David. What a wonderfully evocative summary of the centenary events! For those of us who weren't there after July 1st, you have brought it to life. Your detail of Delville Wood is superb: did you take any pictures of Neil and the rosary? And I had no idea about the crosses and son et lumieres at Pozieres. Brilliant - and well done. See you next May, if not before. Rob and Elaine.

Has Oldham RAF says:

Mine Hosts
A wonderful tableau of events. I enjoyed every word. Thank you for putting it together.

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