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Harvest, Art, Travel, Craftsmanship - Things to Inspire our August at No.56

Posted on 31st August 2021 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

Harvest, Art, Travel, Craftsmanship  - Things to Inspire our August at No.56 Where did August go? No sooner it seems we were welcoming August in with its promise of warm days and golden fields and now it’s over!

There have been some golden, sunny days, but there has also been rain, wind, grey skies and a chill in the evening air. We had rain in early August like we have never seen before in summer. Rain that flowed in muddy rivers through the fields and along the tracks of the Somme. This delayed the peak harvest time for our friends the farmers. La Moisson – The Harvest of wheat finished just this week, 20 days later than last year. The farmers say the quality of wheat is not as good because of all the late rain and to expect the price of bread to go up in the autumn as wheat is in such demand. You cannot live here and not connect to the cycle of nature and how the climate affects everything so much. This area of France produces more wheat than any other in France, the land playing such an important role in providing for a nation.
So thank you to the farmers for toiling day and night to bring in the harvest. We would watch the headlights of the harvesters as they toiled up and down Mash Valley in the dark to get it done. Our bread will never taste better than in harvest month.

There is something mesmeric about watching he harvest take place. The unison of man, land and nature. The land giving up its treasures to feed us. So different to 105 years ago when the land was ragged, torn, and blood soaked, absorbing such loss. Now the peace and beauty of this landscape dotted with its scars and memorials has the ability to heal and nurture.

As we ourselves have walked the tracks of the Somme this month, our footsteps took us many times to The Sunken Lane. The rain had turned the Lane to a gravelly river bed in places. We remember the men who sat on its banks awaiting their destiny. Think of The Lancashire Fusiliers and your mind takes you to that shadowy lane where they are fixed in time.

So it seemed appropriate that the poet who inspired us this month is not well known, but he served with The 19th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. Geoffrey Bache Smith, born in 1894 was a good friend of JRR Tolkien, both pupils at King Edward’s School, Birmingham. Their friendship endured. During the war, Geoffrey corresponded with Tolkien, describing the situation in France as an “orgy of death and cruelty”. He arrived at Bouzincourt, where Tolkien was stationed, on 6th July 1916. The friends talked frequently, discussing poetry, the war and the future. In mid-November, Geoffrey’s Battalion was shelled and he was mortally wounded by shrapnel. He died, on 3rd December 1916, aged 22. He is buried in Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery. Tolkien never forgot his old friend. In 1918, Tolkien arranged for the publication of an anthology of Geoffrey’s poetry, “A Spring Harvest”. In addition, he wrote two poems in memory of Geoffrey, entitled “GBS” and “Companions of the Rose”.

This by Geoffrey himself:
“Let us tell Quiet Stories of Kind Eyes”

Let us tell quiet stories of kind eyes
And placid brows where peace and learning sate:
Of misty gardens under evening skies
Where four would walk of old, with steps sedate.
Let’s have no word of all the sweat and blood,
Of all the noise and strife and dust and smoke
(We who have seen Death surging like a flood,
Wave upon wave, that leaped and raced and broke).
Or let’s sit silently, we three together,
Around a wide hearth-fire that’s glowing red,
Giving no thought to all the stormy weather
That flies above the roof-tree overhead.
And he, the fourth, that lies all silently
In some far-distant and untended grave,
Under the shadow of a shattered tree,
Shall leave the company of the hapless brave,
And draw nigh unto us for memory’s sake,
Because a look, a word, a deed, a friend,
Are bound with cords that never a man may break,
Unto his heart for ever, until the end.

So, what else is new or has inspired us this month?

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July at No.fifty6, Music, Maoris and Remembrance

Posted on 31st July 2021 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

July at No.fifty6, Music, Maoris and Remembrance Another month passes here at No.fifty6 and though we have been quiet, guest-wise, due to travel restrictions, there has been plenty going on. We are often asked “Do you get bored?” and the answer to that is a resounding “no!” There is so much to keep us mentally and physically occupied and July seems to have been busier than ever with things to keep us inspired.

We feel we are on the cusp of once again welcoming guests and friends through our door, but as we write this, the travel restrictions have not yet been lifted. More on that later.

July has been a mixed bag weather-wise. We had 10 days of glorious hot summer days, blue skies and fabulous sunsets, but the second half has been mixed with some heavy rain and cooler temperatures. We were not affected by the flooding over parts of Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium and our thoughts go out to those who have seen the terrible side of what nature can inflict.

Farmers here have started the harvest of wheat and there is a steady flow of machinery traversing the fields, which are turning golden after months of verdant green. A different kind of bronzed beauty meets our eyes as we look across Mash Valley now.

And always in July, our thoughts turn to the Battle of The Somme, raging throughout the summer months of 1916, 105 years ago. The lead photo shows our life-size Tommy who sits on our terrace, his shadow on the wall and the Mash Valley sunset reflected off his chest.

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June 2021 at No.fifty6.

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

June 2021 at No.fifty6. As we write this, 1st July is upon us, a date synonymous with The Somme, the date on which the 1916 battle commenced. For us it is a day for reflection and looking forward, a date bound up with so many reasons why we now call The Somme our home.
This year, like last, Somme commemorations are different due to Covid and so many not able to travel. There are some small Covid compliant ceremonies but the essence of The Somme is not to be found in any ceremony. It is to be found looking over the now beautiful fields, the skyline, the dips and curves which caress The Somme. Then of course the Cemeteries and Memorials dotted across the landscape like silent witnesses. Come here and you truly connect with the land and its history. There is no place in the world like it. Come and remember, come and reflect. Come on a personal journey, as we did many years ago, a journey for us which continues still. The boys who were here, those who still lie, those who went home who have now all passed. We believe they would have appreciated being remembered in quiet, personal ways, more 105 years later. So do take a moment for personal reflection.
A favourite poem of ours which sums up...

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May 2021  - Where is Spring? After a Cold, Wet, May, Sunshine is Finally Here!

Posted on 31st May 2021 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

May 2021  - Where is Spring? After a Cold, Wet, May, Sunshine is Finally Here! After changeable  weather in April, it is as if a “low” has sat over Northern France  for the whole of May. Day after day of chill winds, low temperatures and rain, more rain. Persistent rain, long showers, short sharp showers, drizzle, we have had them all. We have seen rainbows, different skies, stormy beauty, but it seems every day, rain. We know we are not alone with this weather across Europe. Just the last 3 days early summer has arrived with wall-to-wall sunshine and warmth, hurrah!

However, there is always beauty. A stormy Somme sky is beautiful. Rainbows falling on Cemeteries bringing a particular poignancy. The fields have now turned to vivid green as the new growth has responded to the life-giving rain. Everywhere now looks lush, renewed, we now need the warmth, which has started this past weekend.

Despite the weather there has been plenty to keep us busy this month, we have continued walking, and we have some stories to tell here.

But all this rain of course makes us think of how this affected the soldiers who were here in all weathers. After a walk, we come back to a warm house, hot tea and dry clothes - not so easy in the trenches.

Rain too, has its own poetic rhythm as we hear it on our windows. It is no better used in poetry than by Edward Thomas in his poem simply called “Rain.” Written while he was in a hut on the battlefields.

Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain

On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me

Remembering again that I shall die

And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks

For washing me cleaner than I have been

Since I was born into this solitude.

Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:

But here I pray that none whom once I loved

Is dying tonight or lying still awake

Solitary, listening to the rain,

Either in pain or thus in sympathy

Helpless among the living and the dead,

Like a cold water among broken reeds,

Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,

Like me who have no love which this wild rain

Has not dissolved except the love of death,

If love it be towards what is perfect and

Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.

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April 2021 - Chill Winds, Spring Arrives, Anzacs and Roadmap Announcements.

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

April 2021  - Chill Winds, Spring Arrives, Anzacs and Roadmap Announcements. If March was contrary, weather wise, April has continued the theme, the first half of the month very cold with hard frosts which have caused problems for vineyards and fruit growers throughout France. The sun has been there by day to fool you into thinking it is warmer than it is, but too cold to work in the garden and a need to wrap up warm for walks. The last week however has seen the wind change direction, the sun seems to shine brighter and the Spring warmth has returned. So now is the time to get rid of winter from the garden and of course explore the landscape here as we love to do.

The farmers are busy, tractors rolling up and down the large fields, potatoes going in, distinguishable by their neatly peaked ridge rows, wheat growing, colza/rape/canola now tinging some fields with a brilliant yellow. Blossom everywhere on trees and the birds nesting in our eaves as they usually do.
Great blue skies for photography so David has been in his element, capturing moments and images which catch his eye, as we walk this hallowed landscape.

A place we go to frequently on our walks is Caterpillar Valley Cemetery. It is a beautiful place, surrounded by fields and with stunning views. Buried within its walls is Captain Hugh Stewart Smith, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. An only son, he was killed near High Wood in August 1916. He is not a well-known poet, but among his possessions, in his diary was found this poem. He captures among the death surrounding him, the ordinariness he longed for:
On the Plains of Picardy
Lay a soldier, dying
Gallantly, with soul still free
Spite the rough worlds' trying.
Came the Angel who keeps guard
When the fight has drifted,
"What would you for your reward
When the clouds have lifted?"
Then the soldier through the mist
Heard the voice and rested
As a man who sees his home
When the hill is breasted –
This his answer and I vow
Nothing could be fitter –
Give me peace, a dog, a friend
And a glass of bitter!

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@SamGascoyne2 @AlanLaishley Well we couldn’t ask for better company than with you 2,to share the Somme with. Thank… https://t.co/qLQJtxP9CJ

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