World War 1 History: Britain's Thankful Villages

1920 Unveiling of the Whitehall Cenotaph in London, a national memorial to those who died in the Great War.
1920 Unveiling of the Whitehall Cenotaph in London, a national memorial to those who died in the Great War. | Source

Nearly 900,000 Killed

During the Great War, as World War 1 was called before its successor started in 1939, cities, towns and villages across the British Isles sent their sons, husbands and fathers off to fight in the war. More than 5,700,000 English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish soldiers served during the 1914-1918 War. Of that number, 887,000 were killed and 1,660,000 were wounded-- far more than even World War 2.

Though other countries suffered even higher casualties, the numbers are still staggering, revealing why the shadow of a war fought a century ago still weighs on the national conscience. But statistics can be dry and cold and sometimes a fresh perspective is needed to appreciate just how overwhelming, how pervasive those catastrophic four years were. The writer Arthur Mee provided one such perspective.

Llanfihangel y Creuddyn, a Thankful Village, Viewed from the north.
Llanfihangel y Creuddyn, a Thankful Village, Viewed from the north. | Source

No Memorials?

In the 1930s, Mee noticed that nearly every village he visited had a war memorial for its dead. Curious, he began investigating and discovered that almost every village in the land had suffered military fatalities during the Great War. In fact, in the thousands of villages he researched, he found only 32 villages whose sons all came back alive, albeit some were wounded and missing limbs. Mee, in his Enchanted Land (1936) wrote that “a Thankful Village was one which had lost no men in the Great War because all those who left to serve came home again”. The term struck a collective nerve and stuck. With the memory of the worst war in history still fresh in their minds and in the midst of the Great Depression, people looked to these places as tiny refuges reminiscent of an imagined simpler, innocent time not destroyed by the horrors of Modern War.

Further investigation, covering more than 16,000 villages has uncovered a total of 52 Thankful Villages in all of England and Wales, who sent their lads to war and got them all back again. There isn't a single Thankful Village in all of Scotland. There isn't a single Thankful Village in all of Ireland.

Pricey Village Life

As a sad commentary on our modern era, many old houses and cottages in small villages like the Thankful Villages are now beyond the means of the villagers themselves. Many are now owned by well-to-do outsiders as their “place in the country” as village cohesiveness disappears.

* One Less Thankful Village?

Rod Morris was kind enough to update me on the status of Pipe Aston, Herefordshire. There is no absolute proof yet, but there is reasonable evidence that a young soldier named John Deakin was living in Pipe Aston before he went off to war. He was killed in October, 1917. If substantiated, it would mean that there was one less Thankful Village and one less Doubly Thankful Village on the roster.

Pals Battalions

Many soldiers enlisted under the Pals Battalion system, whereby friends, relatives or work mates were promised they could fight alongside each other. It was a recruiting boon with horrific consequences. As an example, on the first morning of the Somme offensive, 235 men from Accrington in Lancashire were killed in 20 minutes, 93 out of some 175 men from the town of Chorley were killed and 1,700 men from the city of Bradford were killed or wounded in one hour.

The Pals system was phased out in 1917, but not before it had left many areas shocked, devastated and deadened. Whole towns and villages woke up to discover their sons, fathers, husbands and brothers had been wiped out in a single battle. It was immeasurably harder on a village where everyone knew or was related to the dead.

Of the 52 Thankful Villages, 14 have become known as Doubly Thankful Villages because those 14 are the only villages who sent sons to fight in both World Wars and received them all back alive.

Notably, Thierville, in Normandy, France is the only village in France that lost no men in the Franco-Prussian War, World War 1 or World War 2.

The 52* Thankful Villages (and 14* Doubly Thankful Villages)

Ironically, Upper Slaughter is a Doubly Thankful Village.

Also, see the sidebar “* One less Thankful Village?”

VILLAGE
COUNTY (historical)
 
Aisholt
Somerset
 
Arkholme
Lancashire
Doubly Thankful Village
Bigby
Lincolnshire
 
Bradbourne
Derbyshire
 
Catwick
Yorkshire
Doubly Thankful Village
Chantry
Somerset
 
Chelwood
Somerset
 
Coln Rogers
Gloucestershire
 
Colwinston
Glamorgan
 
Cromwell
Nottinghamshire
 
Culpho
Suffolk
 
Cundall
Yorkshire
 
East Carlton
Northamptonshire
 
East Norton
Leicestershire
 
East Wittering
Sussex
 
Flixborough
Lincolnshire
Doubly Thankful Village
Harley
Shropshire
 
Helperthorpe
Yorkshire
 
Herbrandston
Pembrokeshire
Doubly Thankful Village
Herodsfoot
Cornwall
Doubly Thankful Village
High Toynton
Lincolnshire
Doubly Thankful Village
Holywell Lake
Somerset
 
Hunstanworth
Durham
 
Knill
Herefordshire
 
Knowlton
Kent
 
Langton Herring
Dorset
Doubly Thankful Village
Little Sodbury
Gloucestershire
 
Llanfihangel-y-Creuddyn
Cardiganshire
 
Maplebeck
Nottinghamshire
 
Meldon
Northumberland
 
Middleton-on-the-Hill
Herefordshire
Doubly Thankful Village
Minting
Lincolnshire
 
Nether Kellet
Lancashire
Doubly Thankful Village
Norton-le-Clay
Yorkshire
 
Ousby
Cumberland
 
Pipe Aston *
Herefordshire
Doubly Thankful Village
Puttenham
Hertfordshire
 
Rodney Stoke
Somerset
 
Saxby
Leicestershire
 
Scruton
Yorkshire
 
Shapwick
Somerset
 
South Elmham St Michael
Suffolk
Doubly Thankful Village
Stocklinch
Somerset
Doubly Thankful Village
Stoke Hammond
Buckinghamshire
 
Strethall
Essex
 
Teigh
Rutland
 
Tellisford
Somerset
 
Upper Slaughter
Gloucestershire
Doubly Thankful Village
Wigsley
Nottinghamshire
 
Woodend
Northamptonshire
 
Woolley
Somerset
Doubly Thankful Village
Wysall
Nottinghamshire
 
East Norton, a Thankful Village
East Norton, a Thankful Village | Source
Harley, Shropshire, a Thankful Village
Harley, Shropshire, a Thankful Village | Source
Norton le Clay, North Yorkshire. A Thankful Village.
Norton le Clay, North Yorkshire. A Thankful Village. | Source
The main street in Scruton, a Thankful Village.
The main street in Scruton, a Thankful Village. | Source
Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire, England. A Doubly Thankful Village.
Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire, England. A Doubly Thankful Village. | Source

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21 comments

lions44 profile image

lions44 3 years ago from Auburn, WA

Fascinating. Great job. The detail and level of research is excellent. WWI is a war with endless stories. Keep up the good work.


old albion profile image

old albion 3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hi David. I echo the above from lions44. Your usual excellent standard with facts and pictures. Do I detect a slightly different style? I cannot tell what it is but is something a little different?

Voted up and all.

Graham.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

lions44, thanks for commenting. I hadn't heard of the Thankful Villages before and I knew I had to write something about them.

Graham, maybe it's the layout? I usually incorporate images into the article instead of appending them, but, since it's a relatively short article and I wanted to have more village pictures, I had to rearrange. Plus, it's been a while since I posted a hub. Always great to hear from you.


weavesandbraids profile image

weavesandbraids 3 years ago from Africa

I just love the pictures.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

They do look great don't they, weavesandbraids. Wish I could afford to live in one of them. Thanks for commenting.


aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 3 years ago from American Southwest

Enjoyed this; good to hear from you again. I guess I have some in-laws that ought to consider themselves a Doubly Thankful Extended Family.

I have sometimes thought, however, that in a different kind of war, the Pals Battalions would have been very good for unit cohesion. You would already know who you could count on, and the "bands of brothers" would have gone home to be close friends as well as close neighbors.

Sort of like the five brothers who were serving on a ship that sank; it is great to have your friends and family right there with you in battle - until and unless it means you are all wiped out.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Great to hear from you, aethelthryth (I am so proud that I can type your moniker without peeking). You are absolutely right about unit cohesion-- that is one of the main reasons it was done (well, plus getting recruits), but, sooner or later, they paid the piper-- and in the slaughter that was WW1, the price was huge. The Sullivan brothers (the five brothers you mention) were from Waterloo, Iowa, just up the road from where I live. Their deaths also changed the rules for the U.S. in WW2.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Harald - What a terrific and informative Hub - great research as always. I had no idea that so many went to war, that so many never returned home (900,000 !!). The story about all the many, many villages and their memorials goes a long way toward explaining why WW I was so important in the minds and memories of the British as they moved slowly toward involvement in WW II. And just incredible photographs. SHARING!


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 3 years ago from UK

I started writing a short story about a Thankful Village a while ago - really must finish it off! There's some sort of commemoration for the Great War centenary involving Thankful Villages - some guys are doing a motorcycle tour of each.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 3 years ago from London, England

Thankful villages. I always learn something new from your hubs David, good stuff amigo. Nice pictures too.

Voted Up and Interesting.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thank you so much, phdast7. And considering the French lost almost 1,400,000 dead, the reluctance to go to war in the thirties is understandable but the seeds from first war had been sewn.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi, Judi Bee. I'll have to keep en eye out for that motorcycle tour. I hope you finish that short story. The Thankful Villages were something new to me and the fact that not one village in Ireland and Scotland that sent men off to the war saw them all return is mind-blowing.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hey Steve! Glad you liked it. I learn all the time when I'm researching. I'm glad that I can get some of it across in my articles.


Rod Morris 3 years ago

Hi David,

We have removed Pipe Aston Herefordshire from the list of Thankful Villages - there is an explanation on our website as to why this was done. Best wishes, Rod Morris


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks very much for the information, Rod. I believe I have found your website and that you have moved it to List 2, meaning there is uncertainty or doubt. I am adding a sidebar specifically to mention this and your website.


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

I must admit that I don't know a lot about WWI. The fact that 5,700,000 British soldiers participated in that one war is astounding to me. I don't know what the overall population was at that time, but with that extensive a mobilization, I would think it's something of a miracle that there were any "thankful villages." Thanks for an enlightening hub.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks, RonElFran. I believe the entire male population of the UK in 1914 was around 20,000,000. That would include baby boys through old men. So, something like one in four served.


Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

Pavlo Badovskyy 3 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

I read it and enjoyed it! Shared!


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Pavlo, old friend. Great to hear from you. Thanks much for sharing. Glad you liked it.


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 3 years ago from Canada

the things you learn, I didn't know about the doubly thankful villages, I did know about the thankful villages, so well done.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks for commenting, Rebecca. I was shocked at how few villages there were that hadn't lost a soldier in WW1-- and especially the fact that no village in Scotland and Ireland were spared.

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    David Hunt (UnnamedHarald)558 Followers
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    My passion for Twentieth Century history and current events has lasted over 50 years. I try to make history readable and interesting.



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