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World War 1 History: Britain's Thankful Villages

Updated on August 4, 2017
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I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

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.

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.

One of the Thankful Villages

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

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, a village named Upper Slaughter is a Doubly Thankful Village.

The status of Pipe Aston, Herefordshire* as a Doubly Thankful Village, is in question. Although no absolute proof has been uncovered (as of 2017), there is 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 would be only 51 Thankful Villages and 13 Doubly Thankful Village's on the roster.

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
 

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.

East Norton

East Norton,Leicestershire, a Thankful Village
East Norton,Leicestershire, a Thankful Village | Source

Harley

Harley, Shropshire, a Thankful Village
Harley, Shropshire, a Thankful Village | Source

Norton le Clay

Norton le Clay, North Yorkshire. A Thankful Village.
Norton le Clay, North Yorkshire. A Thankful Village. | Source

Scruton

The main street in Scruton, Yorkshire, a Thankful Village.
The main street in Scruton, Yorkshire, a Thankful Village. | Source

Upper Slaughter

Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire, England. A Doubly Thankful Village.
Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire, England. A Doubly Thankful Village. | Source

© 2013 David Hunt

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