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World War 1 History: Britain's Thankful Villages

Updated on August 4, 2017
UnnamedHarald profile image

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.

COUNTY (historical)
Doubly Thankful Village
Doubly Thankful Village
Coln Rogers
East Carlton
East Norton
East Wittering
Doubly Thankful Village
Doubly Thankful Village
Doubly Thankful Village
High Toynton
Doubly Thankful Village
Holywell Lake
Langton Herring
Doubly Thankful Village
Little Sodbury
Doubly Thankful Village
Nether Kellet
Doubly Thankful Village
* Pipe Aston
Doubly Thankful Village
Rodney Stoke
South Elmham St Michael
Doubly Thankful Village
Doubly Thankful Village
Stoke Hammond
Upper Slaughter
Doubly Thankful Village
Doubly Thankful Village

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, 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


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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    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      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.

    • Rebecca E. profile image

      Rebecca E. 

      7 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 imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      I read it and enjoyed it! Shared!

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      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.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      7 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 imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      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.

    • profile image

      Rod Morris 

      7 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 imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      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.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      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 imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      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.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

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

      Voted Up and Interesting.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      7 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.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      7 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!

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      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.

    • aethelthryth profile image


      7 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 imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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

    • weavesandbraids profile image


      7 years ago from Africa

      I just love the pictures.

    • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

      David Hunt 

      7 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      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.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      7 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.


    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      7 years ago from the PNW

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


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