During a cycling holiday in the Cotswolds earlier this year the organiser told us to look out for something unusual in the church porch in the village of Coln Rogers.
This is not a war memorial but commemorates those who served, all of whom returned safely. It is interesting to note that no ranks are inscribed and a voluntary nurse is included. A small slate plaque is mounted beneath the original plaque – more about that later – showing this to be a Thankful Village.
This terminology was first coined by the splendid Arthur Mee of Children’s Encyclopaedia fame. A war memorial was a feature of virtually every settlement in the country. Mee was struck by the tiny proportion that did not have one, and the notion of the thankful villages was born.
In Enchanted Land (1936), the introductory volume to The King’s England series of guides, he 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. His initial list identified 32 villages.
By October 2013, researchers Norman Thorpe, Rod Morris and Tom Morgan (The Thankful Villages) had identified 53 civil parishes in England and Wales from which all serving personnel returned. There are to date no Thankful Villages identified in Scotland or Ireland.
The same day we cycled through Upper Slaughter which we found out later to be a Doubly Thankful Village. Fourteen of the English and Welsh villages are considered “doubly thankful”, in that they also lost no service personnel during World War II. We saw no plaque here but tucked away in the village hall are two modest wooden plaques, one for each of the wars. One man’s name, Francis George Collett, appears on both plaques. He was the resident handyman who engraved the second plaque. Also in the village hall is a brass plaque commemorating the “distinguished conduct and promptitude” shown by Upper Slaughter’s residents on the night of an incendiary bomb raid on February 4th 1944. Perhaps Upper Slaughter should be known as a Triply Thankful Village.
Research is still ongoing but there are around 54 Thankful Villages, 14 of which are Doubly Thankful Villages, marked D in the list below.
Llanfihangel y Creuddyn
Langton Herring (D)
Upper Slaughter (D)
Nether Kellet (D)
Stretton en le Field
High Toynton (D)
South Elmham St Michael (D)
Consider how these survivors must have felt. They had no war memorials and would attend memorial services in their neighbouring communities. A certain amount of shame was associated with this good fortune and it was unseemly to celebrate when others were mourning.
Catwick, a lucky Doubly Thankful Village
All 30 men who went to war from the East Yorkshire village gave blacksmith John Hugill a coin he nailed to his doorpost below a horseshoe. All 30 came back but, as noted by writer Arthur Mee, one man called Joseph Grantham “left an arm behind”.
John Hugill cut a notch in one of the coins to represent the lost limb.
During World War Two, Catwick’s villagers and blacksmith performed the same coin trick. “If it worked in one world war why might it not work in the second?”, said John Hugill’s grandson, also called John Hugill, who is now the owner of the coins. “People were fairly keen to keep the tradition up.” Somehow there was the same outcome: all those who went to war against Hitler’s Germany and its allies came back home.
Memories: A headstone in the graveyard of St Michael’s church in the ‘Doubly Thankful’ village of Catwick, Yorkshire – the only reminder of those who survived both wars.
Minting – nearly a Doubly Thankful Village.
There may be more thankful villages are out there. Several of those on the list are there purely by virtue of residents’ curiosity. One of those was Minting, a small village in Lincolnshire to which couple Roy and Karen’s Griffiths had retired. They noticed that the village didn’t have a war memorial. The pair set off on a trail, trawling old copies of the local newspaper and studying census and electoral roll data. They ascertained that Minting had sent 10 men to WWI and all of them returned. In WWII, the Griffiths found that nine had fought – although one, Pte Raymond Camp of the Lincolnshire Regiment, had been killed in action in 1943. Thanks to the couple’s efforts, a pair of plaques now hang in the parish church, giving thanks for the 18 men of the village who came back safely and commemorating the loss of Pte Camp.
That’s what I call a result.
Wales has only one Thankful Village, but a least it is a double.
The Thankful Villages Run
During the summer of 2013 Medwyn Parry and Dougie Bancroft rode their motorbikes to every one of the 51 Thankful Villages in the United Kingdom which we had identified at that time. The journey started at Llanfihangel y Creuddyn, near Aberystwyth, at 9:00am on Saturday the 27th of July, and some 2,500 miles and 9 days later it finished at the same point, at about 6:00pm on Sunday the 4th of August. The riders left a commemorative plaque at each Thankful Village and raised funds in support of the Royal British Legion. Villages displayed them in a variety of ways.
An example is shown below.
Thankful Villages are marked in many different ways:
Thankful Villages, a project about rural life
Artist and musician Darren Hayman is visiting each of the 54 Thankful Villages and making a piece of music and a short film for every one focusing on village life. Some take the form of instrumentals inspired by location, some are interviews with village residents set to music, and others are new songs with lyrics or found local traditional songs. You can read about his project here: http://thankful-villages.co.uk/
Thankful Village in France
Between 1919 and 1925, a war memorial was erected in every community in France, with one single exception: the village of Thierville in Normandy. There were no dead to mourn from WWI but also none from the Prussian war of 1870-1 or WWII. Truly Triply Thankful.
© Audrey’s daughter 2018