The 'Thankful Villages': Where Everyone Came Back from the World Wars


The First World War Changed the United Kingdom dramatically and had a lasting impact on social memory. The mass slaughter of 1914-18 robbed the UK of a million lives, leaving no part of the country untouched. Memorials, such as the one on the left, were erected in thousands of villages and towns and to this day are commonplace in churchyards and village greens the length and breadth of the British Isles. But there was a tiny handful of settlements, believe it or not, where all those who served returned home.

These town and villages have all the usual components of  communities in rural Britain  -the red phone box, the market square, the village pub, the peaceful churchyard. But the usually ubiquitous war memorial is missing.
In many cases, tucked away in the village hall or at the back of the church, there are instead modest plaques. They celebrate the men from the village who served in the great war and, in every case, returned home.

These communities are known as 'The Thankful Villages', a term coined in the 1930s by the writer Arthur Mee to describe the handful of communities which suffered no military fatalities in World War I. Mee identified 32 such places, a figure that has been revised in recent years to 52. Of these, 14 have also come to be known as doubly thankful - also losing no-one during WWII. The scale of this  good fortune is astonishing. A million British lives were lost from 1914-18 in Europe's first experience of industrialised, total warfare. No Scottish community appears to have been left unscathed, and no such communities have been identified in Ireland, all of which was still part of the UK during WWI. In England and Wales, the 52 so far singled out are dwarfed by over 16,000 town and villages which paid the highest sacrifice.


Llanfihangel-y-Creuddyn, Cardiganshire, has no war memorial at its heart
Somehow, these fortunate communities were safeguarded from the worst devastation of the first half of the 20th Century. Some of those they sent to fight may have returned home badly injured or deeply traumatised, but all came back alive.
Of course, even those in the thankful villages in the UK did not escape the hardships and disruption imposed by total war. By 1918, rationing was in force and everywhere on the home front would take many years to recover. Likewise, the fortunate veterans who made it home alive were scarcely unscathed. Many were permanently damaged by their experiences, whether physically or mentally. By the end of WWI, the Army had dealt with 80,000 cases of "shell shock" - psychological trauma caused by war experiences.


The aptly named Upper Slaughter, one of a handful of  'Doubly Thankful' villages.
There seem to be few obvious reasons why some places were luckier than others, they don't share any other real striking similarities. Nor were the thankful villages any less forthcoming when it came to providing volunteers. Arkholme, Lancashire, sent 59 men to fight in WWI, all of whom appear, incredibly, to have returned. Instead, they seem merely to have been lucky. As one researcher, Rod Morris, has observed, 21 personnel from Rodney Stoke, Somerset, may have all come back intact - yet of 73 sent by neighbouring Draycott, 11 were killed. What the thankful villages tell us, if anything, is that the prospects of survival are entirely arbitrary. They may be few in number, but it is possible that more thankful villages are out there. Several of those on the official  list are there purely by virtue of a casual reader's curiosity being nagged by their lack of a local war memorial in their community. So if you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland, and your community has no war memorial, ask someone why!

All Thankful Villages discovered so far

In France, where the human cost of war was higher than in Britain, Thierville was remarkable as the only village in all of France with no men lost from World War I, nor any memorials constructed in the subsequent period. Thierville also suffered no losses in the Franco-Prussian War and World War II, France's other bloody wars of the modern era.

Thierville