Thankful villages

World War I . . . the Great War . . . the War to End All Wars officially ended on November 11, 1918. A combination of old school tactics and modern weapons resulted in loss of life on an unprecedented scale, Britain losing over 2% of their total population, France nearly 4.5%.

From the BBC:

On a single day in 1915 at the Battle of Aubers, 25 men from Wadhurst were killed - just under 80% of all those who went forward into no-man's land, and almost certainly the heaviest per capita casualties of any community in the UK for one day's battle. The majority of the fallen had no known grave.

Indeed, according to the WWI historian Dan Snow, it was often small communities, villages and hamlets in which the psychological burden of the carnage's aftermath was most painfully felt.

Largely to blame for this, Snow believes, was the system of Pals Battalions - units of friends, work colleagues and relatives who had been promised they could fight alongside each other when they enlisted amid the patriotic fervour of 1914.

The battalions were a useful recruiting tool for War Secretary Lord Kitchener, who believed that mobilising large numbers of enthusiastic recruits quickly was the best method of winning the war.

But the reality of the trenches, where thousands of men could be wiped out in a single day, meant that small communities could face disproportionate levels of bloodshed within a matter of hours.

Of about 700 "pals" from Accrington, Lancashire who participated in the Somme offensive, some 235 were killed and 350 wounded within just 20 minutes. By the end of the first hour, 1,700 men from Bradford were dead or injured. Some 93 of the approximately 175 Chorley men who went over the top at the same time died.

It's a rare town or village in either country that did not lose some member of it's community to the war. Those where all of the men came home alive are known as the Thankful Villages.

With its rows of ramshackle yellow stone cottages, set amid undulating Cotswold hills, the village of Upper Slaughter belies the violence of its name.

In hazy autumn sunlight, this corner of Gloucestershire might well have been rendered in watercolour. All the components of tourist-brochure Britain are here - the red phone box, the winding lanes, the wisteria draped around the windows.

But one normally ubiquitous feature is missing. Unlike the overwhelming majority of British settlements, Upper Slaughter has no war memorial.

Instead, tucked away in the village hall are two modest wooden plaques. They celebrate the men, and one woman, from the village who served in both world wars and, in every case, returned home.

For it is not only its postcard charm that offers pacific contrast to the name Upper Slaughter. It is that rarest of British locations, a "thankful village" - the 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.

Read the whole article.

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