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Reasons To Be Thankful

The Thankful and Doubly Thankful Villages

November traditionally sees the annual Remembrance Day here in the UK, when we remember the fallen – particularly in the two World Wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. Despite the fact that World War II saw more than three times the casualties of the conflict that preceded it, we still mark this occasion on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at eleven in the morning – the moment hostilities ceased in 1918.

The number of fatalities in these two wars boggles the mind – there are simply too many zeroes to compute. In WWI, it is estimated that there were anywhere between 15 million and 22 million casualties, including military personnel and civilian deaths. WWII added a staggering 70-90 million to this total. (And that’s before we reckon up the number of animals who died in the service of man during those conflicts, as detailed in Caro Ramsay’s beautiful blog about the Hyde Park memorial.)

Those who are skilled with statistics calculate that the number of people killed in WWII was roughly 3.5 percent of the entire population of the planet, which totalled around 2.3 billion in 1940. To bring that into context, if there was a similar war today, and the same percentage of the world’s population was killed, the dead would number 274,295,000.

As it was, everywhere in the UK (as with every other nation involved) saw the flower of their youth march off to war – many never to return. There are memorials in every town and village, usually erected after WWI, with more names added in 1945. Often, the same last names crop up over again, as members of the same local families fought, and fell, and died.

This is why it is such a surprise when you come across a sign like the ones at the top of this blog, for villages that claim to be Thankful. You may have to look hard to find one, though – there aren’t many around.

Reasons to be Thankful
After WWI, it was discovered that, of the tens of thousands of villages in England and Wales, fifty-three stood out. All the men who had gone to fight returned safely. Not one village in Scotland or Ireland has yet been identified as being so lucky.

Of the fifty-three Thankful Villages – also known as Blessed Villages – the most fortunate county was Somerset. Here, there are nine places on the list, followed by Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, with five each, then Nottinghamshire with four. Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, and Suffolk have three each. The rest have one or two.

In Derbyshire, the county I currently call home, there is just one Thankful Village  – Bradbourne, home of the oldest surviving watermill in Derbyshire.

Bradbourne has another claim to fame, however. It is one of only fourteen villages that classify as Doubly Thankful. All its combatants in WWII also returned safely at the end of that conflict.

The Doubly Thankful villages are:

Herodsfoot in Cornwall
Bradbourne in Derbyshire
Langton Herring in Dorset
Ironically perhaps, Upper Slaughter in Gloucestershire
Middleton-on-the-Hill in Herefordshire
Arkholme-with-Cawood, and Nether Kellet in Lancashire
Allington, Flixborough, and High Toynton in Lincolnshire
Stocklinch, and Woolley in Somerset
Butterton in Staffordshire
St Michael South Elmham in Suffolk
Catwick in Yorkshire
As well as Llanfihangel-y-Creuddyn in Ceredigion, Wales
And Herbrandston in Pembrokeshire, Wales

The term Thankful Village was made popular by the educator, writer, and journalist, Arthur Henry Mee. Mee worked on The Children’s Encyclopædia (called The Book of Knowledge in the USA) before founding a weekly publication, The Children’s Newspaper in 1919. Much of Mee’s writing looked back to the years immediately following WWI. He is best known for The King’s England, a series of guides to the counties of England.

To put the Thankful Villages into perspective, only one village in the whole of France came through WWI with no casualties – Thierville in Normandy. Even more remarkably, Thierville’s small population also survived the Franco-Prussian War, WWII, the First Indochina War, and the Algerian War without a single fatality, either.

Reasons to be Thankful, indeed.

This week’s Word of the Week is nepotism, which comes from the Italian, nepotismo, which in turn is taken from the Latin, nepos, meaning nephew. It dates back to the Middle Ages, when Catholic popes and bishops would bestow the kinds of office and favours that would be normally given by fathers to sons, to their nephews instead. Pope Paul III appointed two of his nephews – aged just fourteen and sixteen – as cardinals.

It wasn’t until 1692 that Pope Innocent XII issued a papal bull that prohibited popes from bestowing such honours, titles, or income onto relatives. In more recent times, the phrase ‘nepo baby’ has come into use to describe celebrities whose main claim to fame is being the offspring of someone more famous.

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