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Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Thankful Villages

In the 1930's the writer Arthur Mee coined the term a "thankful village" 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 upwards in recent years to 52. Of these just 14 have come to be known as doubly thankful in also losing no-one from WWII.

These villages, like Upper Slaughter in Gloucestershire, have no memorial to the dead.

Some villages suffered horrific losses. Wadhurst a community of 3,500 people lost 649 people in World War I. 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.

Why were communities hit so hard? The historian Dan Snow blames the 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).

This was repeated many times, of about 700 "pals" from Accrington at the Somme some 235 were killed and 350 wounded within just 20 minutes!! Men were sent over the top and were mowed town!

The UK lost 2.2% of its population in WWI but for the French it was worse than lost 4.3% 1.4 million people!

The French equivalent of a thankful village is even more extraordinary. Thierville in Normandy has not lost any service personnel in France's last five wars - the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, World Wars I and II, Indochina, and Algeria.

If you want to read more on this may I point you to this excellent article which I've borrowed from!!

Wilfred Owen - Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

So on this remembrance Sunday

The Soldier by Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

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