A memorial stained glass window in St Luke’s church
First World War

An Introduction to ‘Thankful Villages’

In the First World War every village saw young people leave to serve their country. Over 700,000 Britons died, yet 53 village communities suffered no fatalities.

There are an estimated 16,000 villages across England. In the First World War every village saw its young men (and some women) leave to serve their country.

Over 700,000 Britons died, yet 53 village communities suffered no fatalities – all those who left for war returned home alive. These places became known as ‘thankful villages,’ a phrase coined by the writer and historian Arthur Mee in the 1930s in his guides to the counties of England, ‘The King’s England’. Wales has two such villages. Scotland and Ireland have none.

In an extraordinary twist of fate, research has revealed that it is likely that 16 of the English ‘thankful villages’ and both the Welsh ones also saw everyone return safely from the Second World War. These are known as ‘doubly thankful villages’.

1. Hunstanworth, Durham

Certificate text read: The Hunstanworth Welcome Home. We your fellow villagers offer our hearty congratulation on your return after servin in His Majesty's Forces in teh Great War, which, by your help, has been brought to a Victorious Conclusion. This memento is presented to you Private Joshua Jameson as a mark of our appreciation, with our very best wishes for a long and happy future.
Certificate given in 1919 to Private Joshua Jameson by the villagers of Hunstanworth, marking his safe return from the First World War. Courtesy of Elfrieda Waren.

Joshua was one of Edward and Anne Jameson’s 13 children. At the outbreak of war, the parents (who had already lost 4 children at a young age) had to watch as 4 of their surviving sons, including Joshua aged 16, went off to fight, along with a fifth villager, Arthur Taylor. The 5 young men were the only villagers serving in the First World War.

Joshua was wounded by shrapnel yet, miraculously, he and his 3 brothers and Arthur all returned safely to Hunstanworth. Each was presented with a framed certificate wishing them ‘a long and happy future.’

2. Catwick, Yorkshire

Black and white photo of a man wearing a flat cap standing next to a door post with inverted horseshoe and 30 small coins nailed to it.
John Hugill – Catwick’s blacksmith. Photo by kind permission of his grandson, John Hugill, who has preserved his grandfather’s legacy by remounting the horseshoe and coins on a modern plaque.

One hundred years ago John Hugill – Catwick’s blacksmith – nailed a horseshoe and 30 coins to his forge doorpost during the First World War to represent the village men who went to war. The blacksmith fixed the coins, including pennies and halfpennies, plus a German and Swiss coin, round the horseshoe. Each represented one of the 30 men who left Catwick to serve their country and who all returned home.

One man, Joseph Grantham, ‘left an arm behind’ according to writer and historian Arthur Mee. The blacksmith cut a notch in 1 of the coins to represent the lost limb.

In the Second World War another 30 village men served in the armed forces and, again, all returned safely making Catwick a doubly thankful village.

A road sign reads 'Doubly thankful Catwick please drive safely'
Catwick road sign marking its distinction as a doubly thankful Village © Ian S.

3. Helperthorpe, Yorkshire

Roll of honour listing the names and regiments of 18 men who returned home: Arthur Brown, George Cooper, James Hesp, Mark Hesp, Harold Summersgill, Charles Beavis, Tom Brown, George, Gamble, Percy Garrod, WM. Summersgill, Henry Whitehead, Fred Walker, Ernest Whitehead, Fred Walker, Ernest Whitehead, John Young, Newsam Cooper, Harold Pease, James Seller, George Seller.
Roll of Honour in St Peter’s church listing the names of the 18 local men who went to war and who all returned home © Angela Benford

This is an unusual plaque in that it indicates with the letters C, W and G after their names which of the men were captured (one), wounded (one) or gassed (three, one of whom was also wounded). This refutes the occasional claim that those in thankful villages survived only because they were serving in safe places away from frontline action. These men were clearly fighting on the battlefield.

4. Knowlton, Kent

The 17 foot Knowlton commemorative cross in the style of a medieval lantern, displaying carved figures of a soldier, nurse, victory and a casualty © Kent Fallen

In 1914 the local Kent newspaper, the Weekly Dispatch, ran a competition to find the ‘Bravest Village in the United Kingdom.’ This was defined as the one from which the largest proportion of its men had volunteered to serve in the armed forces before March 1915.

Inscription text reads: One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name. This cross was erected in honour of those twelve men of KNowlton who out of a total population of thirty nine enlisted prior to March 1915 and by their patriotic action won the weekly dispatch bravest village competition.
Inscription at the base of the column. Designed by notable British sculptor George James Frampton © Kent Fallen

Almost 400 villages competed. Knowlton was declared the winner, with 12 men enlisting from a total population of 39.  The prize was the granite cross, unveiled on 1 September 1919.

5. Upper Slaughter,  Gloucestershire

Colour photo of a stream crossing a road at a ford In the foreground. In the background, stone built village hall and cottages line a road behind a mown grass verge.
The village hall, Upper Slaughter. Although the village name implies death, the word derives from the Saxon ‘slohtre’ meaning muddy place © Bs0u10e01

This village hall displays a simple wooden plaque recording the 24 men and 1 woman who went to war but who all returned. In the Second World War, 36 joined up and 36 came home making Upper Slaughter another doubly thankful village.

A Major EFB Witts granted a 99 year lease of the village hall in 1920 and there are 5 Witts listed among the 25 names on the memorial plaque. One was Agnes Witts, a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment which was a civilian unit providing nursing care to military personnel. She may have been an ambulance driver for the unit.

The village’s soldiers served in regiments ranging from the Gloucestershire Regiment and the Tank Regiment, to the Coldstream Guards and the Cameron Highlanders.

6. Ousby, Cumberland

St Luke's Church, Ousby
A memorial stained glass window in St Luke’s church commemorates the 12 villagers who went to serve in the First World War and who all returned © Copyright Trevor Littlewood

Part of the dedication beneath a memorial stained glass window in St Luke’s church in Ousby reads: ‘…Erected by the parishioners in grateful recognition of the mercy of God who…afforded protection to all the men who went from this parish to the Great War 1914-1918 and safely restored them to their homes.’

Ousby is a doubly thankful village. All 13 men who served in the Second World War also came back.

7. Middleton-on-the-hill, Herefordshire

A stone memorial, topped by a lantern, in St Mary the Virgin churchyard © Philip Pankhurst

Although there is no record of how many men left Middleton-on-the-hill to fight in both the First and Second World War, the inscription makes it clear that all came home. Part of it reads:

A thank offering to Almighty God

“At evening time it shall be light”

for the safe return of all the men from this parish

who fought in the Great War

and 1939-1945

Middleton-on-the-Hill is a doubly thankful village.

Text inscribed in stone reads: RETURN OF ALL
Memorial (detail), St Mary the Virgin churchyard. Public Domain.

8. Teigh, Rutland

Plaque text reads: This tablet is erected to the Glory of God and in humble acknowledgment of his mercies in preserving the lives of the eleven men and two women residents of Teigh who served in the Great War of 1914-1918. Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord.
Engraved brass memorial plaque within the Holy Trinity church © Rutland Remembers

This plaque recognises the 11 men and 2 women who went to serve in the First World War and who all returned.

However, nearby is a hand-written ‘Roll of Those Serving in His Majesty’s Forces in the War of 1914’, which names 12 men and 2 women. The twelfth man was Private William Haines listed as killed in action. However, as it was subsequently determined that he was a visitor to Teigh rather than a resident, Teigh retains its status as a thankful village.

Written by Nicky Hughes.

Further reading:

4 comments on “An Introduction to ‘Thankful Villages’

  1. Deborah Lee

    Is Rodney Stoke in Somerset on the list? Also a village

  2. Bradbourne in Derbyshire?!

  3. Wendy England

    Are there any speakers on this subject who would be able to give a talk to a group of WI members in Berkshire please

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