In a month which focuses on Remembrance, there are villages across England and Wales where thoughts are more likely to turn to thanks.
Known as the Thankful Villages, a term first used by the author Arthur Mee in the 1930s, the phrase defines a village which lost no men in the Great War.
Arthur Mee identified 32 villages, but more recent research has now identified 53 civil parishes in England and Wales, which fit the description. There are none in Scotland or Ireland, presumably because the parishes are geographically larger.
Within Somerset nine Thankful Villages have been identified: Aisholt, Chantry, Chelwood, HolywellLake (a hamlet in Thorne St Margaret), Rodney Stoke, Shapwick, Stocklinch, Tellisford and Woolley. No other county has as many as Somerset.
Two of these villages, Stocklinch and Woolley, were doubly thankful, meaning that no men were lost in either World War. It is thought that Somerset’s agricultural demands meant that fewer men were called up, or were able to successfully appeal enlistment. This coupled with geographically small parishes has led to the high number of Thankful Villages.
In the parish of Rodney Stoke, instead of a War Memorial, the parish church’s west-facing window is dedicated as ‘both a thanksgiving and as a permanent war memorial’. It is thought to be the only church window in England to be dedicated in such a way.
We only hold parish returns for two of these parishes; Chelwood and Stocklinch. The Stocklinch return details the men that have left for service: From the small village of Stocklinch , with the exception of five young men who were farmers or farmer’s sons engaged in agriculture, all the young men joined the army, eight under the Voluntary Recruiting , three under Lord Derby’s scheme and five under the Military Service Act.
However the Chelwood parish return causes a small controversy:
The first paragraph reads:
This is a tiny parish, with about 100 properties, mid way between Bristol and Bath, but off the main road. It sent at the beginning of the war most of its young men into the army and of these, so far, four will never return, have met their death, for the most part on the field of battle. The Roll of Honour embraced thirty names, two families have between them eight sons serving.
Written in early 1918 this return seems to contradict the popular opinion that Chelwood was a Thankful Village. Unfortunately there are no vestry minutes or parish council minutes for the parish which may confirm this return, or provide details of the men who served.
The school log book for Chelwood records Private Frank Harris, an old boy who was wounded in the ‘Big Push’, visiting the school on 12 October 1916. On 27 November 1918 the Union Jack was hoisted in honour of the return of Richard Power, an old scholar, and late Prisoner of War in Germany. No mention is made of old boys or teachers losing their lives in service.
One explanation is that the Thankful Village term refers to the civil parish, whilst perhaps the return relates to the ecclesiastical parish. The Chelwood parish return is written in the handwriting of Joseph Worner, a journalist at the Western Gazette in Yeovil; a town a far distance from the parish of Chelwood. Perhaps the return was dictated to him and he incorrectly titled it.
Another explanation is one cited by Terry Brown in his article in ‘Somerset Life’ (August 2005), where he states that ‘Three men, born in Woolley, Chelwood and Stocklinch, were killed in the War. However, they had moved and lived elsewhere by 1914’. Could this relate to the four men described in the return?
If you have any more information to substantiate or contradict the Chelwood parish return, or information on the men of the Thankful Villages who returned safely to Somerset, please get in touch.
Picture Credits: Thankful Village Website