Liz and the Doubly Thankful Villages

We die twice; once when we actually die, and once when those who remember us die.

As a former soldier, I have developed a little informal habit over the years of stopping off in churchyards that I already happen to be in, and going and greeting the residents of any Commonwealth war grave that happens to be situated there. It probably looks daft to onlookers, but it is harmless, and most people who have ever worn uniform will recognise the sentiment, even if they don’t actually follow it. It is, quite simply, part of the deal that I believe we owe to that branch of our particular tribe, the one that laid its life down. It is also, I reckon, a tiny, if not very convincing, argument for having ex serviceman or women in charge of the country, who have seen and understood the violent loss of a generally young life

On my recent long walk through Britain, I made a point of doing this in every village I went through. Bizarrely, as the geology changed, so it became either easier or more difficult to spot the war graves straight away. Up among the dark millstone grit headstones of North Derbyshire, for example, you could spot the white Portland stone of a war grave from about four hundred metres. Among the limestone bands further south, it was harder.

For previous Covid reasons, I have just spent the last four days completing that walk, filling in the 80 miles I missed between Barbary Castle and Stratford upon Avon back in March.

At the end of the second, punishingly hot day, I left Caroline with her feet chilling off nicely in the river at Bourton-in-the-Water, and walked the last couple of miles to Lower, and then Upper Slaughter. In the latter, I went to St Peters church to do my thing, only to find that there was no one to do it for. Upper Slaughter, despite its name, is one of fifty-six villages to have lost no one at all in the First World War, known now as ‘thankful villages’. In fact, it goes even further than that: it is one of only sixteen communities up and down the land who lost no one in either the first or second wars, and is thus known as a ‘doubly thankful’ village. (For the record, there is a village in Normandy, Thierville, that managed to get through no less than five wars unscathed: the Franco-Prussian War, the two world wars, the Indo-China conflict and Algeria).

Only a loved one, or someone who knows and understands the price of violent death, can understand the incredible significance of that chance. Over a million of our fellow citizens died in those wars, and most cities, towns and hamlets paid an unthinkably high price. In my own small village of Tillington, where I have had the occasional privilege of reading those names out on Remembrance day, there are even three brothers from just one family on the depressingly well-populated war memorial.

There is a common misunderstanding that most soldiers are pre-disposed to violence, a kind of warrior caste who do the bad stuff that needs doing, but are broadly hidden away in times of peace. Nothing, in my experience, could be further from the truth. The only year of my life when I can be reasonably confident that no British service people were killed through armed conflict was 1968, a little aberration between the end of the colonial wars and the start of the Northern Irish Troubles. This may explain why, of all the candidates to be our Prime Minister, I rather favoured Tom Tugendhat, who has more reason than most to wish to keep us safe, and least favoured the one we will probably get, who said back on Feb 27th that the government would back those who wanted to go out to Ukraine and fight. Whatever lack of judgement this happened to betray, and let’s remember that the Russians credited her with virtually single-handedly upping their nuclear preparedness state, it gives a slight indication that she doesn’t realise that war kills people, that it really kills people. And with the key duty of a government being to keep us safe, the prospect of Prime Minister Truss fills me with a real dread.

If you have a vote in this strange contest, it might be a comment worth remembering.

8 thoughts on “Liz and the Doubly Thankful Villages

  1. Roger, another wonderful blog with meaning and purpose. The village memorial statistic is a chilling one.

    I do wonder whether the Conservative Party thought through the consequences of removing the sitting Prime Minister during a time of such uncertainty, tension, war, disease and inflation. I had an interesting email from an American friend who was finding it difficult to understand how (short of serious criminal behaviour) it is possible in a democracy to get rid of the PM early, who was voted in by a majority of the people, (in this case with a huge majority). Parliamentary Democracy, eh…. be careful what one wishes for.

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    1. Most of my foreign friends think we are slightly mad at the moment. However, most also preface the opinion by saying that whoever they are is not much better!

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  2. Thanks again, Roger.
    Yes, I have a vote-..still undecided.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Charles Strick 1st Aug 2022 — 11:07 am

    Well said, Roger.
    It’s great that your blogs have resumed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. lorrainechitty 1st Aug 2022 — 11:41 am

    Thank you Roger I entirely agree. I regret however that I am not a member so not entitled to vote. I fear also that those who are members may not hold the same view.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well said Roger! And, being a veteran of the Vietmnam War myself, I fully agree that those that have seen war first hand are least likely to wish it for their country. And indeed, having served in the military is an important qualification for anyone with the ambition to lead a country.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sam. And so good to hear from you. Hoping that you are all well!

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  6. I always enjoy your posts enormously. This one particularly gave pause for thought. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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