The Thankful Villages of Wales

Thursday 2 May 2013, 16:53

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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It is estimated that around 40,000 Welshmen died during the First World War. In Britain as a whole the casualty figure is close to a million and, inevitably, there is barely a town or village that was untouched by the conflict.

However, there are 52 civil parishes in England and Wales - places such as the violently named Upper Slaughter in Gloucestershire - that sustained absolutely no casualties in the war. In Scotland and Ireland there are no such parishes or communities at all.

These fortunate little communities are known by the collective term Thankful Villages and just three of them - Herbrandston in Pembrokeshire, Llanfihangel y Creuddyn in Ceredigion and Colwinston in the Vale of Glamorgan - are situated in Wales.

The term Thankful Villages was first coined by the writer Arthur Mee in 1936. In Enchanted Land, the first in the King's England series of guide books, he wrote about and identified 32 villages where men left to serve in the armed forces between 1914 and 1918 and all returned safely once hostilities were over. These were, Mee said, "Thankful villages."

The original figure of 32 was enlarged to 52 in an update undertaken in 2010. Sometimes these villages are known as Blessed Villages but the term Thankful seems to be the preferred option - and considering the wholesale slaughter of the Western front and other theatres of war such as Gallipoli and the Middle East, that is probably best name to use.

Fourteen of the Thankful Villages are Doubly Thankful - meaning that they also managed to sustain no casualties in the Second World War, either. Two of the Welsh villages, Herbrandston and Colwinston, fit into this category.

Herbrandston

Herbrandston, on the River Cleddau in Pembrokeshire, has expanded greatly since the oil industry came to Milford Haven in the 1960s, more than trebling its population. When war was declared on 4 August 1914, however, it housed barely 200 people, most of them fishermen or agricultural labourers.

Men did enlist from Herbrandston, among them Major Stokes who was the local squire. When he enlisted again in 1939 for service in the Second World War he was classed as colonel. Thankfully, he and the other men from the village returned relatively unscathed.

Colwinston

Colwinston sits in the Vale of Glamorgan, just a few miles west of Cardiff and not far from the market town of Bridgend. With a population of around 400, it is a tiny and quiet little place, best known for its connections with the crime writer Agatha Christie. She had relatives in the village and visited on a regular basis.

Like Herbrandston, Colwinston is a Doubly Thankful Village and, like the Pembrokeshire town, in 1914 was largely occupied by agricultural workers.

Llanfihangel y Creuddyn

Llanfihangel y Creuddyn is in the county of Ceredigion, seven miles to the east of Aberystwyth. The land now occupied by the parish used to belong to the abbey at Strata Florida, the ruins of which can be found a few miles to the south.

In 1914-18 the majority of the population were Welsh speakers, many of them having almost no command of English. It did not stop the men of the village enlisting in the army.

The three Thankful Villages of Wales were lucky to escape the carnage of the First World War - 16,000 towns and villages across Britain did not.

In France, where the death toll of soldiers was considerably higher, only the village of Thierville sustained no casualties. It was equally as lucky in the other major French conflicts of the past hundred or so years, the Franco-Prussian War and the Second World War - again, no casualties.

Thankful Villages: something, at least, to be grateful for when we consider the horrors of the world's first truly industrial war.

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    Comment number 1.

    A neighbour of mine does historic walks around Colwinston by special arrangement. It has a medieval church and pub and some very old houses (one of them being Pwllywrach, now inhabited by Agatha Christie's great-grandson. However, there is no recognition (as yet) of the village's status as a thankful village. I have always felt we should do something about this.

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    Comment number 2.

    I totally agree, Deb. To go through one war without losing anyone - although, obviously, people from the village went out to France and other theatres of war to fight - is one thing. To have it happen again in 1939-45 is nothing short of amazing. The fact needs to be recognised.

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    Comment number 3.

    Hi Phil, I'm currently writing a paper on the twice thankful villages and how their history links into how we remember and forget. I would be interested in any research you have done into Herbrandston and Colwinston. :-)

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    Comment number 4.

    Hi. I'm not a great expert in the Thankful Villages. Basically I know what I put in the blog. I'd suggest a trip to both the Welsh ones, knock on doors etc. Deb Fisher, who commented on the blog, might know more - at least she might be able to put you in touch with people. Then there's Bridgend Library, a good place to start. Sorry I can't be more helpful.

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    Comment number 5.

    The article is not quite correct. Colwinston was not as fortunate in WW2 as there was one casualty. This was Major Hubert De Burgh Pritchard of Pwllywrach House who died on 16th August 1944. Major Pritchard was Agatha Christie's son-in-law. In WW1, 23 men went from Colwinston and returned. In WW2 30 men and women served in the forces with just the one casualty. The Community Council in Colwinston are working towards including the term Thankful Village on the road signs next year on the anniversary of the commencement of WW1. There is a marble plaque inside the porch of the Parish Church in honour of those who returned from the Great War.

 
 

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