The hidden histories of the Thankful Villages

It was the unlikely, but marvellous, source Hope and Glory by Stuart Maconie that I first came across the term Thankful Villages. A Thankful Village is a place which sent men to fight in the First World War and all returned in one piece. Of over 16,000 places in the United Kingdom that sent men to war, there are only 52 Thankful Villages. Of these 52, only 14 remained untouched in the Second World War. The term Thankful VIllage was first coined by Arthur Mee in his book Enchanted Land, which was part of his The King’s England series and has been the focus of research from unsung historians Norman Thorpe, Rod Morris and Tom Morgan. They have identified such facts as Arkholme being the most thankful in sending the most men – 59 – who returned and built upon Mee’s work who originally identified 32 Thankful Villages.

For the History teacher, I found the study of Thankful Villages as a real poignant source of material for teaching the topic of the First World War. In researching this topic, there are many emotional stories which can be used to illustrate the impact of the war for lessons. Indeed, the BBC’s welcome, but perhaps belated, recognition of the Thankful Villages in 2011 with a wonderful article [found here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15671943%5D contains fantastic source material as well as a full list of the Thankful Villages for both the First and Second World Wars.

As a way of introducing the First World War and investigating its impact on people, I have found Thankful Villages as an extremely powerful tool. I experimented with two Year 9 groups – one was asked to guess how many Thankful Villages are there, once this was achieved in a heads and tails quiz, I then compared this with the villages in our area, nearby rural Hertfordshire of which they were tiny villages that had war memorials [noticeably absent in Thankful Villages] and students were then asked to research how many men were on the different memorials in selected villages and compared this with the population of the villages to gauge the impact of the First World War had on them. The second group investigated the stories which came from the Thankful Villages [mainly from Maconie’s Hope and Glory and the BBC website article] and used the NOP [Nature, Origin, Purpose] model to examine sources and students would then write a report on the Thankful Villages and their importance in commemorating the First World War.

Both lessons had a real impact and engaged students in studying the First World War. For me, this was a new way of tackling the First World War from a different perspective and one which I will continue. I can fully recommend Stuart Maconie’s book Hope and Glory, an exploration of the places that have made Modern Britain, as it is full of vignettes that can be used by the History teacher to enliven topic such as the First World War.

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