Thankful Villages - Arkholme and Nether Kellet remember the war
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 July 2014
Two Lancashire villages are among a select group for whom the centenary of World War One has special significance, as Paul Mackenzie reports
They are a familiar site in towns and villages across the country, sombre reminders of the sacrifice made by millions of ordinary young men. For almost a century our war memorials have been the focal point of remembrance events, long after the men whose names are listed have been forgotten.
But two Lancashire villages – among 54 across England and Wales – have no war memorial. Men from Arkholme and Nether Kellet, which sit just a few miles apart to the north east of Lancaster, did their bit in World War One. They fought for king and country shoulder to shoulder with men from every other village in the land. But they were lucky. All 21 men from Nether Kellet and 59 from Arkholme returned to their villages.
Almost a million British soldiers died in the war and many thousands more (possibly including those from Arkholme and Nether Kellet) were physically or mentally wounded, or both.
Many of the events to commemorate the war will focus on the lives lost, in much the way that Remembrance Sunday events have, meaning the contribution of the Thankful Villages has been largely overlooked.
But two men and their motorcycles last year tried to redress the balance and draw attention to the role played by those villages and the locals who joined up.
Medwyn Parry and Dougie Bancroft travelled almost 2,500 miles in nine days on board two Triumph Trophy 1200s, one of which is now on display at the Imperial War Museum North.
Medwyn, from mid-Wales, first learned of the Thankful Villages when he took shelter from a storm in a church at Colwinston in Glamorgan. Years later, in 2011, he and other members of the Aberystwyth and District Motorcycle Action Group visited the three Thankful Villages in Wales and presented each with a certificate and a slate plaque and raised £2,500 for the Help for Heroes charity.
Last year’s run re-visited those three villages and 48 others across England (three more have since come to light) and Medwyn said: ‘The aim was to take a slate plaque to every village because they don’t have a memorial. Their contribution was just as valuable and as valid as anywhere else but there has been a silence of embarrassment because they were fortunate. Each and every one of those who went to war did us proud.’
The Lancashire Thankful Villages were on the final leg of the journey and the motorcyclists were met in Arkholme by Michael Hampson who has been vicar for Arkholme, Hornby, Whittington and Gressingham since March 2012.
He said: ‘Arkholme was the most thankful of the Thankful Villages by some distance, in that 59 served and 59 returned. There is a list on the church wall of where they served and they were all in different regiments, so it’s not that case that they were all together in a regiment that never went anywhere.’ Medwyn and Dougie presented each village with a Welsh slate plaque which will all be unveiled at 11am on Sunday August 3, 100 years to the day since German troops invaded Belgium, forcing Britain’s involvement in the war.
The plaque in Arkholme has been fixed to a two tonne piece of local limestone donated by a local quarry and will be unveiled by the vicar, who added: ‘On Remembrance Sunday there has always been a service in church, it’s just a quirky anomaly that there’s no memorial here. For most of the last century the Thankful Villages have kept their heads down because they have been slightly embarrassed to not be in mourning like everyone else. The centenary has drawn attention to the plight of those who came back and who were ignored for so long. Their story went untold for decades.
‘Arkholme has a strange connection with other rural villages that shared this secret privilege that no-one dared to speak about.’
Down the road in Nether Kellet, one of 14 doubly Thankful Villages in England who lost no-one in either World War, the plaque has been fitted to the Peace Stone.
Local councillor Roger Mace, who has researched the village’s contribution to World War One, said: ‘The Peace Stone is the focal point for the village on Remembrance Day. It was originally sited beside a tree planted in 1945 but the tree died and the stone has moved about a bit since then.
‘It’s hard to say with any certainty that a village suffered no losses in either world war and it may be that our records are incomplete.
‘I understand that relatives had to put names forward to appear on a war memorial and if they didn’t for whatever reason – maybe they didn’t want to be reminded of their loss whenever they walked past – it can be hard to trace what happened.’
It is known though that descendants of two men who played their part still live in Nether Kellet and they were guests of honour when the motorcycle tour reached their village.
The stories of those two men and the 78 others from Arkholme and Nether Kellet who returned home from the battlefields of Europe are told in a new book due out this month by former teacher Gerry Lees. The book – Thankful And Not So Thankful – also features the ten men whose names are on a simple limestone cross at Over Kellet, which sits between the two Thankful Villages.
The retired teacher, who has always had an interest in the First World War and has visited the Western Front, spent around nine months researching the book. Gerry, who lives at Golborne near Warrington, said: ‘I have worked with a genealogist friend of mine and we have tried to tell the story of the war through the eyes of these three villages.
‘We found out more about some of the men than others but some of the stories echo things we have all heard before – the men who joined up when they were underage, for instance. This was a war that affected every village in the country, and those that are now called Thankful Villages were no less affected than anywhere else.’