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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

"UNthankful villages"


Moonraker
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I'm not sure if we've debated this before, though "Thankful Villages" (all of whose service people returned from the war) have been discussed..

Yesterday I passed Welford War Memorial in Berkshire and noted 22 WWI names on it, which struck me as quite a high number, given that Welford itself is barely a hamlet.

On getting home, I did a little research and found that Welford included three other hamlets, including Wickham - which explains the memorial's isolated location, on the road between Wickham and Welford church (north of the M4 bridge).

But in 1911 the population numbered 722 souls. Let us very crudely assume that half of these were men, and that a third of these were eligible for the armed services; so that's a fatality rate of 17%.

That seems high to me. Did many other villages suffer such an attrition rate?

I'm aware that the formation of Pals battalions led to individual communities losing a great many men in just one battle.

And Forum member Bob Chandler who has researched fallen soldiers from Wickham and Welford, may be able to comment on the effect on the locality of these deaths.

Moonraker

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  • 4 weeks later...

Just a few personal observations/musings on a thought-provoking topic.

I have to say that it hadn’t occurred to me before that the number of casualties from Welford parish might have been unusually high.

I’ve so far identified over 100 men from the parish who served in the Great War, so I would think the estimate you’ve used of 120 is not far off.

By comparison, the 1911 population of next-door Boxford parish was 516, and it lost nine of its men in the Great War. Using your calculation this would be (I think!) a lower rate of between 10 and 11%. Nearer the average perhaps?

In researching the history of the parish from a number of sources, oral and written, I’ve never found anything to indicate that the parish itself felt its loss had been any worse than anywhere else, locally or otherwise. My late father, for instance, was born at Welford in 1920 and lived in the parish for practically all his life, and although we talked a lot about particular individuals he knew who’d been affected by the war -e.g. veterans, war widows, those on disability pensions etc. – I never got the impression that he’d been aware of anything out of the ordinary when growing up.

I can’t think of a particular reason why Welford’s loss would have been higher than average (apart from pure statistical variation of course). The losses to the parish were incurred at a fairly even rate over the war – 1 in 1914, 6 each in 1915 and 1916, 5 in 1917, 3 in 1918 and 1 in 1919 – and always on an individual basis, in contrast to other communities where numerous men from the same locality were lost in the same action on the same day (e.g. in Pals Battalions), which would surely have made a far greater impact on the collective memory of the community and the way they viewed the scale of their loss. (The only local (to Welford) example of anything like this which I myself have come across myself is at East Garston, which lost two of its sons (Private Charles Bates and Bertie Rivers) on the same day in the 2/4th Royal Berks’ attack at Fromelles. Both are buried in Laventie Military Cemetery. Surely a black day for the village and, I would imagine, long remembered.)

Welford is a large rural parish with 5 separate communities – Welford itself, Wickham, Easton, Weston and Hoe Benham (6 if you count the Halfway on the Bath Road separately) – each of which took its own share of the loss. Before the Great War these communities were quite self-contained (I was conscious of this even when growing up in the parish in the 1960s and 1970s!) and of course, the loss of some individuals would have impacted more on the parish as a whole than others would have. For instance, I’m quite sure the parish as a whole would have been shocked to learn of the death of the Rector’s nephew at Guillemont in 1916; but, sad to say, as with other parishes no doubt, more than one of the Welford men who died was a newcomer to the area with probably no immediate family in the parish to mourn for him in the years after the war.

So I do wonder to what extent the Welford area’s losses as a whole in purely numerical terms impacted on its individual residents in different parts of the parish. What I mean to say is, did (and do) people react to the dreadful statistics, or were they more concerned with dealing with the personal loss of those individuals who mattered to them in their own lives? Or a bit of both?

It’s a complex subject, I think.

Any thoughts from other members?

Bob

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Thanks for that, Bob, that's a great reply. I was hoping that other members would come forward with instances of villages that had suffered disproportionate casualties.

Moonraker

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Here are some examples:

My local parish of Ravensthorpe, Coton and Teeton (Northamptonshire) had 48 of it's men go off to war and 9 did not return - in other words 18.75% were killed.

However West Haddon 3 miles away had 105 men go off to war with 10 being killed or 9.5%.

I have read or seen somewhere that the village of Upper or Lower Slaughter (Cottswolds I think?) ironically had no men killed who went to war.

Ant

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