Sunday 11 November 2018

Thankful Villages and Angry Words

The other day I caught a programme on Radio 4 that was being broadcast from a 'Thankful Village' (Herodsfoot in Cornwall it was). The Thankful Villages – a term popularised by the indefatigable Arthur Mee (The King's England) – are those that lost none of their men who went to serve in the armed forces in the Kaiser War. There are fifty-odd of them in England Wales, and perhaps a third are 'doubly thankful', having lost no men in the Hitler War either.
  If these numbers seem low, reflecting the devastating impact of the Great War, they need to be kept in perspective. France suffered far greater losses, and one of the results is that the Republic has only one Thankful Village – Thierville in Upper Normandy, a village in the 'Norman Alps'. Remarkably, Thierville also suffered no losses in any other war, including the Hitler War and the Franco-Prussian. I passed through this village, all unknown, a couple of years ago, walking to nearby Le Bec Hellouin.

Today, amid all the ceremonies of Remembrance and the ubiquitous (subsidised) art installations marking the centenary of the 1918 armistice, I wonder if it might now be time so start rethinking the whole business. As, with the passage of years, Remembrance comes to have less and less to do with actual memory, would it not be better to honour the dead of the two world wars by focusing less on the 'fultility' of their sacrifice and paying more attention to what they thought they were sacrificing their lives for? In particular, should we not be cherishing and preserving the freedoms that we have been all too happy to surrender to dubious supranational entities, or fritter away in response to confected outrage and spurious offence? And, in general,  should we not be encouraging better, more honourable behaviour, better education, common decency? Surely that would do more to honour our war dead than any number of poppy cascades. If it's not too late...
I think of the angry words of Geoffrey Hill in The Triumph of Love

At seven, even, I knew the much-vaunted
Battle was a dud. First it was a dud,
then a gallant write-off. Honour the young men
whose eager fate was to steer that droopy coque
against the Meuse bridgeheads. The Fairey
Swordfish had an ungainly frail strength,
cranking in at sea level, wheels whacked
by Channel spindrift. Ingratitude
still gets to me, the unfairness
and waste of survival; a nation
with so many memorials but no memory.

By what right did Keyes, or my cousin's
Lancaster, or the trapped below-decks watch
of Peter's clangorous old destroyer-escort,
serve to enfranchise these strange children
pitiless in their ignorance and contempt?

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