Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Dorset's 'thankful village' in search of answers

Safely home: Langton Herring's honours board
During a recent visit to Dorset, I stayed at the county's only 'thankful village', where all men returned safely from the First World War. Langton Herring is a few miles west of Weymouth and in the porch of its tiny church the names of the men are listed on an honours board.

Included are officers and men from the army and the navy and, as you might expect in a small community, many share the same family name: there are four Farquharsons, for example, and no fewer than five Mowlams.

This summer, to mark the Centenary of the war, there are plans to unveil a slate plaque that was presented to Langton Herring by the Thankful Village Bike Run which passed through last year. In readiness for the event, efforts are now being made to discover more about the men who returned: who were they, where did they live, and what was the village like at the time?

Langton Herring church
At the moment little is known, but if anyone can shed any light on the answers, please contact me at jacwadsworth@hotmail.com and I will be delighted to pass your details on. The full list of men is given below.

Fifty three civil parishes in England and Wales have now been identified where all soldiers returned from the Great War. None have been found in Scotland or Ireland. Langton Herring is said to be 'doubly thankful' because all of its men returned from the Second World War too.


CF Bailey, R Sussex

CE Case, Wilts

T Carter, RN

JP Farquharson, Comm RN OBE DSO

FA Farquharson, KGO Sapper MC

KR Farquharson, Lt Comm RN DSC

ER Farquharson, Lt RN

C Ferns, CG

EW Garrett, L Corps

HM Greenhill, Maj Dorsets

FJ Hansford, RGA

A Harris, RN

AJ Thatcher, RFA

W Larcombe, R Inniskillings

F Matthews, CG

E Mowlam, L Corps

G Mowlam, RN

J Mowlam, RN

SC Mowlam, MGC

WE Mowlam, Worcesters

HJ Penfold, CG

S Peach, Wilts

R Randall, RGA


BO Smythe, Capt Northants OBE

C Stone, RN

C Stone, RN

W Stone, RN

AJ Taylor RNR

S Wederell, Dorset

WJ Whittle, RAVC

Sunday, 2 March 2014

'I have seen a school blown all to the ground'

Destruction became the new 'normality' at the Front 
It is often thought that, when writing home, soldiers spared their families the more difficult details of life at the Front, preferring to concentrate on 'safer' matters like food parcels and the weather. But from what I have read, this was certainly not always the case.

Indeed, some of the things described in letters made me flinch and feel quite sorry for the women and children who would have read them.

Each man had his own reason for revealing all, of course, but perhaps one of the most pervading was simply that life under fire in trenches had become normal. Describing infestations of rats and lice probably seemed no worse that talking about the cat's fleas at home. And destruction and shell-fire was part of everyday life that simply had to accepted and got on with.

Below are extracts from two letters written by Private Philip Luxton, of Abertillery in South Wales, whose story is told in my book. Although he was loving husband and a father of two daughters, the letters he sent home from France in 1915 were matter-of-fact and pulled no punches.

22 March

'Dear Wife, you can tell the children that I have seen a school as big as theirs blown all to the ground and it seems as if they had to leave it all in a hurry for they left their little coats and hats. The Germans did not leave one single house standing for they are all blown to the ground. I went through a public house and there was the beer barrels in the cellar but the beer out here is not worth drinking, one pint of our beer is worth a barrel of this out here.'

23 March

'This is the fourth day for me to go without washing my face and hands for it is very dangerous to get about here at night and I have been sleeping under God's skies for this last five nights without no shelter from the cold and I may say it is very frosty here this last week but it is not so bad in the day.

'The sights where I am at present is most awful to witness for there are hundreds of dead Germans all round us chaps, for there was a terrible battle fought here last week and you will see by the papers we have captured a French village from the Germans and they were trying their best to get the village back.

'Dear Wife, while writing this letter the Johnsons [a type of shell] are flying over our heads and they make a awfull [sic] noise when they explode but I may say they are like a dog, for their bark is worse than their bite without you get too near them.'

With thanks to Anne Holland for the letter extracts, and David Clark for the postcard illustration.