Tale of two villages shows random carnage of war
Just 40 miles of road separate the villages of Northlew in Devon and Herodsfoot near Liskeard.
But in terms of what they suffered during the First World War they could not be farther apart.
Northlew proportionally lost more men in the conflict than any other village in Britain.
By contrast, Herodsfoot was a Thankful Village, one of just 53 in the country that suffered no fatalities. It is the only such village in Devon and Cornwall and is “doubly” Thankful – nobody from Herodsfoot, near Liskeard, was killed in the Second World War either.
Although there were officially 22 men from Northlew who were killed, and who are named on the war memorial in the village churchyard, research done in the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War revealed that four others from the village and parish near Okehampton also lost their lives.
That means more than a quarter of those who left Northlew never returned – more than double the proportion that the nation suffered as a whole.
About six million were mobilised for active service in the UK Armed Forces during the 1914-18 conflict, and of those just over 700,000 were killed – about 11.5%.
“When you know that is proportionally the biggest loss of any community, it brings it home,” said Northlew parish clerk Janet Millership.
“It is quite something to realise. The number is vast when you think of the size of the parish at that time.”
The village’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War drew international attention.
Images in 3D were projected on to homes around the village square, depicting scenes from the Battle of the Somme – the bloodiest in British military history. There were marching bands and a fly-past by a 1917 biplane. A cascade of poppies falling across buildings in the village. Twenty miles of road verges were sowed with poppy seeds.
By contrast, the commemoration this weekend is more modest. There is an afternoon tea today in the village hall for older people to get together and mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.
Tomorrow there will be a ceremony at the war memorial at 10.45am, with Okehampton College Big Band followed by a service in the church.
But that does not mean that those who fell are not so much in mind. “You recognise names from the memorial in families across the parish still today,” said Mrs Millership.