Doubly Thankful villages, England
By Darren Staples

A view of the doubly thankful village of Arkholme, northern England January 16, 2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble

If I was expecting flags and bunting, I was wrong.

The Doubly Thankful villages – the 13 villages in England and one in Wales where every soldier, sailor, airman and WAAF who served in World Wars One and Two came home alive – do not make a song and dance about the past.

Picture shows Private Herbert Medlend (front 2nd L) from the doubly thankful village of Herodsfoot, southern England April 4, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Staples

On Remembrance Sunday, they have no war memorial on which to lay a wreath of poppies.

A stained glass window in All Saints Church celebrates the safe return of its service men and women in the doubly thankful village of Flixborough, northern England, February 14, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Staples

Instead, tucked away inside their churches you will sometimes find polished brass plaques giving grateful thanks for the life of the survivors, a seemingly subdued remembrance that this community was one of the ‘lucky’ ones – one that beat the odds.

Plaques show the names of servicemen who returned from both World Wars in the village hall of the doubly thankful village of Upper Slaughter, central England, February 27, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Staples

And what odds they were. I drove 4,000 miles from Flixborough in Lincolnshire to Herbrandston, Pembrokeshire and Herodsfoot, Cornwall and all places in between to shoot this feature. And as the miles clocked up I slowly began to understand the reality of being a ‘doubly thankful’ village.

Sheep graze near a bench in the doubly thankful village St Michael South Elmham, eastern England, January 24, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Staples

For those who came marching home – and for their loved ones – this was muted celebration. How could it be anything else? They had survived horrors that many of them would never speak about. But so many young men and women had not.