The drama series “The Village” was on TV recently and unfortunately I missed half of it. I remembered to record episode 5 and watched some of the earlier ones on BBC iPlayer before it became unavailable.
The story is about a family living in Derbyshire and begins in 1914, just before the beginning of the First World War. Imagine Downton Abbey, but rather more gritty and raw.
We see the younger son, Burt, being caned by his teacher at school for writing with his left hand.
We see the older son, Jo, returning from the war on leave and suffering badly from shell shock, being dragged away by the military police to be dealt with severely for being a deserter when he failed to report back for duty.
We see the father John spending what little money they had in the village pub and taking his misery and inadequacy out on his wife and children.
The series appealed to me initially because it is set in Derbyshire. In fact it takes place in a different part of the county from where I live, in the most rugged and, although beautiful, most unforgiving part of the Peak District where the winters are very hard. They were even harder then.
The thing that really caught my imagination is that if you exchanged agriculture for mining the story could almost be that of my father’s family.
My father’s grandfather was a miner and regularly spent what little money they had in the pub and went home drunk to his wife and children. The three eldest sons joined up as soon as war was declared in 1914, a way to escape the abuse at home. Sam and Enoch enlisted for the army and paraded through the village to brass bands and people waving them off as they set out on their journey to France, just like in the TV programme.
Enoch was 17 and survived two weeks. Sam was 34 and survived two years. George ran away from home and lied about his age in order to join the navy and survived the war completely – he was my grandfather.
My father’s grandmother died aged 47 after years of abuse and malnutrition, having lost two sons in the war and one having run away to the navy. Her two youngest children were taken into care after she died because their father was incapable of looking after them. The youngest, Lillian, spent her whole life in an institution.
Although it was obviously fiction I think the story was pretty true to how life was for ordinary folk at that time, certainly if the stories my father tells are anything to go by. When people are grumbling about how hard life is nowadays I can’t help thinking they have no concept of real hardship or even real hard work.
I shall have to wait until the series is repeated or buy the DVD to find out what happened in the end. Was Jo shot for being a deserter? Many seriously traumatised young men, who went to war totally unprepared for the horrors that awaited them, were shot because they were “cowards”. How things have changed, thankfully.