Blessed with another warm Autumn day I drove out to Puttenham in Hertfordshire, (I very nearly went to the wrong Puttenham). The Church of Saint Mary in Puttenham is at the top of a dead end, at a truncated spur at the top of the village.
At the beginning of this road is a slate plaque stating the village’s ‘thankful’ status.
Nearly all the villages have these, which were presented by bikers taking part in a tour of the Thankful Villages in aid of the British Legion in 2014.
Some villages have their plaque secreted away, other have it displayed boldly.
The plaques unintentionally taunt me. Someone’s done this before you know? It’s often the first thing villagers want to tell me too, do you know about the bikers? But anyway, they only did 51, I’ve counted 55.
I’m there to meet Christine, another church warden. This project would be nothing without the church wardens. They are to churches what secretaries are to business. If you really want something done, don’t speak to the boss, speak to the church warden. This time I have been given permission to play the church organ.
I arrive early as I always do and walk around the graveyard and everything is green and gold. The light pierces through crucifixes hand carved into the wooden gates. The green paint flakes away from small fences wrapped around big trees. Cows push up hard against the barbed wire to say hello to me. A forgotten wedding decoration sits high in the apex of the church porch gathering dust and bat droppings. A pretty layer of green moss covers the old wooden grave stones.
Christine lets me in. I tease notes out of the organ. I wonder for how far it can be heard. A walker comes in, ‘I heard someone play, can you play?’ No, I said.
Christine looks through the list of those returned alive from the War. ‘None of these names are in the village any more,’ she says.
I play gently and leave early.