Recent coverage of the horrendous flooding in the South turned my mind back a few months to a village I happened upon in my travels.
Seeing the reaction from TV viewers to the nightmarish troubles of those whose lives were affected, and the way farmers from across the country were rallying to support their peers whose land had been underwater for six weeks, was a reminder of the wonderful sense of community spirit we humans can muster.
Such was the case as I learned the history of Tyneham in the Tyneham Valley Dorset. It is a long abandoned village. Generations of people worked the land there, subservient to the ruling family and the small parish church served the locals with an impressive rectory built for the church incumbent.
The village saw a decline following the First World War as people moved to more densely populated areas and the war took its toll on the village population. In 1943 the village death knell was heard when the military purchased the valley outright to be used as a firing range.
As the military took over, a note on the door of the church indicated the meaning and history of the village to its remaining residents and entreated the army to take good care in the hope of one day the locals returning. They never did.
In the 1960’s the military relinquished some their hold on the area and at least allowed the public in at weekends. Some restoration of the local church has taken place but the rest of the place remains a romantic idyll of a time gone by where roofless cottages that accommodated whole families and whole cultures stand empty. In mid-air, steel plates surrounding a once warming fire through the winter nights remain rusting in their alcove. It has even been the set of war movies.
As one looked on, one could only assume the sacrifice the locals gave to the war effort. The residue of an already dying village, invested in its hard times, facing the ultimate hard time by abandoning their heartland.
There is an irony that in peace time, surrounded by RAF military ranges, this village is unusually tranquil. The deserted ruins pay tribute to generations of hardships past a world where meaning, belonging and connection mattered. Family names and family lineages such as Bond and others show the interconnections between the villagers. All that sacrificed willingly for a higher ideal and a belief that the needs of a few, however deeply invested these were, were subordinate to the needs of many more and an external threat that affected the way of life and freedom of a whole nation.
There is no doubt, sustained peace across Europe since the last World War has fundamentally changed the communities that populate it. What is clear, however, is that our communities whilst identifying with some benefits of being part of a European union, cannot wholly identify with that union as an entity where local sovereignty can be subordinate. One can see with the popularity of UKIP and other parties who are questioning our levels of union, that whilst people will give to higher ideals, these must be defined clear and simple and national pride, features very highly in that simpler approach.
Equally, those that will break up the United Kingdom place ideology before the reality of people’s living experiences. They occupy a place where simple economics and a sense of belonging are subordinate to mistaken form of self-determination but will ultimately restrict choice for all.
Years of peace time have resulted in such arguments being bandied about to and fro; political constructs and elements of self-interest in a world where individual rights increasingly seem to subordinate those of the collective.
I looked around the ruins again; I would have dearly loved to have met these people. Their selflessness and sense of community as well as their social responsibility, is something that modern generations could learn much from.
If ever one is in Dorset, this location is well worth visiting.
David Cliff is Managing Director of Gedanken and Vice Chairman of the Institute of Directors’ County Durham and Sunderland Committee.