In November 1943 the 155 residents of the ancient village of Imber in Wiltshire were called together and told their home was needed for the war effort.
Essential military training needed to take place in their parish, American soldiers being prepared for D-Day.
They were given until Christmas – 47 days – to leave.
They left and, although they were devastated, many appreciated that sacrificing the homes some families had lived in for generations was for the greater good.
They would return after the war was won they hoped … but that never happened.
The Ministry of Defence never did hand the village back to its residents and, nearly 70 years on, Imber and its surrounding countryside still makes up part of the huge military exercise and training area on Salisbury Plain.
It is closed off to the public apart from a few days a year. And on those days people still flock to the lost village of Imber.
One of those days was today. Routemaster buses ran through the village once more transporting the curious to see what remains.
I should have caught the bus but instead I drove … and discovered finding it is difficult, there are no road signs any more.
They have been replaced with these, reminding all comers that this is a military zone and straying from the road can be dangerous.
I went to Imber because one of the Churches Conservation Trust churches still stands there. To be honest, it’s one of the only remains of the old village of Imber that still stands. The church will be the subject of another post.
Look at the names. This village had less than a couple of hundred residents but there are four called Daniels who experienced the horrors of the Great War , three called Daniell and two each of Gray’s, Potter’s, Tinnams and Carter’s, and a Carter who was wounded in action. You can only presume these soldiers came from the same family or extended family. Such a loss for such a small place.
There is no memorial to those who died in the Second World War. By the time the war was won, the families had been dispersed across the countryside to other villages and hamlets.
This village may only have been small but it had been there for centuries with evidence of Saxon settlement and a mention in the Doomsday Book. The last line on the plaque says the parish was abolished in 1991.
So it has ceased to exist.
But it hasn’t, has it?
Because on those occasions the MoD allow, people still flock from miles around to find it the ‘lost’ village of Imber.
There are thousands of lost villages across the UK and scores of reasons for them being abandoned – politics, landlords’ whim, plague, erosion and war among those reasons.
A burnt out tank sits at the side of one of the tracks into Imber.
And after what seemed like miles of driving along a lonely road dotted with Danger UXB signs, you come to a check point. And this would normally be as close as you can get to the village.
I’m glad I got explore further, even if it was desperately sad.