Danger UXB – the lost village of Imber

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

IMG_6871bBehind these gates is what was once, I guess, a fine home.

IMG_6870bNow shutters bar the windows and the number 16 crudely painted to the right of the door marks it as a military training property.

IMG_6863bThese all have numbers too and I could imagine soldiers using them for training exercises. They have to train somewhere I suppose.

IMG_6874bI am sure once this house was home to a family and the village and tight-knit place, as most villages were.

IMG_6872bNow Imber has a sadness about it.

IMG_6819bThere is a sign on the footpath up to the church. A tribute to those villagers who served in the First World War.

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.

IMG_6821bInstead there is this. It commemorates both Victory in Europe and Victory in Japan in the Second World War and marks the sacrifice the village of Imber made in that effort.

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.

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A burnt out tank sits at the side of one of the tracks into Imber.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 comments
  1. I always meant to do the visit when we lived in Southampton but never did, so it was really interesting to see it. Also as you say how can you abolish a village that was mentioned in the Domesday Book, anyway to abolish is to put an end to something, I think you photos clearly showed a village with a church :)

  2. I was listening to a Richard and Judy podcast the other day reviewing a book based on the experience of someone removed from this village as a young girl (fictional) if I remember correctly didn’t they leave a note pinned to the church door and many individuals left little notes in their own homes telling the soldiers where things were believing they would get their homes back in the same condition at the end of the war

    • I think you’re right. There is also a story of the blacksmith dying in the 47 days before being told to leave and the deadline and the doctor writing ‘broken heart’ as the cause of death on the death certificate

  3. Oh Dory it is still heart-breaking isn’t it. Thank you for showing us the pictures, I knew of it, but never knew what it looked like.
    I once visited ( illegally) the village of Tyneham, next to Arish Mell Gap, and near East Lulworth, which the army also took over.during the war. I was fourteen and have never forgotten the sadness of it.

    • So nice to hear from you Valerie :) I think Tyneham was the first lost village I heard about. I have never been though. I find it very sad.

      • I know – I’ve got so behind Dory… I’ve been struggling with bed health for the last six weeks and finding it hard to keep up with all the blogs !!!!

      • Oh I hope you’re feeling better now. I always find it difficult to keep up with blog posts … there are so many I enjoy reading :)

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