What would you do if one day, the government told you that you’re only given 47 days to pack your things up, settle everything, and find a new place to stay because they are taking over your village? That was exactly what happened to the villagers of Imber in Wiltshire when they were told to leave their community in 1943. The UK government selected the village as a training ground before the invasion of the Allied forces in Europe. The place, since that day that the inhabitants left, had never been occupied ever again. The once alive community had long been a ghost town.
Imber was an isolated community and had always been since Salisbury Plain was sparsely populated. Settlement in the area could be traced back to the British Iron Age or even earlier, before the period of Roman rule. Its church of St. Giles was erected in the 13th century with wall paintings from the 15th century. By the 14th century, Imber’s population was about 250 and remained so until the 19th.
In the late 19th century, the War Office started buying lands to the east of Imber and turned it into a large military training ground that covers around half of the Salisbury Plain. The majority of the area was turned into live firing ranges, which were dangerous and completely inaccessible to the public. Most of the residents were agriculture workers or something that directly depended on it. When the War Office began buying the lands, it was the pressures of agricultural depression and the good price offer that encouraged the people to sell their land. By the time World War II ensued, most of the land around Imber was the property of the government.
You Are Evicted
In 1943, the War Office wanted to use the Imber village itself as a site where US soldiers could practice urban fighting to prepare for what they would surely encounter a lot once they reached continental Europe. On November 1, 1943, in preparations for the upcoming Allied invasion of Europe, the residents of Imber were called to the village schoolroom for a meeting. What they were told perhaps caught them off-guard: they were given 47 days’ notice to abandon their homes because the US forces would use Imber as a practice ground for street combat. Of all the families in Imber, only one had to be forcibly removed by the Army.
The 152 inhabitants left peacefully, as they believed they were helping in the war effort. They even left canned goods in their kitchen for the new soldier occupants to have. Apart from that, they were told that they could return to their homes after six months.
This, unfortunately, would never happen.
Promises Are Made to be Broken
None of the things that the residents were told ever happened. According to Richard Madigan of the Defence Land Committee (DLC), the urban fighting practice never really took place, and he was tasked to keep the village in good conditions for the villagers’ return. He said the real reason why the people were asked to leave was that the village’s proximity to shell impact areas posed a danger to them.
While the village survived the war fairly intact, the government decided to keep the village its permanent property due to its close proximity to the firing range. The British military continued to use the village and even erected mote buildings in the 1970s.
The villagers, of course, were not happy about it that in 1961, some 2,000 people gathered in the village to protest and demand the return of their homes, but it fell on deaf ears, although the government allowed to maintain and open the church so that people could come and worship but on specific days only.
Today, Imber is still left inhabited, although it could now be accessible to the public and urban explorers via a local bus. Some of the remaining buildings are the Bell Inn which continued to renew its license until the 1960s, hoping that they would one day be allowed to come back, a schoolroom, and some farm cottages.