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Remembered Today:

Imber Village Salisbury plain


Michelle Young
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Imber is a "ghost village" on Salisbury plain, that is slap bang in the heart of the Army firing ranges. It was evacuated in December 1943 by the War Office, supposedly for 6 months, but the villagers have never returned except for an annual service on St Giles Day. It is open to the public 54 days a year.

We went today, and what an experience! The drive over the plain to get to this place in the middle of nowhere was amazing for a start, and the kids enjoyed looking out for abandoned tanks, we saw about 20 in the end.

The village itself has a few original buildings remaining, the Bell Inn is still there, as is the "big house" and a few other cottages. The Baptist Chapel has gone, but the 11th Century church of St Giles is still standing. We were able to get in, and its a lovely building, with some 15th century wall paintings. The war memorial lists 3 dead, and all who served and were wounded. There is also a copy of the roll of honour in the village itself.

Remembering

E Marsh, 6th Wilts, KIA 22-8-16, buried in Kemmel Chateau Cemetery

A Norris, 5th Wilts, KIA 10-8-15, Remembered Helles Memorial

HH Kitley, 1st Devons KIA 4-10-17 Remembered Tyne Cot Memorial.

Imber is accessible until 4th January 2004. I'm afraid that I don't know when it will be accessible after then.

If you are in the Wilts area,

A drop in for a cuppa

B go to Imber!

Michelle :blink:

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Michelle

I can't tell you the memories that have flooded in, with the mention of Imber. I have literally spent weeks there, years ago when in the army.

It is a must-see location, I agree.

But all I would say is, please don't pick anything up - however attractive a souvenir it looks. There is a lot of live ammunition, thunder-flashes and nastier stuff from the 60 years of military training in the area.

If you want another WW2 place to look at, go to Slapton Sands in Devon. As well as the tank on the beach - recovered by the nice, but eccentric former Bobby, who stands there every day selling his book - there is still a lot of debris in the little creeks (Operation Tiger). Wait until the tide goes out and start counting rusty mess tins and water bottles......

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Because Imber Village is in a live firing area access to is necessarily limited.

The Public Information Leaflet issued by the MoD includes an aerial colour photo of the church.

It is on-line at http://www.army.mod.uk/ate/public/salisplain.htm.

The booklet Walks on MoD Lands mentioned in the leaflet and available from the address indicated therein is well worth obtaining. It includes walks with maps in Wales (2), Scotland (2) and England (10 including Imber Range Perimeter Path. 64 pages A5 in all.

For further info see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/wiltshire/villages/imber.shtml

The attached pics show Imber c1939 (top) and in 1945 (bottom)

Dave

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  • 10 years later...

I went to Imber this afternoon. The roads across the training area are open until 5 Jan. Access is best from Gore Cross (in the NE) or Warminster (in the W). American Road (which leads from Heytesbury to Imber) is also open and while passable in a road vehicle the rutted gravel track is probably best suited to SUVs.

St Giles was open this afternoon and is open again 27 Dec - 4 Jan. I strongly recommend a visit.

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Rex Sawyer's Little Imber on the Down, is an excellent history.

Hugh Morris of the 11th London Regiment wrote to his wife in October and November 1916:
October 25 from Longbridge Deverill: "tomorrow we are leaving camp for ten days. We are going to a place called Imber, which is about nine miles from here and shall be under canvas. I am afraid it will be pretty cold, especially as we are only to have one blanket."
October 28 from near Imber (postmarked Heytesbury): "we have come out to this terrible place to dig trenches and dugouts on German lines for the purpose of experimenting on them with a new explosive shell ... camp a sea of mud."
November 2 from Longbridge Deverill: "we marched back to camp today. The conditions were so bad that the M.O. insisted we should be brought back."
November 4 from Longbridge Deverill: "up to present eight fellows have died as a result of exposure at Imber camp and 280 men are in hospital."
Forty soldiers and six batmen were housed in the attic of Imber Court, with a major and five other officers in more comfortable accommodation. Concerts were held in the Court's great barn, with Gladys Dean, the lady of the house, singing and playing the piano. Everyone was encouraged to take part, doing a turn or signing a patriotic song. The army improved the road through the village, but the track from Heytesbury came under regular fire during artillery practice. Shells damaged some houses, and the intensity of the training meant that at times the villagers were virtual prisoners, being allowed out only three times a week to Warminster. The vicar, Charles Watling, wrote: "We daily, and often nightly, suffered from the effects of concussion, our walls buckled, our glass cracked, so that we present to the world a shell shocked village … our population has dwindled, one shop remains and instead of our continuing to be a self-supporting community we have become dependent upon neighbouring villages for our thrice weekly supply of food."
In 1920 a war memorial in the shape of a wooden cross was erected in memory of the three men from Imber who had died on active service, and also to mark other villagers who had served in the war and survived.
Australians stationed on the Plain during the Great War travelled to Imber saying they were descendants of men who had robbed Matthew Dean of that village in 1839. Dean had then chased the men, being joined by three other men; one of the robbers fell dead, the other three were captured and sentenced to transportation to Tasmania for fifteen years.
Dennis Wheatley, later to become a best-selling novelist, was camped closed to Imber during the war.
Moonraker
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My 5x great-uncle was curate of Imber & Tilshead in the early 19th century. Not very popular - Tilshead rang the bells when he left... :blush:

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There is a memorial to the Dean robbery that Moonraker mentions. It is called "The Robbers Stone" and tells the story of the event. I don't really want to state its exact location on an open forum, but anybody who is really interested can find it very easily.

The Green Dragon was the Imber pub, and the brewery which owned it maintained the licence for many, many years, probably until the 1980s, from memory. Imber locals tried for years to have the village opened up again, and pointed to promises that had been made in wartime. However, the War Office/MoD have always reneged on the promise, and the few remaining people who lived there seem to have given up. St Giles church was decently maintained by the army - credit where due - but I think that it has now been adopted by a charitable trust. I was there for the carol service two years ago; you could either drive/walk/ride there yourself, or take the Routemaster bus laid on from Warminster - all very evocative. Church was crammed, and I think that the trustees now run the service on a ticketed basis.

Roads and routes to and through the range area, including the village, are usually opened up at Christmas and Easter when most military units are on block leave. There are other periods when it is opened up too.

Imber was always held to be the most isolated village on the Plain.

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I sniff when threads go seriously off topic, but as my post 5 above is well related to the Great War and it's a relaxed (?) time of the year, I'll comment on this. :hypocrite:

I've looked at all the available Imber files at the National Archives and believe that no formal promise was made by anyone who had the power to honour it. I doubt very much that no firm commitment was made at the time that the villagers could return after the war, but that they were told that the evacuation was only for the duration and that welfare workers and the like reassured disconsolate villagers that "I'm sure you'll be allowed back afterwards".

post-6017-0-29665600-1419258723_thumb.jp

The Times, April 5, 1948

Plenty of scope here for debate about Government promises and statements, nuances and semantics and "what is a promise", but I suspect that, even at this time of year, the goodwill of the Mods will not stretch to an extended discussion!

Moonraker

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The title of this thread is "Imber Village Salisbury plain". On that basis I can't see how my posts nor those of Jane and Mr D are in any way off topic and certainly not "seriously off topic".

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In talking about the Second World War evacuation (and in my case about 1948) we're well away from the Great War period, but if no-one else cares then I certainly don't. :) Don't mind me - I'm a wearisomely pedantic old *** to the extent I concede that we haven't departed from the topic of Imber, merely the Great War content of the OP!

(Oh heck, pedantry can be as bad as discussing copyright - going around in ever-decreasing circles, with the inevitable result.)

Moonraker

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Since this thread has been revived, I will mention that in 1972 my father (Major G. S. Revels) wrote a 20-page booklet entitled: "A Thousand Years of History - A Short Guide to St. Giles Church and the Parish of Imber" which was on sale in the Warminster area (and in the church itself on those rare occassions when it was open to the public) for 50p.

Whilst a company commander with 1st Worcesters and Sherwood Foresters, who were at that time the Demonstration Battalion in the barracks at Warminster, my father managed to find time to track down and interview many former residents of Imber. Aged seven, I accompanied him on many of these interviews, and sat reading a comic - little did I realise that I was taken along so that my father had an excuse to keep the interviews brief. :w00t:

I believe that, were it not for his untimely death in 1976, aged 40, he would have written a much longer book on Imber, a village that fascinated him. Nevertheless, his booklet is cited as a source on Wikipedia and various other articles on Imber, and I would be happy to e-mail (gratis of course!) scans of it to anyone who is interested. E-mail me at: william"at"williamrevels.com (putting the "@" symbol instead of "at", of course).

William

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  • 2 years later...

Paola Desiderio, a TV producer, has contacted me about Imber and I have supplied her with information about its Great War history, including the experiences of author Dennis Wheatley when camped nearby. She was particularly interested in the Bell pub, photographed here in 1962:

 

The Bell Imber.jpg

 

She tells me that she is  "working on a series of programmes on abandoned historical buildings produced for Channel 5. One of our programmes will talk about Imber Village. We are looking for military personnel or ex military personnel who trained in Imber anytime, but preferably in the '80s. Any leads or help would be much appreciated. Please contact me at paoladesiderio"at"transparent.tv."

 

As with William's email address "at" indicates @.

 

Moonraker

Edited by Moonraker
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  • 1 year later...

Dunno if the programme being shown on Friday, May 11 on Channel 5 at 2100 is the culmination of Paola's research,  but in it Michael Portillo visits Imber ("Portillo's Hidden History of Britain").

 

Moonraker

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  • 3 years later...

As part of my de-cluttering, I've just looked at a file containng projects about military Wiltshire that I did at school in the early 1960s. Ouch - the handwriting and style (two "interestings" and one "interest" in two consecutive sentences!) I started to gut it, but retaining some photos, many of the "ghost village" of Imber taken c1961. Then I realised that it included info that wasn't included in the definitive history of the village (Little Imber on the Down by Rex Sawyer), and some newspaper cuttings. There were even a couple of snippets of info about the Great War period which I need to incorporate in my 1897-1920 notes.

So I've reassembled the sheets of paper and may offer it for a very modest amount on eBay this summer. I hate to throw anything remotely useful away, and it dawned on me that I would love to acquire something comparable relating to one of the Great War camps. Some of the photos are uninformative, the earliest being taken with a Box Brownie, but then I progressed to a 35mm job. Two of the Box Brownie photos show possible remains of the hamlet of Snap, de-populated before the Great War and then used for training by soldiers from Chisledon Camp.

(I thought that I've mentioned Snap before on the GWF but I can't find the post. It's been said that it was used as a machine-gun or artillery range, which I rather doubt, though there were practice trenches nearby and a couple of miles away can be found a large pit where a mine was exploded, presumably for demonstration purposes.)

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I wonder whether Wiltshire Museum might be a good place to pass the collection on to?

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Good call, the museum are rather slow to respond to queries though. Or the History Centre at Chippenham?

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I'm not all sure that my pieces of Juvenilia are that worthy. The photos and cuttings might fill a modest file or folder.

IIRC the Wiltshire Museum does hold comparable material on Imber.

In our several threads on legacy (how to bequeath collections etc), I've mentioned my own enquiries to various institutions about my copious notes and postcard collection relating to military Wiltshire. The one I made to the Wiltshire Museum went unanswered, whereas the History Centre and Salisbury Museum sent helpful replie, (The nearest museum to Imber is the small one at Lavington.)

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  • 4 months later...

I've just sold my Imber archive on eBay, happily to someone who already has a large amount of material on the village and is involved with maintaining the Church of St Giles. Even more happily, he intends to digitise the contents of my file and present the information "in a way that makes it accessible both at St. Giles and also at various depositaries across Wiltshire". 

There was modest competition from two other bidders, not that I was concerned about the selling price.

So a good outcome for both vendor and purchaser.

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good result for all then.

for those that may like a browse, the village is open next weekend Thursday 2nd to Sunday 5th June 11.00 to 16.00. thats it for general access this year, if the bus day is on, it will be access by bus only.

 

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