Thursday, 6 January 2011

Irony at Imber

A few miles from benzina HQ is the forgotten village of Imber requisitioned for FIBUA (fighting in built up areas) by the MOD in WWII. I last visited as a teenage air cadet on exercise in the 70s, so I thought it was time to have another look-see

Oh, the irony - the MOD only allow limited access, and the snow this year meant the usual Christmas opening was short-lived and featured a visit by the VW owner's club. Every single car parked at Imber was German (I'd walked, so the Fiat 500 was miles away) despite the fact the people at Imber gave up their homes to stave off Nazi invasion.

The MOD had owned the estate since Victorian times, and when they need somewhere for US forces to train the local Lieutenant Colonel gave everyone a month to leave - the notice letter required people who'd lived in the village for generations to "vacate by 17 December 1943: we cannot provide alternative accommodation but might try to offer assistance to any villager finding themselves in dire straights."

That was it - the chapel, pub, shop, even recently built council houses were empty within a few weeks. Most folk went to stay with family, and some even left furnishings behind, certain they'd be allowed to move back in after the war. But it wasn't to be - a public enquiry allowed the MOD free reign, although a subsequent High Court action required the Church to be maintained and opened at least one day a year.

In fairness, Imber's typically open for 50 days a year although the MOD hardly shout it from the rooftops. Plenty of other FIBUA sites have been built on Salisbury Plain (some just like Afghan villages, ahem) but Imber remains jealously guarded by the MOD despite past resident's still living locally. At least the church is well cared for - it's one of only two sites in the UK to have bell ringing marks in the tower, and the Medieval wall paintings escaped the Victorian "scraping" making it an exceptional historical record.

All in all, Imber's a moving and affecting place to visit - there is a tarmac road in clearly marked with opening times at Gore Cross but a little sensitivity on what you take might be appreciated by locals who understand 1943 was a dark year, but would like their heritage back now, please.

Click here to learn more about Imber in a new book about Wiltshire
More pics here

No comments:

Post a Comment