Imber Village once had the highest concentration of retards in the UK.
Now it's Warminster.
From the late 19th century onwards, the War Office began buying up land on Salisbury Plain, primarily to the east of Imber, and using it for manoeuvres. Imber was left alone until the First World War, by which time the need for land had increased. From the late 1920s, farms around Imber were purchased, as well as the land on which the village itself sat. The pressures of agricultural depression, combined with the good prices offered by the military, encouraged the sale of land, with few being put off by the new conditions of their tenancy, which allowed the War Office to assume control and evict the residents if necessary. By the time of the Second World War, almost all of the land in and around Imber no longer belonged to its occupants.
World War Two
Imber Village before the clearance. Pic taken from church tower
In the winter of 1943, the War Office informed the inhabitants of the small Wiltshire village that their home was being requisitioned for the war effort. They were informed at a meeting in the village schoolroom, and given the curious specific total of 47 days to leave. With the D Day landings just a few months away, the government needed places to train American troops for the sort of house-to-house fighting that they expected to encounter in Nazi-occupied Europe, and presumably because of its location in the middle of Salisbury Plain, Imber was an ideal candidate. The villagers were given a month to evacuate, and told they'd be allowed back when the war was over. They never were. Although most visitors left quietly, taking the view that this was their opportunity to participate in the War Effort, one man, who had been the village's blacksmith for over forty years, is said to have been found sobbing over his anvil, and - a sick man from that day on — later became the first resident to die and be brought back to Imber for burial. LOL!
The Restoration (of Imber - not the filthy papist version)
Originally the villagers were told by the Government that they would be allowed to return inside 6 months. Apart from the spectacular naivety at play here, it was clear that the Army had trashed large chunks of the village and surrounding areas. A rally in the village was organised in 1961 to demand that the villagers be allowed to move back, and over 2,000 people attended, including many former residents. A public inquiry was held, and found in favour of Imber's continued military use. The matter was also raised in the House of Lords, and it was decided that the church would be maintained, and would be open for worship on the Saturday closest to St Giles's day each year: a practice that continues. The service held is extremely popular, and is attended by former residents, soldiers who have used the village for training, and the general public. (See 'Right to Roam' below)
St Giles' Church
St Giles' Church
Nearly everyone who trains in Imber is told that St Giles' Church (a Grade 2 listed building) is still a fully functional and 'operational' church. This is bollocks. The parish of Imber has been abolished, and while the church and its graveyard remained in the hands of the Diocese of Salisbury (although access was controlled by the Ministry of Defence) initially, it became clear after the church tower was struck by lightning in 2003 causing significant damage "that the building was in need of extensive repairs." Since "it was not possible for the parochial church council to accept liability for the maintenance of a building to which they only had effective access for worship once a year" (especially considering that the parish included another ancient listed church), they requested that Imber church be declared redundant, setting in train a process which ended, in 2005, with the vesting of the church in the Churches Conservation Trust. The annual service will continue. Similarly, whilst Imber Parish has been disolved, it still returns an MP to Westminster namely the MP for Westbury.
From 1943 to the present day, Imber has remained an Army training area, where soldiers practice fighting enemies in and around civilian areas i.e. OBUA, although nearby Copehill Down (CHD) is used specifically for this task. It is pressed into use for a wide variety of reasons, although mostly for SF/FOB drills and I/VCP serials. Its proximity to the Berrill Valley and the bridging facility means that Imber gets a lot of trade.
The approach to St Giles' from the South East
Right To Roam
For most of August, and on a few other public holidays during the rest of the year, the roads through the village are open and anyone can wander around it. Large numbers of 'ramblers' i.e. environmental activists (and other fruitcakes) are also in the congregation, taking pictures of everything and everyone to demonstrate and retain 'the right to roam'. Let's face it - if the only civil liberty we have to worry about is lack of access to Imber, I'd say we're doing OK.
Outsiders i.e. non-military types are often struck by how quiet the village is during the rare occasions civilians are allowed inside. As one approaches Imber from the South East, it is easy to imagine the landscape as it was in Medieval times, less for the signs of modern farming practices in the far distance. The other impression or comment that random visitors have is that they are surprised that we practice assaulting empty buildings, which is a fair one.