The idea of visiting a village in the middle of Salisbury Plain which was requesitioned by the military almost 70 years ago might seem a strange one for a vehicle club, but in the IAMC we like to use the common interest which brings us together to take part in some less-usual activities - as well as those which are more predictable! Thus it was that a group of us arrived at The Bell at Standerwick in various examples of Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia and Maserati to enjoy a very good lunch before setting out in convoy to the village of Imber.
Imber sits in the centre of an unoccupied area of Salisbury Plain. Until the Second World War it was a small community established in Saxon times, but in 1943 the villagers were evacuated at short notice to allow the Army to extend its training area. The residents were promised that this would be a temporary arrangement, but they were never allowed to return and while it was possibly necessary for their removal to take place in the context of events then and even now, it is the manner of their going and subsequent exile which still excites heated debate. Read more of the story in the Wikipaedia entry, at the Forever Imber website -run by the daughter of the local councillor who campaigned on behalf of the village in the 1960's- and in an interesting illustrated article.
As the years have passed the number of access days has deminished and our visit had to be rearranged to coincide with one of the few suitable periods this year. Not many of the original buildings remain, those that do probably surviving due to their higher-quality construction, although many of those no longer extant have been replaced to allow training in an urban environment to continue, something important given the areas in which the Army operates these days.
Entering the area from the Warminster direction we saw no signs of life at the MT workshops and the barrier which normally restricts access was unmanned. Indeed, there was absolutely no sign of any military personnel at all during our time there, something which perhaps reflect the still-contentious nature of their presence. Passing the tank-washing area we found ourselves travelling along surfaces which were in surprisingly good order, although with the occasional nasty pothole to catch out unwary civilians.
An area of aged tanks which had apparently been used for successful target practice caused us to pause for a while and then we drove for some considerable distance until we entered the village, which made us think just how isolated it must have been, even in its final days of occupation. Notices abounded, some of which were aimed at the public, some at the military and some which might have been for both.
Arriving at the 'village' we found many others taking this rare opportunity to view what remained, but were able to park together in American Road, perhaps a reference to the troops who trained here for D-Day. There the party formed into small groups and explored the features of the place. Some of the surviving original buildings -although often strengthened inside- were in a remarkably good state of preservation, one carrying the date 1769. Imber Court appeared to be the best preserved, but St Giles church is fenced-off and has miraculously survived intact, containing many interesting features. Remarkably, services are held at Christmas and sometimes on other occasions too and the building was the focal point for the day with exhibitions, refreshments and bell-ringing bringing it very much alive.
After a pleasant few hours we said our goodbyes, some leaving the village by routes different to our arrival. Having driven to the main road in the opposite direction, we decided to drive back the full length of the road through Imber to Warminster. By then the sunshine which we had previously enjoyed had given way to a dramatic cloudscape which somehow suited the often-mysterious atmosphere of the Plain and when we returned to the village few people remained. Somehow the past seemed to be meeting the present with a feeling of unresolved conflict: Had Imber been 'Stolen From The People', as the obliterated and faded graffiti on one of the buildings near the church stated?