Imber – ‘Ghost village’ of WWII

Imber - Seagrams Farm This is one of only six of the remaining original buildings that remain in the village of Imber. The rest of the buildings were destroyed by the Army in the years following their takeover in 1943. Segrams farm has the date 1880 above the door. - By Chris Talbot former Seagrams Farm

A small village in Wiltshire called Imber is famously known as the ‘Ghost village’ of the Second World War. During World War II, the people of this village were asked to leave the area and move elsewhere. It was then turned into a military facility where soldiers received training for the D-Day landings in Normandy.

In WWII Britain was facing an existential threat, since it was very evident that Hitler was  intent on seizing power and maximum land on the European continent. The British government had realised that Hitler saw Britain as a Jewel in his Crown of European domination.

Imber has been a ghost village for almost 70 years now. Most of the year, this village is not accessible, but on the Easter weekend, the public can visit it.

Saint_Giles_ImberThe tower of St Giles’s in 2002

Before WWII broke out, Imber’s community consisted of 170 residents. The government had started buying land around the village for a while before, and in the year 1940, the small community of Imber was asked to look for new houses and jobs elsewhere, leaving their village forever. Most of the town was then turned into a military training facility. Soldiers needed intense training prior to the Normandy invasion, due to the crucial nature of the campaign. Training soldiers before the actual invasion turned out to be a wise decision. The Normandy invasion enabled the Allied forces to hit deep into Nazi-controlled territory, eventually forcing them to retreat from France and Belgium, the Sky News reports.

5aaImber Village, Salisbury Plain, UK.

The training area of Imber was also used later by the Ministry of Defence to train troops operating in Northern Ireland during the IRA crisis. In Northern Ireland, the British army faced a different sort of warfare, which was novel to most of the soldiers. At Imber, soldiers were trained in patrolling a residential area and manoeuvring in case of an ambush or a sniper attack.

The residents of Imber did not resist the military’s orders to move, primarily because they thought they were doing a service for their country at war. Initially, they thought that after the war they were going to come back, but they were never given permission to return. building was a pub known as The Bell

The reason why residents were not allowed back was that the military kept Imber as a training area even after the war. It still is an active training facility for the Ministry of Defence.

Although people were allowed to visit the village, there were signs everywhere warning the visitors of military debris scattered in the area. The intrigued visitors walked around the village taking pictures of the its empty buildings and streets. Some of those who visited were relatives of the former residents of this ‘ghost village’.

Images: Wikipedia

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE