Imber is a village in Wiltshire, situated in the middle of England's Salisbury Plain. Imber's inhabitants were evicted in 1943 to provide training grounds for the military. Since then, Imber has been used by the Army for training.
Salisbury Plain being relatively sparsely populated, Imber was somewhat isolated in the early 20th century, and most of its residents were employed in agriculture or work that directly depended on it. The village had an elongated form, and its main street followed the course of a stream known as Imber Dock. One of the few buildings to survive in a reasonable condition is the church, with most others becoming derelict and being demolished by the Army. Before 1943 there was also a Baptist chapel (built in 1839), a post office, and a pub called the Bell Inn.
On 1 November 1943, with preparations for the Allied invasion of mainland Europe underway, the people of Imber were called to a meeting in the village schoolroom, and given 47 days' notice to leave their homes. Imber was to be used by US forces for practising street fighting. Although upset about being forced to leave, most villagers put up no resistance, taking the view that it was their duty to contribute to the war effort in this way. Compensation for the move was limited, and the occupants of one farm, who refused to leave, had to be forcibly evicted by the Army. 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.
The village was used extensively for training, particularly preparing soldiers for their duties in the urban environments of Northern Ireland. Several empty house-like buildings were constructed nearby to aid training, and it is these, along with the church, that are Imber's most striking buildings today. Although training continues at Imber, a purpose built FIBUA (Fighting In Built Up Areas) Complex at Copehill Down (approx 3nms SE) has recently been the focus of this type training, as that site is easier to adapt to reflect the areas in which troops are likely to be deployed.
An area of Salisbury Plain the size of the Isle of Wight is now under military control, and is used extensively for training purposes. The village is in the hands of the Ministry of Defence, who decide when to allow access to the village. The MoD authorised access on 21 December 2007 but just for two weeks, and for Easter 2008.
Many of the village's buildings soon suffered shell and explosion damage after military operations began, and, additionally eroded by the weather, quickly fell into disrepair. Although the villagers had been told they could return in six months, this was never allowed. At the end of the war efforts were made to restore Imber to its pre-war condition, but the decision was taken not to relinquish control. 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. The village is often open to visitors on other occasions; generally two or three times a year. The parish of Imber has been abolished, but the church and its graveyard remained in the hands of the Diocese of Salisbury (although access is controlled by the Ministry of Defence). The church tower was struck by lightning in 2003, and is in a dangerous condition. If it collapses, it is likely to destroy the nave as well. Already "by 2001 it had become clear," according to a Church of England press release, "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 (March 2005 press release from the Church of England).
The church is a Grade I listed building.