ALMOST 80 years ago, residents living in a village in the heart of Wiltshire were forced to evacuate their homes during World War Two.

Villagers from Imber, on Salisbury Plain, were cleared in 1943 to allow the military to use the area as training grounds in the war efforts.

American troops used the village to prepare for the invasion of Europe - which would begin in 1944 with D-Day on June 6.

But even after the war drew to a close, villagers were not allowed to return to their homes.

Despite residents trying to go back, the village remains under the control of the Ministry of Defence.

Since then, Imber has been the source of fascination for several decades and has become a popular tourist spot.

It's one of several abandoned villages, taken over by the military, across our region.

Here is the story of the rural village where time stopped.

Where is Imber?

19 Imber Post Office.

19 Imber Post Office.

The village is in an isolated area of the Salisbury Plain.

It is around 2.5 miles west of the A360 road between Tilshead and West Lavington.

In the middle of the village is St Giles’ Church, which is now under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

Within the church, there are several boards depicting village life before the evacuation.

In more normal times there are often volunteers to answer questions about the building.

Imber had a Baptist chapel (built in 1839, demolished in late 1970s), a post office, and a pub called the Bell Inn, which like the church, still stands.

There is also a manor house, Imber Court and a farmhouse, farm cottages and a schoolroom.

On November 1, 1943, villagers were called to a meeting in the village schoolroom and given 47 days' notice to leave their homes.

The area was evacuated so US forces could practise street fighting.

However, a former soldier who helped to evacuate the village, Richard Madigan, told the Defence Lands Committee street fighting never happened and the aim was to keep the village in good repair for the villagers' eventual return.

The reason for eviction was the village's proximity to shell impact areas.

The majority of the 152 villagers fled the village without putting up a fight, but the occupants of one farm had to be forcibly evicted by the Army.

Albert Nash, who had been the village blacksmith for over 40 years, was believed to have been found sobbing over his anvil.

He later became the first resident to die and was brought back to Imber for burial.

It was said he died of a broken heart after being forced to leave the village.

29 Church Street, Imber (North).

29 Church Street, Imber (North).

Why residents never returned to Imber

The villagers thought they would be able to return home after six months, as promised by the Government.

However, those wishes were dashed when Imber became the permanent property of the Ministry of Defence.

Since the war, the village has been used for preparing soldiers for service in the urban areas of Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

Several empty house-like buildings were constructed during the 1970s to aid training.

After villagers left, Imber suffered due to shell and explosion damage.

More than 2,000 people attended a rally in 1961 demanding the villagers be allowed to move back, including a number of former residents.

A public inquiry found Imber should continue to be used for military purposes.

The issue was even raised in the House of Lords, where it was decided the church would be maintained.

St Giles' was recorded as Grade I listed in 1987.

The place of worship was allowed to be open on the Saturday closest to St Giles's day - a tradition that still lives on to this day.

St Giles Church, in Imber

St Giles Church, in Imber

What is the village like now?

The annual church service, on the Saturday nearest to September 1 (St Giles' Day), has been attended by former residents, including Ken Mitchell (grandson of Albert Nash).

The son of the last schoolmistress, John Williams; soldiers who have used the village for training, and the general public have also visited Imber.

It is open to visitors on other occasions, such as certain Bank Holidays and around Christmas.

From 2009 to 2018, there has been a Carol service on the Saturday before Christmas.

Since 2009, the annual summer opening of the village has been served by preserved and new double-decker buses, many originally from London.

These operate to a scheduled public timetable, not as excursions, and the village appears as a destination on the bus stop at Warminster railway station.

mber attracts hundreds of visitors. The Cole and Millard families from Trowbridge take a look at Imber Court. Trevor Porter 59336 18.

mber attracts hundreds of visitors. The Cole and Millard families from Trowbridge take a look at Imber Court. Trevor Porter 59336 18.

Are there other abandoned villages?

If one abandoned village isn't enough, there are a few other hidden gems just waiting to be visited in the West Country.

Tourists can explore Tyneham Village in Dorset, which is based in East Lulworth, near Wareham.

Other locations include Old Sarum, near Salisbury, and Winterborne Farringdon in Dorset.