Monday, September 27, 2010

Lost Villages

A rather fascinating story here about Little Imber on Down, a country village in the English county of Wiltshire.Or perhaps I should say a former country village.

Because, you see, in November, 1943, the hundred-odd residents of the little town were called together for what they thought was a meeting about the installation of domestic plumbing and were informed that the British Ministry of Defence intended to use the village for training in fighting in built-up areas. They had only 47 days to leave, but left with the impression that after the training was done the village would be returned to them. The story is that people left food in their homes for the soldiers, sad to go but willing to "do their bit" to help win the war.The only way any of the people of Imber returned was to be buried in the churchyard.

I really find this a very grayish sort of story. The people of Imber lost their little village forever - and the training is said to have been canceled, making that loss even more heartbreaking.But nations need armies, and armies need training, and training needs land to do it in. Britain doesn't have the luxury we have of vast areas where sane people don't want to go, like NTC and JRTC.

Or the sand hills of Ft. Bragg, when you come right down to it.And 1943 was a desperate time, and sometimes desperate times DO call for desperate measures.

Let's also not forget that without the protection afforded the land by the training area Salisbury Plain would very likely be overrun with the sort of strip malls and housing tracts we tend to uglify our own rural areas with. The training area is one of the last large wild areas in Wiltshire, and it's only because the MoD keeps people out for its own selfish reasons. The question of whether or not the original village would have been "lost", one way or another...well, let's just say that the MoD isn't the out-and-out bad guy here.

So I guess I'm saying that the story of the lost village of Imber isn't a fable with a moral at the end, or a melodrama with a Hero and a Villian, but rather a cautionary tale that in the exigencies of wars and of the rumors of wars sometimes we do what we think we have to - whether we have to or not - to win them. And once done, we cannot or often will not undo them.

And then History sweeps past, in its great and merciless fashion, leaving us with our small lives changed all out of recognition, sometimes for the better, sometimes broken beyond repair.And Imber stands, still empty, on a darkling plain.

(Huge h/t to Karen Traviss, whose writing I adore and whose blog I shamelessly stole this topic from. Go out and buy one of her books - I'm serious, man!)


Lisa said...

Very wistful tale. Thank you for sharing. The Brits do seem to have a different attitude about doing what's necessary, in a stoic way. Also, the grand gesture, no mattter how humble (like leaving food).

A favorite saying, cross-stitched on many a pillow: "Musn't grumble".

Tell that to a Yank.

(p.s. -- can you give the blog address for this writer? -- thnx)

FDChief said...

Her professional blog is at She also has a "personal" blog at, which is where I came across the Imber story.

Lisa said...