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Ghost village evacuated in 1943 for D-Day training holds its last ever funeral as pensioner who lived there as a boy is laid to rest alongside his father in hamlet that is still off-limits to the public

  • Imber in Wiltshire was cleared by allied forces during the Second World War
  • Villagers were then later refused permission to return to the village
  • Aged one, Ray Nash, who died at 87, was forced to leave with his family in 1943
  • Today he is being buried in graveyard in the village’s Church of St Giles

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Scores of mourners attended a ‘ghost village’ that was evacuated and closed in December 1943 for what may be its last ever funeral.

Imber in Wiltshire was cleared by allied forces during the Second World War to make way for training exercises for D-Day.

Villagers were then later refused permission to return to the village – and it remains part of the Army’s Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA).

Ever since it has only been open to visitors a few times a year and to be buried there you need MoD permission and proof you lived there.

In an exceptionally rare ceremony, Ray Nash, who died aged 87, was laid to rest in the churchyard next to the graves of other family members including his father.

Ray Nash (left, pictured with his wife Elaine, son Kevin and his wife, Pam) will be buried today in the village he lived in as a baby that was evacuated by the Ministry of Defence so allied forces could train for D-Day

Ray Nash (left, pictured with his wife Elaine, son Kevin and his wife, Pam) will be buried today in the village he lived in as a baby that was evacuated by the Ministry of Defence so allied forces could train for D-Day

The hearse carrying Ray Nash coffin on its way to St. Giles' Church, Imber, this morning

The hearse carrying Ray Nash coffin on its way to St. Giles’ Church, Imber, this morning

A sign on the road to the 'ghost village' warns the public that there is no access - Only people with permission from the MoD can continue on

A sign on the road to the ‘ghost village’ warns the public that there is no access – Only people with permission from the MoD can continue on

Kevin Nash, 63, said his father had always wanted to be buried with his own father in the village - who died when he was aged just one. Above: Mr Nash's family home is seen with his family inside during one of their annual visits

Kevin Nash, 63, said his father had always wanted to be buried with his own father in the village – who died when he was aged just one. Above: Mr Nash’s family home is seen with his family inside during one of their annual visits

Imber had been occupied since the first century. Above: An image showing the village in the early 20th century

Imber had been occupied since the first century. Above: An image showing the village in the early 20th century

The village has been used for military training since the 1940s and the public are warned to stay on the road

The village has been used for military training since the 1940s and the public are warned to stay on the road

How residents of Imber were ordered to leave to make way for troops preparing for D-Day Normandy landings 

Villagers were given just 47 days’ notice in 1943 to leave Imber. 

The last recorded census for the village, in 1931, showed there were just 152 people living there.  

They received a letter which instructed them to be out of their homes no later than December 17, 1943. 

Despite various legal challenges, locals have not been allowed to return.

Because the War Office – now the Ministry of Defence – had bought up farm land and the land where the village was, this meant residents of the village were only tenants.

Many claimed, however, that they were under the impression that they would be allowed to return when the war was over 

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His son Kelvin Nash, 63, says his dad Ray had always wanted to be buried with his father in the village – who died when Ray was just one.

Ray, a former mechanic for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, left the village with his mum after his father’s death in 1936.

Despite barely remembering his time there, he always felt drawn to the place the father he had never known had lived – visiting the site every year that Kelvin can remember.

Around 110 mourners attended today’s service to pay their respects.

Addressing mourners today, Mr Nash – a councillor who lives in Devizes – said: ‘Imber may have hit the news headlines but we are all here because of Dad.

‘He told us all about his village life, nearly getting run down by the army trucks.

‘It can’t have been easy growing up without a Dad.

‘But he made the most of life.

‘Wherever his journey took him, he made new friends and always managed to lend a helping hand.’

Kelvin’s grandfather, Jim Nash, married his wife Elizabeth, known as ‘Tizzy’, née Bridewell, in 1934, and the new couple lived in Imber before their son Ray was born the following year.

Jim, a farm labourer, died of meningitis at 31, when Ray was only a year old.

Tizzy moved away from the village but Ray’s great uncle, Albert Nash, was the village blacksmith and one of the residents that was evacuated by the Government.

It is said he was found sobbing over his anvil at the prospect of leaving Imber, and passed away shortly after leaving.

He later became the first resident to die and be brought back to Imber for burial, and his official cause of death was recorded as death due to ‘a broken heart’.

Ray Nash has been buried right next to the graves of his family members – including Albert Nash – and was laid to rest with red and white carnations. 

Kelvin added: ‘I think the last funeral was about ten years ago now, so as time has moved on he may be the last person to ever be buried there.’

Neil Skelton, volunteer custodian at the village’s St Giles Church since 2005, has been assisting the family in organising the funeral.

The 74-year-old retiree said: ‘There are still two or three people alive who were born here.

‘It’s good to be a part of it and to be a part of facilitating it.’

Imber now forms part of the Salisbury Plain Training Area and is closed off to ordinary civilians for most of the year

Imber now forms part of the Salisbury Plain Training Area and is closed off to ordinary civilians for most of the year

A 'ghost village' evacuated and closed in December 1943 is to have its last ever funeral - for pensioner Ray Nash (pictured) who lived there as a boy and has died aged 87.

A ‘ghost village’ evacuated and closed in December 1943 is to have its last ever funeral – for pensioner Ray Nash (pictured) who lived there as a boy and has died aged 87.

The memorial to Imber residents killed in the First World War is seen above

The memorial to Imber residents killed in the First World War is seen above

The military training area with houses built by the MOD are seen above in what was once Imber

The military training area with houses built by the MOD are seen above in what was once Imber

How residents of Imber were ordered to leave to make way for troops preparing for D-Day Normandy landings 

Villagers were given just 47 days’ notice in 1943 to leave Imber. 

The last recorded census for the village, in 1931, showed there were just 152 people living there.  

They received a letter which instructed them to be out of their homes no later than December 17, 1943. 

Despite various legal challenges, locals have not been allowed to return.

Because the War Office – now the Ministry of Defence – had bought up farm land and the land where the village was, this meant residents of the village were only tenants.

Many claimed, however, that they were under the impression that they would be allowed to return when the war was over 

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Kelvin continued: ‘I went over there a few weeks ago to check his father’s grave, it was 7am and -6 degrees, but there was a completely clear sky and the sun was just coming up. It was really really tranquil, there was no other human within a five mile radius.

‘It sort of made me think about what life must have been like for farmers living in the village in the 1920’s and 1930’s and how harsh life must have been.

‘Without exception, everyone that I’ve spoken to about dad’s passing, have all had a lovely story to tell about something that he had said, or did, that has stuck in their minds over the years.

‘I would like to thank everyone that has helped to make this happen, it’s truly amazing. Particular thanks go to Neil Skelton, custodian of Imber, and our link to the military.

‘Imber village was open to the public as normal over the New Year period, and with 1000 visitors in one day, interest in the village is as strong as ever.’

The funeral for Ray Nash will took place at St Giles Church, Imber, today.

Due to MoD restrictions, unarranged attendance is not open to members of the public.

The church, which is Grade I listed, remains in full working order and in 2008 underwent a £300,000 restoration as part of a project by the Churches Conservation Trust.

Villagers were given just 47 days’ notice in 1943 to leave Imber, which had been occupied since the 1st Century AD. 

The church, which is Grade I listed, remains in full working order and in 2008 underwent a £300,000 restoration as part of a project by the Churches Conservation Trust

The church, which is Grade I listed, remains in full working order and in 2008 underwent a £300,000 restoration as part of a project by the Churches Conservation Trust

The Daily Mail reported on the 'death' of Imber in 1948, when officials decided that the village's residents would not be allowed to return

The Daily Mail reported on the 'death' of Imber in 1948, when officials decided that the village's residents would not be allowed to return

The Daily Mail reported on the ‘death’ of Imber in 1948, when officials decided that the village’s residents would not be allowed to return 

The remains of a home that was called the Square House are seen above in 1961

The remains of a home that was called the Square House are seen above in 1961

Soldiers are seen standing next to a military vehicle in Imber in 1962, long after residents had been forced to leave

Soldiers are seen standing next to a military vehicle in Imber in 1962, long after residents had been forced to leave

Salisbury Plain Training Area: The 94,000 acres of land in Wiltshire that are controlled by the MOD 

The Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) is used by thousands of military personnel every year. 

It covers around more than 94,000 acres of land and was first purchased in 1897 by the War Office. 

It is the UK’s largest military training area and provides a space for soldiers to practice live firing and for military vehicles to be used. 

The training area also hosts an array of archaeological treasures that have remained undisturbed because the land is so heavily controlled.

There are around 2,300 monuments, 550 of which are protected by law. 

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The last recorded census for the village, in 1931, showed there were just 152 people living there.

In the war, residents received a letter which instructed them to be out of their homes no later than December 17, 1943.

Despite various legal challenges, locals have not been allowed to return.

Because the War Office – now the Ministry of Defence – had bought up farm land and the land where the village was, this meant residents of the village were only tenants.

Many claimed, however, that they were under the impression that they would be allowed to return when the war was over.

There have been protests against the evacuation, in January 1961, 2,000 people breached security in an attempt to get the village back.

Around a decade later, evidence was heard at the Defence Land Committee concerning Imber’s return but it was decided the land was too useful to the army to warrant it being given up.

Military activity on Salisbury Plain began in 1897 and escalated quickly during the First World War.

Troops were billeted at Imber Court in 1916 and some years later the War Office began buying the land.

By the time of the Second World War, the government owned almost all of the land in and around the village

Imber also contains four council house style blocks which were built in 1938.

In 1943, there was also a Baptist Chapel which was demolished in the late 1970s.

Source: Daily Mail UK

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