Military Allows Visit to Town Emptied for D-Day Training





IMBER, England, Dec. 31 -- For the first 17 years of his life, before this tiny village died for England, Ken Mitchell spent every Sunday in St. Giles Church. Now 79, Mitchell looked up at the moss-covered steeple, secured behind a 10-foot British army fence and barbed wire, and struggled to remember life in the village that he and 150 other residents were forced to leave in December 1943.

"It's so confusing," Mitchell said as he rambled through the village, among the muddy ruins of the school where he studied and the pub where he sat under a shady apple tree and first tasted beer. He climbed the concrete steps of his old house, where he hadn't set foot in 62 years, since the War Office appropriated this entire village as a training ground for British and U.S. troops preparing for the D-Day invasion at Normandy.

Mitchell came back to Imber on Saturday, taking advantage of a rare chance to visit. This ghost town sits at the center of Britain's largest military training area, a 25-mile-by-10-mile expanse of hills and fields known as the Salisbury Plain Army Training Estate. The military conducts training here 340 days a year, and the desolate hillsides are littered with the obliterated hulks of tanks and trucks that have been used for live-fire target practice.



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