HL Deb 06 February 1946 vol 139 cc284-6

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the question standing in my name.

[The question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government whether the findings of the Inquiry into the damage done at Imber in July, 1945, can now be stated.]


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for providing me with an opportunity to make a statement on this matter which has, I am aware, been the subject of considerable local concern. It was reported to the War Office in August last, by the noble Viscount and others, that a considerable amount of damage had been caused by acts of vandalism in Imber village in July, 1945, notably to the church and church property, and it was suggested that troops were responsible. I should explain that the whole of this village, except for the church, vicarage, schoolhouse, Baptist chapel and burial ground, and a public house, is owned by the War: Department. The population were evacuated in December, 1943, after which the village formed part of a training area used by the United States forces until they relinquished it in June, 1945. British troops arrived in the area during July, 1945.

The allegations of damage were investigated locally, by the military and civil police working together, and reports were furnished to the War Office in September and early October. These reports indicated that the damage referred to by the noble Viscount in his question was not extensive, and that there was no evidence to show that military personnel were involved. In all the circumstances, however, my right honourable' friend decided to set up a special Court of Inquiry under a senior officer to carry out a more detailed investigation. This Court has completed its work, and its findings have been fully considered in the War Office.

In general the results of the earlier investigation have been confirmed. It was established that some wanton damage to property in the village had taken place recently, though this was largely superficial and comparatively insignificant in value. The material damage to the church was negligible, being assessed at rather less than £15. The Court point out that the extent of disorder and appearance of damage was totally out of proportion to the amount of material injury to property, which may possibly have given rise to the exaggerated reports of the damage which have been in circulation. There is, of course, also, a certain amount of what may be termed legitimate or normal damage in the village due to its situation in an area which has over a long period been used for intensive training by all arms.

Part of what seemed at first sight to be malicious damage was found to be due to blast, concussion, shell fire, or the effects of time and weather. Tens of thousands of American troops were in this area at times and both rifle and shell fire fell in the village on occasion. It has not been possible to show precisely when or by whom the recent acts of vandalism were carried out; individual civilians or soldiers may have been responsible. But there is no evidence to support the sug- gestion put forward at the time that it was the work of a body of troops or, indeed; that the troops in the area were in any way responsible.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for the reply he has been good enough to give your Lordships, may I ask him two questions arising out of it? The first question is, have the houses and the cottages in this village been made weatherproof? The second question is, have the monuments, and one monument in particular—the old milestone known for generations in the middle of this property on the old Bath to Salisbury road—been protected?


I will, with permission, take the latter question first. The noble Lord was good enough to mention this to me a day or two ago. I have made inquiries as a result of which I may say we have no knowledge of an old Roman milestone such as I gather he had in mind, but the Ministry of Works have records of four eighteenth century milestones on the old Bath to Salisbury road. We have no knowledge of milestones being disor damaged on the Bath to Salisbury road, although it has not been possible since the noble Viscount mentioned the matter to me three or four days ago to make a thorough check. If the noble Viscount will be good enough to let me know which particular milestone he has in mind inquiries will be made on the spot.

The Imber area is, and has been for a great number of years, War Department property. The houses in the village that were damaged in the course of this war have not hitherto been made good. Imber is one of a number of areas which fall into consideration in relation to the postwar requirements of the post-war Army. Until a decision is taken upon that general subject I am unable to make any statement with regard to the repairing of the village, or the use to which the properties will be put.