Silence of Wiltshire ghost village broken for ‘last burial’ at its church – The Guardian

Mourners celebrate life of one-time resident Ray Nash, after MoD permits burial in village of Imber
Over the decades, Ray Nash would return to the “ghost village” of Imber to visit his father’s grave on days when military exercises were halted and public access was granted.
On Thursday, Nash’s final wish was fulfilled when he was laid to rest in the same graveyard, after the Ministry of Defence gave permission for his funeral and burial to take place in the deserted Salisbury Plain settlement in Wiltshire.
More than 100 mourners attended the ceremony in the village, which had been cleared during the second world war so that troops could practise for D-day. The villagers were never allowed to return, and since only people who were born or lived in Imber are allowed to be buried in the churchyard of St Giles, it could be that Nash, who died aged 87, will be the last.
The news of the unusual funeral made headlines around the world but, addressing mourners, his son, Kelvin Nash, made it clear that this day was all about his father.
“Imber may have hit the news headlines,” he said. “But we are all here because of dad.” Kelvin, a Wiltshire councillor, said his father used to like telling stories about village life, including almost getting run down by army trucks.
Ray’s father, Jim, a farm worker, died of meningitis aged 31 just before his son’s first birthday. “It can’t have been easy growing up without a dad,” said Kelvin Nash. “But he made the most of life. Wherever his journey took him, he made new friends and always managed to lend a helping hand.”
The Rev Andrew Sinclair, who led the service, said: “The end of Ray’s life marks the end of a generation. It is a sad time for this church as it is possibly the last burial.”
Nash’s coffin was draped with a blanket printed with photographs of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Sinclair said family was at the centre of Nash’s life and he had also been good company to his many friends. “He always had a funny story. He was quick-witted.” He liked trips to Cheddar Gorge in Somerset and Bristol zoo and loved to fix cars and play skittles.
The silence that habitually envelopes Imber was broken on Thursday not by the sound of artillery fire but by music. The mourners sang along to Johnny Cash versions of The Old Rugged Cross and When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.
A poem written by Ray Nash’s daughter, Vicki, was read out: “You’re going back home to Imber to be with your late dad/I know it’s what you had wished for but I am so very sad.”
Ray Nash and his mother, Tizzy, moved away from the village after his father died. Another relative, Albert Nash, was the village blacksmith until being evacuated. He was found sobbing over his anvil at the prospect of leaving Imber and died shortly afterwards, broken-hearted.
Ray Nash went on to work as a mechanic in the market town of Devizes and served in the army in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He always felt drawn back to Imber and would visit when open days were held.
Photographs of the family on their visits show them standing in the doorway and at the windows of the family home, which is still standing. Ray’s wife, Elaine, died two years ago.
Troops were first billeted at the Wiltshire village’s manor house, Imber Court, in 1916. From 1927, the War Office began buying up land and leasing it back to the farmers, and by 1932 all of the farmland was in government hands. The village was evacuated in November 1943 for the training of American troops.
During the early 1950s, the War Office (now the Ministry of Defence) kept the church in a modest state of repair until a decision was made over it, and in 2002 responsibility for the Grade I-listed church reverted to the diocese of Salisbury.


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