The sound of church bells has been heard for the first time in 60 years in a deserted West Country village. The 700 year-old church of St Giles in Imber, a village on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, has been empty since the Army took over the village in 1943 to turn it into a battle training area. The beautiful church, which has 15th century murals and ancient gravestones, is surrounded by barbed wire. The cottages, village shops and pub nearby have been reduced to shells by generations of soldiers practising house-to-house combat. The villagers were given just one month to evacuate their homes a week before Christmas in 1943. Praised for their sacrifice to the war effort, they were told they could return when peace came. But the Ministry of Defence has never allowed them to go back to their homes. The entire area surrounding the village is used for military exercises to this day and too dangerous for the public to enter. Once a year on the feast of St Giles, on the 1st of September, they are allowed to return to Imber for a service at the church and to tend the family graves. This year a campaigning group made a recording of the church bells similar to those that once hung in the tower. Since January they have played the recording of the bells at intervals during the day on Saturday and Sunday. On that first day in January, a special candlelit service organised by the Friends of Imber group was held at the church. A memorial stone was also dedicated at the nearby Baptist graveyard. Under normal circumstances the listed building would have several authorities vying for its preservation. But because it is out of bounds to the public, St Giles has no protectors and is now in a legal process to declare it officially redundant.
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