Imaginative use of commandeered MOD villages

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Oct 14 13:08:51 BST 2010

War is for real
Training for war destroys communities but 
imaginative use of MOD land can bring new life.
During WWII several communities were broken up, 
the occupants forcibly rehoused in order to 
provide training areas for the Army. Tyneham in 
Dorset is a well known example. A tightly knit 
and isolated village in a stunningly beautiful 
setting, it stands in ruins. Imber, a similar 
rural community in the centre of Salisbury Plain, 
Wiltshire, suffered the same fate. There the 
original houses were pulled down and fake houses 
built for soldiers to hone urban battle skills 
on. The inhabitants were promised that they could 
return once the war was over. Promises were 
broken, and on Salisbury Plain the tanks reign supreme.
In Wales the military needed a large area for 
artillery practice so Mynydd Epynt was purchased. 
Until 1940 the area was home to a community of 
farmers and their families. To create the 
training area 54 homes had to be vacated and 219 
people were obliged to go, leaving behind a 
primary school, a church, and the Drovers Arms 
inn. Cold War planners thought we'd end up 
fighting the Russians in Germany, so to 
acclimatise the soldiers a fake German town was 
built, complete with a fake church with fake 
gravestones. Now known as Cilieni, by the time it 
was finished at a cost of £7 million, the Cold War was over.
Last year, Abolish War featured a fake Afghan 
village that had been built at the Stanford 
Training Area, in Norfolk. Costing £14m, it was 
to help train soldiers due to fight in 
Afghanistan. This however, is just the latest 
installation. The area began life in 1942 as a 
fake German village to prepare soldiers for 
fighting the Nazis. It has also posed as Northern 
Ireland and Bosnia. But the most tasteless and 
insensitive fake installation appeared when seven 
replica mosques were erected on a firing range at 
Bellerby, North Yorkshire, again to prepare 
soldiers for Afghanistan. There was 
understandable fury from the Muslim community 
when the news broke in April this year, and the 
targets were hastily dismantled.
All this displays an unthinking arrogance in the 
attitude of the people in charge towards the 
land, the communities and the people that live in 
them. And this arrogance must surely affect how 
our military see the genuine places they are sent to fight in.
And we never learn. In 480 BC the mighty empire 
of Persia invaded the city states of Greece, and 
the huge invading force led by the Persian king 
Xerxes was decisively beaten by the outnumbered 
Greeks in the battle of Salamis. In the play The 
Persians written shortly afterwards by Aeschylus, 
we see the effect the news of the defeat had on 
the Persian Court, the disbelief and then the despair.
Back to Cilieni. In August the National Theatre 
of Wales put on a new adaptation of The Persians, 
and quite brilliantly, they performed it among 
the buildings of Cilieni, the audiences being 
driven there through the training area. The 
choice of setting was inspired and attracted rave 
reviews (see The Persians, National Theatre of 
Wales, review, by Charles Spencer, Telegraph 
13/08/10). But it also put across two lessons we 
have yet to learn - that war is real, not a play; 
and that sending 'invincible' invading armies 
into other countries never brings the expected 
victory. Instead it can bring humiliating defeat 
at the hands of small desperate people defending their homes.
MAW . Autumn .10
 From Abolish War, journal of the Movement for 
the Abolition of War, Autumn 2010
(subscription rates £10 p.a to £100 for life - - further info SAE 
to MAW, 11 Venetia Road, LONDON N4 1EJ)

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