So it was that this weekend just gone was the annual fund raising trip to Imber village located deep in Salisbury Plain. Where vintage and not so vintage, buses, drivers, conductors and enthusiasts for one day only are allowed access to the village where time stood still. That hallowed and special place where for 364 days of the year it is used by the British army for battle practise and manoeuvres for theatres of war. However, on this one day of the year it is opened for a procession of buses from all over the UK to assemble and snake their way to the village itself. The same place where overnight all the residents were moved out and then were quite simply never invited back again. And of course with the passage of time, those from that generation have almost passed away, so it is as if time has stood still and a tableaux from a lost generation is testimony to a lost history.
The event itself usually only takes place on a Sunday, but this year for the first time it operated on both the Saturday and the Sunday. The format is that all the vehicles assemble at Warminster station and pick up the passengers who arrive and are then transported over the roads that are only ever used by military vehicles. This year the procession of some 35 plus mostly all vintage buses snaked their way to the small town where passengers and crews can mingle and enjoy the eerie atmosphere of a bygone age. Interestingly the church is usually opened upon the day to allow people to respectfully explore and on occasions for some reflect in a place of worship. Some offer prayers that the buses will actually get them home safe and sound as some travel very long distances to attend.
The purpose of the annual event is two fold. Firstly it raises money for worthy charitable causes, mostly military based for former serving soldiers who have faced challenges on returning to civvy street. The second purpose is to allow the bus enthusiasts to assemble together and enjoy the convivial experience and networking that such events promote. Usually these events are at bus rallies and preserved vehicle rallies, however this event is unique as it takes place on private roads so there is no hardship caused to other motorists who might get held up behind such a convoy. In many cases the busses are privately owned and kept in pristine condition by their owners who cherish them. Besides the joy of driving, it also allows others who in a previous life worked as bus conductors the chance to sell tickets to the fare paying passengers. They use a wide selection of vintage ticket machines, to again pay homage to the industry of the past. In many cases those who actually worked as bus conductors are now of a certain age as the good old bus conductor was phased out in the nineteen seventies with the introduction of OMO or One Man Operation buses as they were known back in the day. Clearly, like me you need to an elder statesman to recall the life and times of the Clippie. Although I have to confess that I never had to do the job of being a bus conductor, but I did pass my PSV test (well kind of long story) and as I type this I can see my badge, a simple white circle with a red rim at the top and the bottom with the legend that says proudly across the top PUBLIV SERVICE VEHICLE , and then at the bottom plain and simple the iconic word “DRIVER’, in capital letters and then smack bang in the middle was my unique badge number LL 29071.
I was very proud when I earned that badge, I felt that no matter what happened in my career I was part of that select group who kept this nation moving. Someone once described the role of the bus industry as the life blood of the nation. I really like that description, and I think it does justice to its contribution to society, both today and in times gone past. That is why such a great celebration of the humble Bus is so important and why the pilgrimage to Imber should continue.