Portsmouth and the sands of Normandy will become the focal point of world events for what is likely to be the last major commemoration of the D-Day landings featuring the men who were there. Up to 300 veterans have been invited to join a cruise ship for a unique ‘return to Normandy’ experience, one of the key events in this summer’s anniversary announced by Vice Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Gordon Messenger.
The senior Royal Marine was joined by serving personnel from the three Forces, plus veterans, in Portsmouth’s D-Day Story Museum to reveal some of the ways Britain will commemorate Operation Overlord this June.
Portsmouth was the hub for the liberation operation. Beyond the obvious naval participation in 1944, Southwick House just north of the city served as the headquarters of Supreme Commander General Dwight Eisenhower. So the city will host the UK’s national event on June 5 – amid five days of local commemorations by the Solent.
The main event will include a military parade along the seafront, music from military bands, readings by VIPs and a flypast featuring period aircraft. Other features will include a Royal Collection Trust exhibition, screenings to show the Normandy Commemorations live and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
The first Portsmouth Revival festival – celebrating the food, music, dancing and vehicles of the era- will also be held, with events concluding with a ‘Sunset Concert for Heroes’ featuring acts include the Military Wives Choir and the D-Day Darlings.
Before sunset on June 5, the MV Boudicca will leave Portsmouth bound for Normandy carrying 300 veterans of the Great Crusade, escorted, as they were in 1944, by the Royal Navy. The vessel has been specially-chartered ship using cash from The Royal British Legion and a LIBOR grant from the Treasury. The ship will accommodate veterans for the duration of their visit to Normandy – at no cost to the men of 1944.
“They are the real VIPs at this year’s events,” General Messenger said. “D-Day is an event which changed history and shaped modern Europe, but it is made up of thousands upon thousands of human stories, stories of bravery, determination and overcoming adversity. “The 75th anniversary is going to be a fabulous event. Portsmouth was at the heart of the effort so it’s fitting that it will be the focal point of the British element of commemorations.”
Across the Channel, anniversary events will include an inauguration at the site of the Normandy Memorial Trust’s British Normandy Memorial and services of thanksgiving at Bayeux Cathedral and Bayeux Cemetery before concluding with an evening of music and entertainment beside the beaches in Arromanches – the site of Gold Beach in June 1944. Around 2,000 current serving personnel will be taking part in events in the UK and France, and be on hand to offer veterans support.
Veterans interested in travelling on the Boudicca can download an application form from The Royal British Legion, which needs to be completed and returned by Monday 4 February. Each veteran will be entitled to travel with one guest or carer. The RBL will arrange the full return trip from successful applicants’ homes to the ship and back at no cost to them. See www.britishlegion.org.uk/community/d-day-75/
Words and image Crown Copyright: RN