Portsmouth was focus for poignant D-Day events
THE focus of the world was on Portsmouth for the global event to mark 75 years since D-Day.
And our churches and worshippers joined in the commemorations, with poignant services, memorable concerts and moving tributes to those who fought for our freedom.
Allied Forces had sailed from Portsmouth across the English Channel to storm the beaches of Normandy on 6 June, 1944. It was the largest seaborne invasion in world history – and proved the decisive moment in the liberation of Europe.
So it was appropriate that world leaders gathered with HM the Queen on Southsea Common for a poignant event on June 5 which celebrated the role of those Allied Forces, and remembered those we had lost. D-Day veterans were at the heart of the commemorative event, which told the story of the Second World War and D-Day through music, readings and dance.
Bob Jenkins, a 99-year-old veteran from Portsmouth, received a standing ovation from the Queen, President Donald Trump, other world leaders and thousands watching on big screens as he urged us to remember those we had lost.
On D-Day itself, Portsmouth held its own tribute to those who fought bravely on the Normandy beaches. Veterans, serving military personnel, local residents and visitors gathered for a service at the D-Day Memorial Stone, opposite South Parade Pier in Southsea.
Canon Bob White, vicar of St Mary’s Church, Fratton, and chaplain to the Royal British Legion, led the service and Bishop Christopher preached. Veterans paraded behind Portsmouth Cathedral Choir, the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines and a platoon of Royal Marine Cadets, and were cheered by onlookers.
Bishop Christopher spoke of the various partnerships that made D-Day possible – between military personnel from different countries, between the Allied Forces and those who supported them at home, and between those fighting for freedom and God.
“Those people who we honour today were offering themselves for something that was good and right,” he said. “They were giving themselves to God, as well as for their comrades, their country and for human dignity and freedom. D-Day is a powerful reminder of what we can do when we work in concert for the common good. We remember, celebrate and honour those who did God’s will in an extraordinary enterprise.”
The exhortation was read by Alexander Doherty, from the Royal British Legion, before the last post, two-minutes silence and the Reveille. Wreaths were then laid at the D-Day Memorial Stone by the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, the Deputy Lord Mayor, MP Stephen Morgan, the Naval Base Commander, Commandant General Royal Marines, and other organisations. For more photos, click here.
Also on June 6th, there was a re-enactment of the march that military personnel made through Portsmouth in June 1944, ahead of their embarkation on ships heading for Normandy. City residents saw soldiers, sailors and airmen marching through the city, but didn’t know what was happening.
Re-enactors, dressed in 1940s military uniform and carrying authentic period equipment, marched down two routes from the north to the south of the city early on the morning of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Local schoolchildren sang songs from the era as they walked past.
And among the places where they paused was St Mary’s Church, on Fratton Road, Fratton. Worshippers and local residents flew flags as they passed and talked to them about their experiences as they offered them water. For more photos, click here.
Portsmouth Cathedral has already held a series of special services, some of which were broadcast on national radio. The 8:10am service on June 2nd was broadcast on Radio 4, and included some of the words and hymns that might have been heard around the time of D-Day.
The annual D-Day and Normandy Veterans service later that morning included one of Montgomery’s grandchildren reading the Bible. And on June 5th, Choral Evensong from the cathedral was broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
On June 4th, Christ Church in Portsdown recreated a special vigil service they had held exactly 75 years ago – the night before the original date of the D-Day invasion. Worshippers used hymns, prayers and readings that were used in the 1944 service.
The commander-in-chief of the British Second Army, General Miles Dempsey, had his main headquarters at Fort Southwick. In June 1944, he was supervising the build-up of hundreds of ships and landing craft in Portsmouth’s Naval Base and in the Solent, as well as military equipment across south Hampshire.
He was a devout Christian, so he chose Christ Church as the venue for an Eve of Battle Dedication Service with senior officers and headquarters staff. Gen Dempsey dedicated to Almighty God the task before them. Click here to see photos from that service.
People living in Ventnor had their own tribute to more than 250 D-Day veterans, who were sailing from Portsmouth to Normandy on MV Boudicca on June 5th. The ship paused off the Isle of Wight at sunset, to echo how the original fleet had assembled off the island before crossing the English Channel. As they did so, local townsfolk sounded the ship’s horn, rang church bells, prayed commemorative prayers and heard music from 1944.
The merchant ship was accompanied by HMS St Albans, which signalled to Ventnor by Aldis Lamp with flashing morse: “We acknowledge the townspeople of Ventnor assembled for D-Day 75 commemorations and their wartime contribution.”
The event, which was organised by Churches Together in Ventnor, concluded with the sounding of Evening Colours, and HMS St Albans flashed a parting message on behalf of the Flotilla: “Farewell and God speed – we’ll meet again”.
Two special concerts will also be held in churches in our diocese to mark the anniversary. St Mary’s Church in Fratton, will hold a concert on June 8th to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, with a visiting choir from Caen in Normandy. It will be called Veni, Vidi, Canto and also feature the St Mary’s Church Choir, the Fine Voice Academy, 1940s performer Becki Short, the Oasis Community Choir and the Haven Community Choir.
And Portsmouth Cathedral will host a D-Day anniversary concert on June 20th, featuring Portsmouth Cathedral Choir, the Portsmouth Grammar School and other school choirs in a concert of British and French music. The evening starts at 7:30pm and includes a stirring performance of the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony from cathedral organist David Price and the Solent Symphony Orchestra. Tickets are £10 and can be booked via www.portsmouthfestivities.co.uk.