Special edition as world focused on Portsmouth

Something special - a rare edition of The News printed on a Sunday. It was a D-Day Weekend Special.
Something special - a rare edition of The News printed on a Sunday. It was a D-Day Weekend Special.
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The dateline might have said Saturday, but this was a rare edition of The News published on a Sunday.

The clue is in the top left corner of the masthead. D-Day Weekend Special, it said.

And so it was. On sale on the morning of Sunday, June 5, 1994, it contained 13 pages of reports from the previous day of the memorable commemorations in Portsmouth marking the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

The world’s attention focused on the city as more than a dozen world leaders descended on Portsmouth for two days of unforgettable scenes.

The city is used to royal visits, but that Saturday night was something unheard of.

At 8pm the Queen, accompanied by 13 world leaders whose countries had all played significant roles in Operation Overlord, sat down to a state banquet in the Guildhall.

US president Bill Clinton was there along with then prime minister John Major.

The other VIP guests were: Jim Bolger, the New Zealand prime minister; Jean Chretien (Canadian prime minister); President Lech Walesa (Poland); the Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg; President Michael Kovak (Slovakia); Paul Keating (Australian prime minister); Gerasimus Arsenis (Greek defence minister); Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands; King Albert of Belgium; the Duke of Edinburgh; President Francois Mitterand of France, and King Harald of Norway.

Portsmouth had been chosen as the focal point the weekend of commemorations for two reasons: it had a proven track record for successfully hosting big events, and the city had been the main departure point for the invasion fleet.

D-Day had also been planned just up the road at Southwick House, near Fareham.

In her moving speech to that banquet, the Queen urged world leaders to pledge themselves to a new era of peace.

She said that the war in the former Yugoslavia proved that a Europe without conflict was not a foregone conclusion.

Nobody in that room could have imagined that seven years later the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York would spark a second Gulf War followed by a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Her audience comprised 500 D-Day veterans and widows.

Alongside her was Bill Clinton who earlier that day had got up early to jog through Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard and was captured running past HMS Victory.

She remembered those who made the supreme sacrifice on June 6, 1944 – the 10,000 who died on D-Day and the 37,000 Allied troops killed in the following months.

‘All the planning and force of arms would have fallen short had it not been for the heroism of those who took part,’ she said.

‘As they gathered here in Portsmouth and all over the south of England in the months leading up to June 1944, I wonder if they realised just how high were the stakes.’

On the menu that historic night was smoked trout from Hampshire; Aylesbury duck, and Hampshire strawberries and cream.

The wine included a dry white from the Isle of Wight and a Sir Winston Churchill cuve champagne.

Also on the 44-seat top table that night were Princess Margaret, Hillary Clinton, Princess Anne and her husband Cmdr Tim Laurence.