‘We want to give people a feel of what it was like’

A re-enactor as a German stormtrooper in the trench reconstruction at the World War One Remembrance Centre. Picture: Malcolm Wells (133051-8765)
A re-enactor as a German stormtrooper in the trench reconstruction at the World War One Remembrance Centre. Picture: Malcolm Wells (133051-8765)
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The First World War was one of the deadliest conflicts in world history.

More than nine million soldiers lost their lives and the scale of death had an enormous impact.

Charles Haskell and Chris Pennycook, who run the World War One Remembrance Centre at Fort Widley. ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (133051-8728)

Charles Haskell and Chris Pennycook, who run the World War One Remembrance Centre at Fort Widley. ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (133051-8728)

For four years from 1914, the battle continued. And next July will see commemorations held to mark 100 years since the start of what is known as the Great War.

Portsmouth was home to thousands of soldiers who were sent into the trenches on the Western Front, and tomorrow the city and surrounding areas will remember the fallen on Remembrance Sunday.

Opened in March this year, just in time for the 100th anniversary, is the World War One Remembrance Centre based at Fort Widley on Portsdown Hill.

Charles Haskell and Chris Pennycook started the museum after speaking to Portsmouth City Council about the centenary commemoration plans.

Charles, 61, from Drayton, says: ‘I felt we needed a museum concentrating on the First World War. I’d been doing talks and teaching about it for 35 years, so the council pointed me in the direction of Fort Widley.

‘That’s when I spoke to the Peter Ashley Activity Centre, which runs it and Fort Purbrook. We had a chat and they have kindly allowed us the space.’

When Chris came on board to help bring Charles’s idea to life, they spoke to friends who might want to volunteer.

Charles adds: ‘It’s a private museum and we’ve had support from all sorts of people. We’re now getting school visits and youth organisations coming in, as well as other local groups.

‘People are coming on board because they want to talk about and remember the First World War.’

With a range of exhibitions and artefacts from the war, the museum even has its own walk-trough mock trench system.

Charles explains: ‘The reconstruction is very popular, and we also display reproduction exhibits and artefacts. So much of it is from people who have heard about us and sent it in.

‘We have one lady who sent in all her grandfather’s memorabilia that he had kept from his time during the war. He was Charles Kelly, a US Artillery gunner, and she wanted to make sure it all stayed together.’

Everything at the museum, including a German bayonet which was sent through the post by a soldier as a memento to his girlfriend in Portsmouth, is in some way connected to the war.

An artist was brought in to paint the top of the trench reconstruction and there’s also a selection of trench art.

Charles says: ‘We also have a resources room where we talk to groups that come in, and we hold lectures on Ypres and The Somme [battlefield sites in France].

‘We also have monthly temporary exhibitions and we are now running trips to the battlefields from here.’

Being open less than a year means Charles and Chris are still finding their feet with the museum, but they’ve got plenty of plans for 2014.

‘We’re going to start a homework evening, so we’ll be opening later to support youngsters who are studying the war at school. We want to make sure all our visitors can take full advantage of what is on offer.

‘We’ve worked in partnership with places in the area, such as Portsmouth Football Club and Havant College. It’s important to be part of the community.’

With the museum mainly concentrating on information about the Western Front, there are plans in place to expand the museum into other areas.

Charles explains: ‘We want to open up the museum a bit and are looking at building a memorial garden. We’re also going to have a cafe.’

Portsmouth has a rich military heritage, especially with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.

But Charles believes it needed more to highlight the First World War.

‘There are lots of museums about the armed forces in the city,’ he explains.

‘But we shouldn’t forget the army’s role, particularly from the First World War.

‘If people can’t get out to the battlefields to see them for themselves, we are doing our best to bring it to them.

‘We want to give them a tiny feel of what it was like.’

For Remembrance Sunday this week, the Isle Of Wight Army Cadet Force Band will be performing at the museum, where admission will be free.

Charles adds: ‘There are also going to be re-enactors dressed in clothes from the time, and we have one as a German storm trooper from 1918.’

Always looking for more volunteers at the museum, Charles feels it’s more important than ever to commemorate the First World War and remember the fallen who gave their lives so that many others would remain free.

He says: ‘Next year it’s the 100th anniversary and it’s a major part of the curriculum for schools. We’ve had teenagers come in and children as young as five years old come in and look at the museum.

‘It’s important that we are giving easier access to this information.’

ROYAL MARINES MUSEUM

There will be events across the city tomorrow to commemorate the First 
World War, including an 
annual service at the Royal Marines Museum that has been taking place for nearly 20 years.

Jane Hodgkins, marketing manager at the museum, says: ‘It’s absolutely fitting the museum is seen as a focal point of remembering the forgotten heroes, especially the Royal Marines. The event has 
just grown in popularity.

It’s not just Royal Marines or veterans that attend, it’s members of the local community. We are a focal point for the community to come and remember the heroes.’ Go to royalmarinesmuseum.co.uk or call the World War One Remembrance Centre on 07949969113 or (023) 92798751

REMEMBRANCE SERVICES TOMORROW

Portsmouth’s annual service of remembrance will take place in the Guildhall Square.

Serving military personnel and members of ex-service groups will parade on to the square at 10.30am and a gun from HMS Nelson will fire at 11am to start the official two-minute silence.

An annual service of remembrance will be held at the Royal Marines Museum, Eastney with music from the Royal Marines School Of Music. A gun will be fired at 11am to signal the start of a two-minute silence. Entry to the museum is free on the day.

The World War One Remembrance Centre at Fort Widley will be open to the public and there will be a performance from the Isle Of Wight Army Cadet Force Band.

At 11am there will be a service at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital to remember service personnel lost in conflicts from the First World War. At 10.30am a guard, provided by HMS Sultan, will form up opposite the hospital and joining them will be members of the Royal British Legion, veterans and representatives from Scouts, Guides, Sea Cadets, Air Cadets and other local organisations.

Residents at Northcott House will be joined by the Mayor of Gosport for God’s Port Housing Society’s annual Remembrance Sunday ceremony in Gosport. Starting at 2.30pm, Royal British legion flag bearers will be in attendance, as well as the Solent Brass Band.

A morning service will be held at the war memorial in Litten Gardens, Chichester, to honour men and women who died in the two world wars.

A parade is taking place in Petersfield and those marching will include soldiers from the army, Royal Marines, Petersfield Air Training Corps, Churcher’s Combined Cadet Force, the Salvation Army Band and Royal British Legion veterans. At 11am there will be a silence and the Last Post.