Ambitious bid to bring Barack Obama to Portsmouth

INVITED US President Barack Obama is wanted as the guest of honour at Portsmouth's D-Day commemorations next year.
INVITED US President Barack Obama is wanted as the guest of honour at Portsmouth's D-Day commemorations next year.
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PRESIDENT of the United States Barack Obama has been invited to Portsmouth for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

If all goes to plan, Mr Obama will join the Queen, who has also been invited, in the city on June 5 next year.

The idea is that Mr Obama will join US veterans, who are coming to the city via cruise ship, for a ceremony before heading to Normandy on a US warship in time for the D-Day anniversary on June 6.

The invitation was sent to the White House by Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson, after first informing Number 10 and Buckingham Palace.

The council’s seafront manager David Evans is leading the bid.

He said: ‘It would be fantastic. It’s also a tribute to the investment that’s been made that we have a seafront good enough to enable us to make this kind of invitation.

‘If the White House accepts the invitation it will be fantastic for Portsmouth and will put us back on the world stage once again.

‘We were on it in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of D-Day, and again in 2005 for Trafalgar 200, and we’ll be on it again next year.

‘We would also hope that if the president accepts, other Allied heads of state will also visit us, as they did in 1994.’

Mr Evans is also spearheading a series of events next year to mark important military dates. They include the anniversary of the beginning of the First World War in August, the 350th birthday of the Royal Marines, and the 20th anniversary of HMS King Alfred, the country’s largest naval reserves unit, being in Portsmouth.

Next year will also see the launch of the Hear My Story exhibition at the National Museum of the Royal Navy within the Historic Dockyard.

The number of events, and Portsmouth’s pivotal role in them, is what led to Mr Evans and his team bidding for the National Armed Forces City title for 2014.

‘We’ve been told by Number 10 that the title has yet to be decided yet,’ he said.

‘But how could they refuse, when we have people like the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire backing us, and we’ll be supporting the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity?’

If Mr Obama chooses to accept Portsmouth’s invitation, it will be the first time in many years an American head of state has visited the city.

The 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994 saw then-President Bill Clinton in the city for a drumhead service, in what became the national focal point for the commemorations.

The plans for D-Day were formulated within Southwick House north of Portsmouth, and saw Naval Commander-in-Chief Admiral Ramsay, Allied Supreme Commander General Eisenhower and the Army Commander-in-Chief General Montgomery based there.

Mr Evans said: ‘This will be a commemoration, not a celebration. It’s about bringing the city together to remember the people who lost their lives during and after D-Day.’

He said he thought the range of events next year, beginning in March with Commonwealth Day, will cost around £400,000 to stage.

He said: ‘We’re already looking for sponsorship, and if we are named National Armed Forces City for 2014 we will hopefully get some funding for that.

‘I’ll also be going cap-in-hand to the council for some help. When we stage the Great South Run that brings in excess of £1m. This will be much bigger than that.

‘Portsmouth will be on the world stage, with all our attractions here. What other city can possibly compete?’

HOPE FOR PRINCESS ROYAL TO BE PATRON OF YEAR’S EVENTS

DAVID Evans is a man with a vision. And that vision is for the eyes of the world to be on Portsmouth between March 18 and November 11 next year, as the city hosts a series of armed forces events.

The name for these events collectively will be Portsmouth Commemorates 2014, and Mr Evans is hoping for a high-profile patron.

‘We’ve asked Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal to be patron, and it would be wonderful if she said yes.

‘On June 7 next year we will be having a parade of the reserves, and we’d really like it if Princess Anne could take the salute that day. That would be absolutely fantastic.

‘It’s important to remember the role the reserves played during the war, and the role they are increasingly playing today in supporting our armed forces.’

The day after, on Sunday June 8, Mr Evans wants Portsmouth to come alive with bunting, flags, trestle tables and finger food.

‘Nowhere does a street party like Portsmouth, except maybe London, so we want to see them all over the city.

‘While we’re having them it’s a chance to remember the brave men and women of that time.’

Other highlights of 2014 will be the Armed Forces Day parade, which will take place towards the end of June.

The Royal Navy, the tri-service Ministry of Defence Hospital Unit at Queen Alexandra Hospital, and the Royal Military Police will all be marching to Guildhall Square as part of the day’s events.

‘WE WILL REMEMBER THEM’

ONE of the most sombre parts of next year’s commemorations will be that marking the outbreak of World War One.

The team planning the events hopes to organise a midnight gathering in Guildhall Square in Portsmouth to mark the date on which Britain entered the war – August 4, 1914.

The bells of the Guildhall will ring in the war at midnight as a chilling reminder of what became one of the worst human tragedies of modern history.

David Evans said: ‘This is not a celebration, as no-one wants to celebrate the start of one of the worst periods of absolute carnage in modern history.’

As part of the remembrance on August 4, a candlelight procession will start at the Guildhall and end at the seafront, with the lit torches being extinguished in the Solent.

Schools will also be getting involved with the event, exploring the works of the war poets, including Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, as well as encouraging local writers, pupils and residents to create their own homage to mark the centenary.

The commemorations of the 1914-1918 war will also close what will be a remarkable year, with a Remembrance Sunday Service in November.

CLINTON WAS LAST US PRESIDENT TO VISIT PORTSMOUTH

IF Barack Obama accepts the invitation to come to Portsmouth on June 5 next year, it will be the first time in two decades an American head of state has visited the city.

The last time was in 1994, when Bill Clinton came to Portsmouth as part of the commemorations for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

In an exclusive message to The News, at the time when he was the most powerful man in the world, Mr Clinton said: ‘Portsmouth has a special place in modern history. Without it, the D-Day invasion would not have happened.

‘I’m looking forward to visiting the city and taking part in the ceremonies to mark such a tremendous achievement of human endeavour by so many allied troops.

‘We can honour their legacy by carrying it on.’

At that time President Clinton and his wife Hillary stayed with the Queen on board the royal yacht Britannia, which moored in Portsmouth Harbour.

The former president, famous for jogging, also took the time for a 30-minute run around Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Scores of other heads of state arrived in Portsmouth for the ceremony, and a vast banquet at the Guildhall afterwards.

They sat at a 44-seat top table, which was a record for the Guildhall. In front of them, lighted candles in candelabra made the silverware glitter.

Included were Francois Mitterand, the French president, Australian prime minister Paul Keating, Polish president Lech Walesa, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, and the late Lady Thatcher, former British Prime Minister.

The Queen paid tribute to the 10,000 men who died on D-Day and the 37,000 Allied troops killed during the ensuing months.