D-Day 70: Service marks Gosport’s role in invasion

HONOURED Veterans, cadets, members of the armed forces and the public gathered to pay ''             tribute to D-Day veterans in Gosport Pictures: Ian Hargreaves (141656-09)
HONOURED Veterans, cadets, members of the armed forces and the public gathered to pay '' tribute to D-Day veterans in Gosport Pictures: Ian Hargreaves (141656-09)
Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson. Pictute: LPhot Ioan Roberts

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SEVENTY years ago the slipway at Hardway in Gosport was packed with tanks being loaded on to landing ships.

But yesterday, as the town came together for its ceremony to mark the anniversary of D-Day, it was a much more poignant affair.

Scores of people lined the waterfront in Priory Road where a new stone, brought over from Caen in France, was installed to mark 70 years since the operation.

It was followed by a moving service with parades, readings, wreath laying and speeches by two D-Day veterans.

The mayor of Gosport, Councillor Wayne Ronayne, said: ‘Our town of Gosport played a vital role in the preparation for D-Day.

‘So we have paid tribute to their sacrifice.’

Gosport played a major part in the preparation, launch and aftermath of the D-Day operation.

A total of 192 landing craft were launched at the Hardway ramp, where yesterday’s ceremony took place.

Various sites were used as embarkation points for the landing craft which made the journeys across to Normandy.

Concrete sections that were used to make Mulberry harbours – giant structures put in place off the coast to help with the transportation of equipment – were put together in Stokes Bay.

More than 1,700 women worked 12-hour shifts to prepare rockets, mines and ammunition in the 
town.

Royal Clarence Yard was used to supply the fleet.

And Haslar Hospital’s wartime role was to receive the wounded casualties as they were transported back to Britain. The most seriously wounded were treated at Haslar, while those with less serious injuries were taken to hospitals elsewhere.

Submarine base HMS Dolphin and air base HMS Daedalus were heavily involved in protecting the area.

While the thousands of soldiers who arrived in the area were not supposed to speak to civilians for security reasons, in reality many of the locals invited troops into their homes while they were camped there.

Eric Walker, of Montgomery Road in Bridgemary, is an 82-year-old Royal Navy veteran.

He was a boy when the D-Day invasion began.

‘Everything happened all at once and it was very exciting to a young boy like myself,’ he said.

‘It was all hush-hush of course, and nobody knew what was happening until the day itself when we 
heard.

‘As kids we came back down to the slipway where they had all left from and there were lots of things the soldiers had left behind because they didn’t have room to take with them.’

Mr Walker went on to join the Royal Navy himself and served for 12 years.

Helen Baines, 37, was one of those who turned out to watch the ceremony in Gosport yesterday. She was there with her son Harry, four.

Mrs Baines, of Forton Road, Gosport, said: ‘It was great to see how many people turned up for the event.

‘It’s so important even after 70 years we remember what people did for us.

‘It was moving watching the veterans speak about their experiences and the things they went through.

‘It was also good to see the younger ones here from the cadet organisations, because they are the people who are going to carry that legacy 
on.’