Ensuring we never forget

Local historian and broadcaster Charles Haskell (far left), and his team who are creating a World War One remembrance centre at Fort Widley. (centre to right), Chris Pennycook, Allan Thompson, and front Philip Jennions.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (13382-3)
Local historian and broadcaster Charles Haskell (far left), and his team who are creating a World War One remembrance centre at Fort Widley. (centre to right), Chris Pennycook, Allan Thompson, and front Philip Jennions.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (13382-3)
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It is hoped this Easter will see the opening of a new First World War exhibition at Fort Widley following years of hard work and dedication.

And what better way to be given the green light to open than in the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of the Great War in 1914?

Charles Haskell, owner of radio station Tell Them Radio, has high hopes. He wants it to become the biggest centre for remembrance in the south.

The 60-year-old said: ‘I have been doing trips to the battlefields for about 30 years.

‘I go around with schools and colleges and do lectures about the First World War.

‘I became aware that in 2014 it will be the 100th anniversary of the start of the war. So I started putting the feelers out.

‘People have got more and more interested in the First World War in the last few years and it was decided that we would try and have a remembrance centre for the Great War.

‘It was suggested by the council that we should have a word with the trustees of the Peter Ashley Activity Centre in Fort Widley.

‘The whole idea is for remembrance. This is not a five-minute wonder – it’s something we hope is going to stay in Portsmouth and grow.

‘In more than 20 years’ time it will be the 100th anniversary of the Second World War, and the whole thing could grow into the largest remembrance centre in the south.

‘The only other place close is the Imperial War Museum in London.’

Once open, the centre will house war artefacts and exhibitions using donated items.

The timeline of the attraction will focus on the years 1912 to 1939, covering the build-up to the First World War right up to the start of the Second World War.

From the happy, rich days of the pre-First World War era, visitors will be captivated by displays and contents depicting the build-up to and event which changed history.

Then eyes can be cast over the late 1930s period of the Munich Crisis and the start of the Second World War.

There will be stories of the army, individual battalions and those in the south who lived through the war.

Mr Haskell, whose team includes colleague Chris Pennycook, would not be drawn on how much the centre is costing but said the funding will be from his own pocket – not of the taxpayer.

He said: ‘I own Tell Them Radio and we play music from the 1920s right up to 1969. It’s the radio that’s paying for it.

‘It’s costing a lot of money but all the money is coming from private means, my pocket – it’s not costing the taxpayer anything.’

One aspect that the centre will benefit from, according to Mr Haskell, is community involvement.

He wants people from across the region to donate copies, or originals, of authentic war memorabilia to help it grow.

Mr Haskell has also called on local businesses to get involved and help.

‘What we want from the community is for people to send us copies of photographs of that era and any copies of documents,’ Mr Haskell added. ‘We cannot return them but if anyone has items for us to display all will gratefully be received.

‘We are going to have an acknowledgements wall on which we will include anyone who has helped us.

‘It’s vital for the city. Pennies are tight and will be for the next 10 years.

‘We are told that parents will only be spending money on one or two things for their children. If Portsmouth has a remembrance centre, it’s one that’s going to bring in business to the city.’

The team’s clear passion towards remembering the two world wars is what should make the remembrance centre a resounding success, as Mr Haskell explains.

He said: ‘All of us involved has a real interest in remembrance. I still get as choked up at the battlefields as I did on the first day I went out there.

‘You see the graves... you see the trenches. Some of these guys were soldiers of 15 years old. There is a cemetery we go to with a school party and we tell the story about Christmas Day.

‘There is a line of graves and we get one of the youngsters to call out to the pupils the date that is on them – it’s December 25, 1916.

‘There is so much interest in this, we are getting inundated with people saying they want to help.

‘We want to build the centre up and make it grow.

‘We only have a little bit of space in Fort Widley but we are hoping the city council see interest in what’s going on so they may consider helping us to expand the building.’