NEARLY 6,000 Portsmouth men left the city to fight in the First World War and never returned. Last night, people gathered to remember them at a commemorative event a century later.
As the clock struck eleven o’clock, the crowd gathered in Guildhall Square fell silent to remember the moment exactly 100 years ago that Britain declared war on Germany.
People blew out their candles as they paid tribute to the 5,988 Portsmouth men who left to fight in the First World War and never came back.
The name of each of those men was shown on the big screen as part of an evening of commemorative events.
Among the crowd was 46-year-old soldier Mike Huggett from Fratton whose great-grandfather Alfred Huggett died fighting in the First World War.
Corporal Huggett has himself served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said: ‘I wanted to do my bit to remember him.
‘We haven’t spoken a lot about him over the years but especially today, it’s quite relevant.
‘This is good, especially for the younger generation. They need to be made more historically aware of what these people did.’
In Guildhall Square, a candlelit vigil was held and members of the public were invited to hold a candle and then blow it out as part of the nationwide Lights Out event.
Bugler Kevin Jones of Gosport played the Last Post, and a two-minute silence followed, as well as the national anthem.
The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, councillor Steven Wylie, played a big part in the service, including laying a wreath at the cenotaph.
He said: ‘It’s so important that from the past we can learn for the future.
‘Being a garrison town and being the home of the Royal Navy, it’s so important that we do remember what happened 100 years ago.
‘There wasn’t really a family in Portsmouth that wasn’t touched by the First World War and so it’s important that we do understand that part of our history and our family history.’
During the night, crowds gathered in the square to watch footage on the big screen. Extracts from war diaries were read out, telling horrific stories of life on the front line.
The story of the events leading up to the outbreak of war was told, and people learnt more about the impact it had on some of the families of Portsmouth, including one mother who lost all of her four sons.
Charles Gubbey, 65, from Wickham, said four members of his family lost their lives in the First World War.
‘It means a lot to come here,’ he said. ‘All the family were in the military. It’s very important to remember.’
Louise Purcell is the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal organiser for Portsmouth and read at the service.
She said: ‘This is something that we will never see again. There’s one chance to remember 100 years.
‘We have got to pay our respects for what they went through in that war.
‘We might be living in a different world now if it wasn’t for all those who lost their lives.’
Chris Purcell is the president of the Royal British Legion Portsmouth South.
He said: ‘They went off to war and they never came back. We have got to keep remembering those men and boys who fought for what we have got today.
‘War is a terrible thing but the bravery of the men in the First and Second World War is so tremendous.’
At the end of the service, one single wartime ambulance entered the square to symbolise the human cost of the war.