D-Day 80: Standing with Giants convoy carrying silhouettes of soldiers visits Portsmouth en-route to France

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A convoy of lorries carrying 1,475 giant silhouettes representing the servicemen who died on D-Day drove into Portsmouth on their way to France to mark the 80th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

The figures, designed by Dan Barton of the Standing with Giants charity, were escorted by a convoy of over 200 bikers into Fort Nelson in Portsdown Hill Road, Portchester, this afternoon (April 5). The convoy set off from Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and will transport the silhouettes to be installed at British Normandy Memorial which overlooks Gold Beach - one of the key landing points.

Project coordinator Dan Barton, who designed the silhouettes, said he never thought starting the project four years ago would culminate in an 80th anniversary display. He told The News: ““The project is about honouring those who perished for our freedom, and about cherishing our freedom, because a heavy heavy price was paid for it.”

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Fort Nelson hosted the Standing with Giants farewell event for Normandy on Friday 5th April 2024. Over 1,400 giant silhouettes are being transported to Normandy for a D-Day 80th anniversary display. Picture: Habibur RahmanFort Nelson hosted the Standing with Giants farewell event for Normandy on Friday 5th April 2024. Over 1,400 giant silhouettes are being transported to Normandy for a D-Day 80th anniversary display. Picture: Habibur Rahman
Fort Nelson hosted the Standing with Giants farewell event for Normandy on Friday 5th April 2024. Over 1,400 giant silhouettes are being transported to Normandy for a D-Day 80th anniversary display. Picture: Habibur Rahman | Habibur Rahman

The Oxfordshire native said the idea started when he put 101 armistice day silhouettes at the top of the M40 motorway, thinking people would see them. “So many people pitched up and so many of them cried, it was incredible,” he added. “It is that emotion that is the driving force behind this project. I witnessed it. It’s just so powerful. There have been a fair few tears today and a fair few speeches. We even had our local MP in tears as he was giving his speech. It’s quite something.”

As well as the silhouettes representing the personnel from all three services, two bespoke figures have been created to represent nurses Sisters Evershed and Field, who died while saving 75 men from a sinking hospital ship. Also, figures representing 50 French resistance fighters are to be placed around the French Memorial in Ver-sur-Mer. They were previously put up at Fort Nelson in May last year.

A convoy of over 200 bikes escorted the lorries to Fort Nelson. Picture: Habibur RahmanA convoy of over 200 bikes escorted the lorries to Fort Nelson. Picture: Habibur Rahman
A convoy of over 200 bikes escorted the lorries to Fort Nelson. Picture: Habibur Rahman | Habibur Rahman
Dan Barton said he never would have thought the project would culminate in a display in Normandy for D-Day 80. Picture: Habibur RahmanDan Barton said he never would have thought the project would culminate in a display in Normandy for D-Day 80. Picture: Habibur Rahman
Dan Barton said he never would have thought the project would culminate in a display in Normandy for D-Day 80. Picture: Habibur Rahman | Habibur Rahman

Speaking about the display being in France, Mr Barton said: “I am so humbled that they allowed me to do this. We’ve been cutting and assembling the components for the last four years. We have 80 different groups, some from Portsmouth, getting involved. It was just incredible and so positive, and I’m so grateful that they have come, and you can see the turnout today.”

Mr Barton said after the display in Normandy, the figures will be taken back to Britain and the National Trust in Stowe Gardens, Buckinghamshire, are going to retain them until January. A display was set up at Fort Nelson, with dulcet tones of bagpipe music and singing from Portsmouth choir filling the air.

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Four lorries with flatbed trailers accompanied the 200 Harley-Davidson remembrance riders. Alan Holland, 61 - of Black Mountains Chapter Wales - organised the motorbike procession after being approached last year. He said there was no hesitation about lending his support.

“We have enjoyed every moment of it,” he added. “We travel to France tonight with the lorries, and we’ll meet with our European colleagues, and we will start all over again. Bikers in general are very favourable and committed to supporting our armed forces. We attend numerous events over the year, both large and small. That’s what we do and that is what we feel is right to do.”

Mr Holland said the silhouettes are magical, whether they are seen at dawn with the early morning mists, or at night with the moon as a backdrop. The lorries contained 18 stillages created and designed by Standing with Giants to carry the silhouettes. These have been decorated with 35,782 knitted poppies made and donated by members of the Women’s Institute.

The convoy will continue tonight and head into France. Picture: Habibur RahmanThe convoy will continue tonight and head into France. Picture: Habibur Rahman
The convoy will continue tonight and head into France. Picture: Habibur Rahman | Habibur Rahman
Standing with Giants farewell - one of the lorries arriving at Fort Nelson. Picture: Habibur RahmanStanding with Giants farewell - one of the lorries arriving at Fort Nelson. Picture: Habibur Rahman
Standing with Giants farewell - one of the lorries arriving at Fort Nelson. Picture: Habibur Rahman | Habibur Rahman

They also feature recreations of letters written by fallen servicemen of the Normandy campaign. On arrival, a team of 30 volunteers will spend two weeks installing the silhouettes which will be open to the public throughout the summer and during the D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations.

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An army of volunteers all came together to make the project possible. Tracey Penfold-Green, 63, said: “It’s incredible and so humbling that we’re here to see it in its finished product that we paid a small part in making. We’re so pleased to be there. We thought it would be great to help with a bigger project. The display going to Normandy is poignant, to remember all those who have lost their lives.”

Caroline Oswald, 63, added: “When you see the whole thing here altogether, and know we did a tiny part of it, it’s just incredible. It’s really moving. The vision they have had to put this together is amazing. I think it’s really important we continue to remember this. I think it’s going to be very powerful when they’re in Normandy.”

To support the project, the public can sponsor a plaque in honour of a loved one for £150 which will be placed in front of a giant and remain at the memorial site for at least five years. More information can be found on the Standing With Giants website.

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