D-Day anniversary: Tribute paid to Hayling's unsung Second World War heroes
THE role Hayling played in the build-up to the D-Day landings was recalled this morning in a special 75th anniversary event at the Island’s seafront COPP Heroes Memorial.
The celebration and commemoration of the event to remember Hayling’s role in the build-up to Operation Overlord – the Allies’ invasion of Normandy – attracted a big crowd of several hundred Islanders.
There was a royal guest - the Queen's cousin, the Duke of Gloucester, who officially unveiled a D-Day 75 plaque at the granite stone COPP Memorial which has occupied pride of place on the seafront since 2012.
The Duke arrived just before 11am after a performance by the Fort Cumberland Guard Society, who gave a display of musketry before firing a cannon.
The Society was invited as Fort Cumberland was constructed at Eastney to guard Langstone Harbour and was an early base for the Royal Marines, who made up a considerable part of the Combined Operation Pilotage Parties (COPP).
Richard Smith, who took part in the display, said: 'It's so important we must remember the brave lads who left the beaches here on D-Day en route to Normandy. In order that we can have our days visiting beaches like this, they had their day on the beach ...'
After the royal guest’s arrival, Winston Churchill – played by Laurie Noble of the Hayling Island Amateur Dramatic Society – addressed the crowd on the many ways Hayling played a key role in liberating Europe from the Nazis, including the work of the top secret COPP commando unit.
'We must not forget the key role Hayling played in protecting Portsmouth Harbour during the war,' Mr Noble said.
'In April 1941 over 200 German planes dropped hundreds of bombs on the Island - they had been fooled into thinking the had attacked Portsmouth Harbour.
'Sinah Warren was severely damaged, with the loss of six lives.'
Of the COPP commandos, Mr Noble added: 'They are one of the unsung heroes of the Second World War, and remembered with this splendid memorial.
'They played a major role in D-Day in staging secret visits to the Normandy beaches in January 1944.
'In all, this small group of less than 200 men won 90 medals and commendations in only three years - a truly remarkable achievement by such a small band of heroes.'
Children from Hayling's Mengham Junior School and Hayling College delighted everyone with a superb 10-minute collection of wartime songs, ending - inevitably - with We'll Meet Again prior to a service of remembrance for all the island’s war veterans conducted by the Rev Richard Ellingham.
Wreaths were then laid by the Duke and representatives of the Armed Services, followed by a minute’s silence.
Among those who were remembered was John Ashford, one of the last two remaining COPPists who passed away earlier this year.
As a result, the only known COPP survivor is Somerset-based Jim Booth, who sailed on an X-Craft submarine from Fort Blockhouse in Gosport, and used beacons to guide Allied bombers and naval gunners to their targets at dawn on June 6, 1944, as the invasion began.
Mr Booth could not be present in Hayling today as he is in Normandy instead.
Robin Walton, chairman of the COPP Memorial Trust, told the audience the background to the unveiling of the Memorial stone seven years ago.
'Prince Charles told me we should visit a quarry in Cornwall, and I met Ian Piper who showed me this lump of rock buried in a hillside. I was expecting something a lot smaller.
'The Memorial is a remarkable thing, it's so right for Hayling Island.'
Mr Piper was present today and said: 'It's fantastic to be here to remember all those brave people who gave their lives on D-Day.'
Richard Lintott, from Hayling's Army Cadet group, said 'it was a privilege to be present at an event like this. To be part of this is something really special - it's a proud moment for me.'
Alex Emery, a teacher at Mengham Junior, was pleased that the Island's younger generation had not been forgotten at such an event.
'It's really important that children are part of it - we have been talking about D-Day in assemblies and the children have enjoyed learning about it. They were very interested in the event at Southsea yesterday.'