Plans under way to stage mega weekend of armed forces fun in Portsmouth next year

MILITARY spectacles scuppered due to the coronavirus pandemic will be combined to create a mega weekend of armed forces displays next year, civic chiefs have proposed.

By Tom Cotterill
Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 10:12 am

It’s hoped the two-day bonanza will take place in Portsmouth in June next year, during the annual Armed Forces Day weekend.

Proposals would include ‘significant’ events on Southsea Common, combining commemorations marking VE Day, VJ Day and D-Day – which have all been axed this year.

Portsmouth’s culture boss, Councillor Steve Pitt revealed the ambition, which he said was in the early phases of planning.

Armed Forces Day Portsmouth - The PWRR Reserve demonstrate a dry fire attack Picture: Vernon Nash (180399-025)

‘We’re incredibly disappointed to have not been able to mark events like VE Day 75, VJ Day, D-Day 76 and Armed Forces Day this year in the way that we may have wanted to,’ Cllr Pitt said.

‘In an ideal situation we would look to do a significant event to enable the commemorations to happen in 2021.

‘We’d look to bring all the events that we missed out on this year together during one weekend.

‘And obviously a constant is armed forces weekend, so being able to use that as the focal point makes the most sense.’

Armed Forces Day Portsmouth - The PWRR Reserve Picture: Vernon Nash (180399-019)

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Next month’s Armed Forces Day event, due to take place in Southsea, has been called off due to the lockdown.

It was expected to feature dozens of stalls, live displays, parades and military vehicles.

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, said it was too risky to stage large events during the pandemic.

Armed Forces Day, Historic Dockyard Photography By Habibur Rahman

But the Lib Dem chief was more optimistic about the prospect of hosting something next year and said: ‘I hope we can make next year one of the biggest armed forces days yet but we have got to be realistic about the risks – and we don’t know what things are going to be like next year.’

Last year saw Portsmouth hosting the D-Day 75 commemoration, which was attended by world leaders including US president Donald Trump.

Explaining the potential scale of next year’s armed forces bonanza, Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘Last year we had D-Day 75. We can never do something like that. But we do need to be thinking of events down on Southsea Common because we’re a military city and people have enormous pride in our armed forces and rightly so.’

Cllr Pitt said the council was looking to be ‘flexible’ in how it plans next year’s spectacle and said a number of additional dates were being considered, in case the coronavirus pandemic is still a major problem.

16th Regiment 11 Battery Lance Bombardier Cook and Sgt Barker-Magowan with Ray Underwood, nine, Scarlet Swinto, 10, and Reegan Swinton, five, and the Rapier FSC Launcher during Armed Forces Day in Portsmouth last year Picture: Vernon Nash (290619-019)

He added he was determined to bring an event to Portsmouth for residents who have missed out this year.

‘We’re very committed to going back and delivering the incredibly popular events programme that we deliver in Portsmouth,’ he said.

VE Day 75 was marked this month by some socially-distanced street parties, as well as residents decorating their homes for the day.