Portsmouth demands to be UK heart of D-Day 75 commemorations 

D-Day veteran John Jenkins at the D-Day Story in Clarence Esplanade, Southsea. Picture: Vernon Nash
D-Day veteran John Jenkins at the D-Day Story in Clarence Esplanade, Southsea. Picture: Vernon Nash
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PRIME minister Theresa May is today facing calls from Portsmouth for the city to become the national focus marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day next year.

The commemoration is expected to be the last major one of its kinds to mark the pivotal invasion before it fades from living memory.

The News and city leaders are determined to make sure Portsmouth is at the centre of the event to pay the ultimate tribute to an unforgettable generation of heroes who stormed the beaches of Normandy in a battle to free Europe from Nazi tyranny.

It was a raid that cost the lives of 4,413 Allied troops and thousands more Germans.

But within 11 months of the unprecedented invasion on June 6 1944  - which was planned and executed from Portsmouth - the war in Europe was over.

Now The News has thrown its weight behind a plea by Portsmouth City Council and is demanding the government pledges to fund the event.

And, Whitehall is being called to name Portsmouth an Armed Forces City 2019, having previously been snubbed during a campaign in 2014 for the title.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of the council, said it was the very least the city deserved for the role it played in D-Day.

He said: ‘D-Day was not only planned here in Portsmouth but it was executed here. It saved Europe and the world from fascism and that’s important to remember.

‘We deserve to be the national focus of the D-Day 75 commemorations.’

Portsmouth was the departure point for the troops heading to Sword Beach, the easternmost of the five beaches targeted in France.

Nearby Southwick House also became the headquarters of the main allied commanders, Admiral Ramsay, General Eisenhower and General Montgomery, as they planned the invasion, code-named Operation Overlord.

In 2014, the city came together to mark D-Day 70, which saw Royal Marines conducting a beach invasion of Southsea, a fly-past by the Red Arrows and a major service attended by the Princess Royal.

Now civic chiefs hope to upstage this ceremony - if they can clinch a cash injection from the government which they didn’t have in 2014.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘This will be a very big deal for the city. Four years ago we put on a big celebration for D-Day 70 which the city did without any support from the government.

‘We did it because it was the right thing to do.

‘We believed at that time that that would be the last commemoration because veterans were very old and the Normandy Association had wound up,

‘But the veterans still with us made it very obvious that they wanted to do something to mark D-Day 75. So it is right and proper that we do something to celebrate their courage.’

Portsmouth City Council is currently in discussion with the government over whether or not Whitehall will provide some funding for an event next year.

The details of this are still being worked through, The News understands, and a decision is not expected for several weeks.

But if cash could be secured it would help to stage a major event on Southsea Common.

Ambitions include getting a fly-past by the Red Arrows as well as a major parade featuring all the veterans unable to attend events expected to take place in Normandy. Events could also be staged on the deck at South Parade Pier, where many soldiers departed from.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson has also been in talks with the French ambassador and civic leaders in the French port of Caen, who are understood to be supportive of the city’s campaign.

Lib Dem Cllr Steve Pitt, the city’s culture boss, said it was vital Portsmouth staged an event to mark the anniversary.

He said that as numbers of veterans who fought in the invasion dwindle the efforts weren’t forgotten by the next generation,

He said: ‘It’s incredibly important we never forget this that’s why it is absolutely crucial .

‘We need to make sure that people understand the sacrifice that we made and the magnitude of the invasion.’

Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, vowed to back the council’s bid in securing funding and said: ‘My grandfather left Southsea on his 17th birthday as part of Operation Overlord; the D-Day landings are part of all our history, but this very personal connection means I have a special appreciation of the importance of commemorating these brave men.

‘Next year is the 75th anniversary of the landings and it is only right that Portsmouth is recognised for our integral role in securing the liberation of Europe and the great sacrifices made in doing so. This is a project I’m passionate about and I’ll do all I can to help secure its funding.’

Tory defence secretary Gavin Williamson has previously appealed for as many veterans from the conflict to come forward to ensure they are honoured.

He said: ‘The Normandy landings were the vital springboard to the liberation of Europe and the end of the Second World War. The breath-taking bravery and ingenuity shown during those days still echo through today’s armed forces.

‘At D-Day 75 the eyes of the world will be on these men once more. To enable us to do them justice it’s important we find as many veterans as possible and let them know how to participate. We will never forget the debt we owe for the peace and freedom we now enjoy.