HUNDREDS OF people lined Southsea seafront as the city paid tribute to the veterans of D-Day.
More than 1000 people gathered at the D-Day stone for the official remembrance service to remember those fallen heroes of the Second World War.
Havant resident, Albert Dyason, aged 97, served in the Royal Navy on loading ship, LST303. Albert’s job on that fateful day was to ensure a safe passage for tanks and troops to land on Gold Beach in Normandy.
‘This time 75 years ago I was on a landing ship heading for the beaches of Normandy,’ he said.
‘There was gunfire going off all around us with our destroyers providing support to the landing troops and the German’s retaliating. We ended up coming back and forth across the Channel four times with more troops and tanks. I remember the fourth trip was particularly rough and a lot of the Canadian troops were sea sick,’ he added.
The commemorative service evoked particularly painful memories for Charlie Eldred, 96, who served in the RAF during the Second World War. Charlie served as a pathfinder with the job of pinpointing strategic targets for bombs to be released.
A tearful Charlie said: ‘It was very dangerous. I lost 71 of my friends during the war including a close friend on our last mission. A German fighter pilot came at us and opened fire on our left wing, killing my pal. It was through pure luck that I was on the right wing otherwise it would have been me.’
The role of fate and good fortune in determining who survived was also at the forefront of Donald Sutherland’s mind as he remembered lost comrades. Donald, 94, served in the Royal Artillery during the war.
‘It was all down to luck and good fortune as to who survived - not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The sergeant would line us up and send one group off in one direction and a second group in another. You would later find out that those men who had gone the opposite way had been killed. It’s very important we remember those who were lost and we commemorate this event every year to remind people of what took place,’ he said.
It is a sentiment echoed by Albert and Charlie.
‘Today’s service is the main way in which we can remember those people who didn’t come back,’ said Albert.
The service was particularly poignant for Phil Betts who travelled from Swindon to attend the ceremony.
Phil commented: ‘My father, Bob Betts, was a platoon commander who was badly injured when landing on Sword Beach on D-Day. He was evacuated back to England on a hospital ship before returning to the conflict six weeks later. It was important I was here today to pay tribute to my father and his generation.’
Also attending the event were a number of dignitaries including Portsmouth South MP, Stephen Morgan, whose grandfather was part of the D-Day landings.
Stephen commented: ‘I spoke to my own grandfather about his experiences and everyone has a personal connection to what took place. As the years go by it’s vitally important the city understands and remembers the sacrifices of those veterans who fought to ensure the peace, fairness and freedom we enjoy today.’
At the start of the day’s commemorations South Parade promenade was transported back to 1944 as troops marched along the seafront as they had done in 1944 ready for their departure to Normandy
As they did so, the crowds were entertained by the children of Craneswater Junior School who performed renditions of wartime classics including You Are My Sunshine, Wish me Luck as you Wave me Goodbye and Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag.
School choir member, Charlotte Birch, aged 9, said: ‘My dad is in the Royal Navy. If people hadn’t done what they did 75 years ago then we would be speaking German now.’
Classmate, Oliver Gilson, aged 8, added: ‘I really enjoyed singing as the troops went past. It is important to remember the veterans as England would be a different place if it wasn’t for them.’
For teacher, Charlotte Lawrence, the event helps to maintain a generational connection with Portsmouth’s children.
‘It is vital for the children to be made aware of what happened 75 years ago. For my generation I had grandparents who were involved in the war but these children don’t have that first and second generation connection. D-Day is part of our city and the freedom we now enjoy,’ she said.
The march finished on South Parade Pier with troops arriving to a moving performance from a lone piper.
Councillor Steve Pitt, Portsmouth City Council's cabinet member for culture and city development, said: ‘We invited all residents to share this moving commemoration by supporting along the route and joining the service at the D-Day stone. One hundred and nineteen men from Portsmouth were killed between D-Day and the end of the Battle of Normandy. We will remember them.’
FREE LUNCH FOR VETERANS
At the end of the remembrance service, veterans were able to enjoy a three course bangers and mash meal with accompanying starter and dessert.
More than 200 veterans were guest of honour at the Gaiety Bar where they were entertained by 1940’s tribute singers and the Lindy Hop dancing girls.
Bar and pier co owner, Tommy Ware, said: ‘Providing a free lunch and entertainment is the least we could do for these veterans after what they gave for our country. Southsea has been amazing in showing their appreciation over the last few days.’
Jack Edwards, director of TJ Events, who lease the bar, added: ‘If it wasn’t for these guys we wouldn’t be in the position we are today. It is really important to be able to give something back to show our appreciation for what they have done.’
The veterans were also provided with a free bar courtesy of Kings Theatre.