D-Day 75: Portsmouth’s Naval Memorial on Southsea Common will become a pioneering interactive centre of remembrance for D-Day in a world first

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A WAR memorial will come to life during the D-Day remembrance period - as it receives an innovative addition.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), which maintains more than 23,000 memorials worldwide including the Cenotaph in London, will install an interactive area of remembrance around the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea Common.

The refurbishment of the War Memorial on Southsea Common by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ahead of the D-Day celebrations. Picture: Geoffrey Osborne

The refurbishment of the War Memorial on Southsea Common by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ahead of the D-Day celebrations. Picture: Geoffrey Osborne

The project, which is the first of its kind for the CWGC, will see a seating area automatically play to visitors the stories of veterans and their loved one.

The official historian for the CWGC, Max Dutton, said the idea had been months in the making as the commission looked to do something ‘unique’ to commemorate ‘the cataclysmic’ year 1944.

He said: ‘1944 was the turning point year in the war, so we asked ourselves, ‘what can we do differently.’’

‘This is the first time the commission has ever done something like this.

‘We want to make sure as many people as possible hear these stories, and we’re confident they will have a really informative and emotional experience.’

Max said project would help stop memorials ‘fading from public consciousness,’ a sentiment echoed by councillor Steve Pitt, executive member for culture and city development.

Cllr Pitt said: ‘It’s the case that it is so easy to get used to seeing memorials, they become part of the fabric of life, and then you can forget what we have.

‘We are very grateful for the commission working to ensure the memorial is looking its very best, and we are very proud to have an innovative project come to the city.

’We have fantastic heritage in the city - Portsmouth does remembrance very well and we intend to do it very well this year.’

One of the voices visitors will be able to hear belongs to Jan Savage, who will tell listeners how her Warsash-born uncle - Commando Frank Sturmey - died aged just 21 on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

Her recounting of is story will be one of more than a dozen to play on a loop, and veterans also describe their own experiences.

A spokesperson for the CWGC said: ‘Everyone is very aware that this is the last chance to get veterans at the heart of what we’re doing.

‘We know our sites can be almost spiritual places - and this project will add to the poignancy.’

John Jenkins, 99, a D-Day veteran from Portsmouth, said the project was ‘a wonderful idea’ – and much needed after some of his experiences.

He said: ‘I will always remember one young boy who wanted to ask me a question at an event.

'He asked: “whose side were you on?”’

‘I had a good laugh at that – and it shows how important it is to remember what happened.’ 

The interactive memorial is part of a larger project called the ‘Legacy of Liberation’, which will see a team of researchers stationed on Southsea Common on June 5 to help visitors record their experiences of remembrance and reflection.

Max said: ‘Central to the project is asking the public what remembrance means to them today, 75 years after D-Day.’

‘We hope in another 75 years time, people will be able to listen to the archive and have that understanding.’