Heritage chief urges Portsmouth people to research D-Day family history ahead of invasion’s 75th anniversary

ASSEMBLING an invasion force capable of punching a hole through the iron-clad Nazi defences in France was an endeavour that involved the entire nation

Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 10:53 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 7:35 pm
John Brown, executive director, commerce and operations at the Imperial War Museum has called on people in Portsmouth to research their family's military history to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings this year. Photo credit: Imperial War Museum.

Communities from across the Portsmouth area were vital in preparing, supporting and actively taking part in the pivotal D-Day landings.

And now, as the eyes of the nation turn towards marking the 75th anniversary of the Normandy assault, heritage chiefs are urging people to look at how their family played its part.

John Brown, executive director of commerce and operations at the Imperial War Museum, issued the rallying cry to the people of Portsmouth to delve into their family tree.

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About 156,000 troops took part in the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944.

It comes as the city gears up to stage its tribute to the D-Day heroes, with a major ceremony taking place in Southsea on June 5.

The spectacle, which will be Britain’s main focus for the 75th anniversary of the critical landings, is expected to have a military parade, fly-past and will be attended by royalty.

Mr Brown is eager for residents in the city to play their part to mark the heroism of the thousands of men who stormed the beaches of Normandy.

Speaking to The News from HMS Belfast in London – which led the allied armada across the Channel – Mr Brown said: ‘Portsmouth played a fantastic part in preparing for D-Day.

Soldiers taking cover behind a tank during the D-Day landings. Photo: PA

‘The whole area from Hilsea to the waterfront at Southsea and right the way across the county would have been absolutely nose-to-tail with military vehicles.

‘D-Day was such a huge operation that if you look back at your family history you will probably find a connection somewhere along the line: people who were either involved in D-Day, involved in supporting it or made things for D-Day.

‘It really had to harness the power of the whole nation.

‘So in Portsmouth I have absolutely no doubt that local people, if they do a little bit of digging into their family history or work place history, will suddenly find a D-Day connection.’

A rare colour photo of G prisoners of war being marched through Grove Road in Gosport to the detention centre in June 1944 just after D-day. Photo credit: Galerie Bilderwelt

Mr Brown hoped the effort would help the next generation understand the human toll of the war, keeping the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives alive.

He added: ‘The D-Day landings turned the tide of the war. For four years Britain had been expecting the Germans to invade, indeed they were in the Channel Islands and were extremely close.

‘We lose sight, in this modern age, of the fact the London had been badly bombed and major cities like Coventry and Portsmouth had been very badly hit.

‘This was suddenly payback time. This was the tide turning. Everyone knew this had to be a success because if it wasn’t it would be many years until the western allies could do this again.

‘There was a lot riding on this making sure this was a success.’

Five days of events will be held in Portsmouth to mark the 1944 invasion, which will include the 1940s-themed Portsmouth Revival Festival, culminating in a Sunset Concert for Heroes, featuring acts including the Military Wives Choir and the D-Day Darlings.

Three-hundred veterans will sail from the city on a special chartered ship on June 5 to arrive in France on June 6.

In all, 156,000 troops landed on the beaches of Normandy. As many as 4,413 Allied troops died on the day of the invasion.

By the end of D-Day, the Allies had established a foothold in France. Within 11 months Nazi Germany was defeated.