City will do D-Day celebrations justice

Wreaths at The D-Day Stone. Picture: Malcolm Wells
Wreaths at The D-Day Stone. Picture: Malcolm Wells

PORTSMOUTH will do the D-Day 75th anniversary justice.

That is the message from Portsmouth councillor Frank Jonas who was the city’s armed forces minister for four years until May.

He has backed The News’ campaign to make Portsmouth the national focus for the landmark anniversary next June.

His calls have been echoed by veterans and leader of Portsmouth City Council Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson.

Cllr Jonas said: ‘We would do the anniversary justice if it comes to Portsmouth.

‘We have got a great events team and the local armed forces would be great as well.

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

‘The seafront is a proper theatre for the celebrations and it is there and ready to be used.

‘The 75th anniversary really should come to Portsmouth because we have connections with actual D-Day.

‘It was planned an executed in Southwick and lots of troops left from Portsmouth.’

Cllr Jonas said Gosport also played a big part in D-Day and it would be a great honour for the wider area to see it become the official location for the nationwide commemorations.

He added: ‘Across Portsmouth, Gosport and the surrounding areas we have some great veterans who are always keen to get involved and back projects like this.

‘If we ask them to do anything, they are always willing. There are not many of them around and this would be a great way to get them involved – they are an amazing bunch.’

Launched last Monday, The News and Portsmouth City Council have called on Prime Minister Theresa May to back the campaign.

Read More: 54 amazing pictures showing Portsmouth’s role in the D-Day landings

We are determined to make sure Portsmouth is at the centre of the event to pay tribute to a generation of heroes who stormed the beaches of Normandy in a battle to free Europe from Nazi tyranny.

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

But within 11 months of the invasion on June 6, 1944 the war in Europe was over.

The Made in Portsmouth campaign is demanding the government provides military backing for the event and pledges to fund it.

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

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said he has met with other organisations to get their advice and share ideas on how to mark the occasion.

He said: ‘Due to Southwick House being outside of Portsmouth, I got in touch with Hampshire County Council to speak with them about getting that site involved.

‘It is a key part of D-Day and something we are keen to include. They seemed positive about working together.

‘On Thursday, I attended Ypres in Belgium as part of the Royal British Legion’s commemoration of the centenary of the First World War.

‘There were thousands of people from different branches of the Royal British Legion and it was an incredible event.

‘Unfortunately there aren’t any veterans from that battle but we still have people who fought on D-Day.

‘They need to be at the heart of what we do. We need to be doing this particularly for them and the ceremony at Ypres was a good example of what we can achieve.

‘It is as about working with as many different organisations as we can to ensure this even goes ahead.'

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 and on the deck at South Parade Pier where many soldiers departed from.