Portsmouth D-Day veterans delighted as city named focal point of Normandy Landings commemorations 

Children from Lyndhurst Junior School wave their flags at the D-Day 70 Drumhead service on Southsea Common in June, 2014
Children from Lyndhurst Junior School wave their flags at the D-Day 70 Drumhead service on Southsea Common in June, 2014

TWO of the last few remaining D-Day veterans in Portsmouth have spoken of their pride as the city was named as the ‘focal point’ for Britain’s 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

Both Arthur Bailey and John Jenkins put their life on the line with thousands of their contemporaries as they departed for the landings on June 6, 1944.

Standard bearers march at  Southsea Common for the The D-Day 70 Drumhead Service with The Princess Royal - Princess Anne, in June 2014. Picture: Malcolm Wells

Standard bearers march at Southsea Common for the The D-Day 70 Drumhead Service with The Princess Royal - Princess Anne, in June 2014. Picture: Malcolm Wells

Now their selfless sacrifice will be thrust upon the world stage after the Ministry of Defence announced Portsmouth would host Britain’s D-Day 75 commemorations.

Despite events not being fully planned yet, Portsmouth City Council hopes the events on Southsea Common between June 5-9 next year will replicated in ‘size and scale’ those of 2014.

Red Arrows soared over the blue skies of Southsea, Royal Marines carried out mock landings and helicopters landed on the common during those events.

Portsmouth-born John Jenkins, who served as platoon sergeant at the time of the D-Day landings in Normany, said a commemoration this big ‘could only take place in Pompey’.

D-Day veterans Arthur Bailey and John Jenkins

D-Day veterans Arthur Bailey and John Jenkins

Mr Jenkins, 98, said: ‘I shall be 100 next year but fingers crossed I’m around to join in with the commemoration.

‘Let’s face it, one this big could only take place in Pompey, the whole thing was led from Portsmouth so it should be us that hosts this kind of thing.’

He hopes veterans from across the country will visit the city, as they did in 2014.

‘I don’t suppose there’s many of us left,’ Mr Jenkins said. ‘I hope veterans will travel from far and wide for this.’

Flypasts and a drumhead ceremony will take place on next June.

Mr Jenkins, who worked the ammunition at Gold Beach in Arromanches, works at the D-Day Museum in Southsea two days a week.

Mr Jenkins’ delight is backed by D-Day veteran Arthur Bailey, 94.

The Cosham man, who served in the Royal Corps of Signals, said: ‘It’s absolutely wonderful.

‘It just goes to show how important D-Day really was – it saved the world.

‘I landed at Gold Beach in the evening on D-Day and it was still very bad weather. 

‘I’m extremely lucky I never got hit.

‘I’d like to see everyone going along to the D-Day 75 events, I’m very happy about this and I’ll definitely be going along.’

The commemorations will be a joint effort by the ministry of defence, The Royal British Legion and Portsmouth City Council. 

As reported, the city council was rebuffed in its bid for £800,000 of funding from the Libor banking fines cash pot.

The cost and funding for the commemoration is unknown as plans have not yet been finalised.

It is thought military vehicles and memorabilia on display will be provided by the Ministry of Defence, with other events jointly organised by the council, the Normandy Memorial Trust and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The News has been calling for the city to host the commemorations, with MPs backing the rallying cry.

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan had written asking for the commemorations to be held here.

In a statement after the announcement by defence minister Earl Howe yesterday, Mr Morgan said: ‘Portsmouth has a proud place in our nation’s history. It’s a city steeped in military history and one that played an important role in the D-Day landings. We’ll do the nation proud with this commemoration in our city next year.’

Portsmouth and Gosport both saw landing craft depart from the effort that saw the tide turned against Nazis occupying Europe in the Second World War. The major operation was planned at nearby Southwick House

Richard Dickson is president of the Gosport and Alverstoke Branch of the Royal British Legion.

He told The News: ‘It’s excellent news. I think we should commemorate the event that we can relate to.

‘Many young men gave their lives and it’s an event that we should not forget.

Minister Mr Howe said: “We will work hard to help our veterans mark this significant anniversary on the South coast and in France.’

Veterans are asked to register their interest by visiting britishlegion.org.uk/dday75