STOKES Bay has been commemorating D-Day with an array of World War Two displays, events and activities.
The D-Day 75 Embarkation event was organised by Gosport Council and the D-Day Fellowship.
Fellowship chairman, Malcolm Chapman, 79, said: ‘Gosport’s role in D-Day can sometimes be overlooked but it played a massive role in dispatching everything the troops needed including weaponry and machinery. Today’s important in ensuring Gosport’s role and heritage in this iconic event does not get lost.’
The two day weekend event included a landing craft display, infantry weapons and vehicles presentation, tank display and on Saturday evening the performance of classic wartime songs. The culmination of each days activities was a Battle of Britain memorial flypast by a C-47 Dakota followed by a Hawker Hurricane.
The event was particularly poignant for Lee-on-Solent resident, Jean Carty, whose father, Frank Moore, fought in the D-Day landings.
Jean said: ‘My father was involved in the Omaha beach landing. He survived but many soldiers were killed. If he was still alive today he would have loved this event. It’s so important we continue to remember D-Day and the sacrifices my father’s generation made.’
Thousands of visitors got the chance to see and explore a whole range of artifacts and to speak to experts in military history. Historic artifacts organisation, the War and Peace Collection, gave visitors the chance to experience first-hand a range of machinery from World War Two, including jeeps, beach recovery vehicle and the iconic spitfire fighter plane.
Representative, Bradley Cooper, said: ‘We were really keen to be involved today as it’s important to keep history alive. In a museum, many of the artifacts are behind a glass cabinet where as here people get to explore things hands on which really brings history to life. We are also here to speak to visitors and answer any questions they may have.’
With many families in attendance one of the key aims for Bradley was to ensure the significance of D-Day was not lost on younger generations.
‘It’s so important we remember the sacrifices made. Many veterans have now passed on and every year there are fewer left. It’s crucial that events such as today continue to tell their story and keep it alive for future generations,’ he explained.
Visitors could learn about the war by paying a visit to one of the many display tents including a field hospital and food canteen. The food tent would have been run by the Women’s Voluntary Service and was used to provide troops with a hearty meal before or after heading into battle.
Dressed in period costume, historian, Lindsey Ratcliffe, said: ‘Large soyer boilers would have been used out in the field to mass produce food for the soldiers. It’s really important to have these events to help teach children about the realities of war and to remember what took place 75 years ago.’
With interactive activities such as soldier training, battlefield simulation and a tank float competition there was plenty to interest and entertain all ages.
Grace Crowson, aged 7, said: ‘It has been really interesting and I particularly liked dressing up as an evacuee.’
Twin sister, Jessica, added: ‘It was interesting to see the planes and tanks and I hope to find out more about how they work.’
Mum, Claire Crowson, felt the event brought the community together as well as providing the children with an important underlying message.
Claire commented: ‘It’s great to see so many families out together and to remember what took place. Dressing up and exploring all the different displays and artifacts really helped bring the event to life for the children.’
Daniel Goad, aged 8, particularly enjoyed getting up close to the spitfire.
‘It was great to get to be right next to the spitfire and learn about the different types of weapons used during the war,’ he said.
For Daniel’s grandfather, Tony Amor, the event brought back distant memories of his early childhood.
‘I was only four when D-Day took place but for me this has been a nostalgic experience as my earliest memories are from the war. Even as a small child I remember the siren sounding and we would all go into the air raid shelter which was dug into the garden. I remember the black curtains which were used to black out lights from German bombers,’ he recalled.
Sunday’s events commenced with a moving memorial service attended by hundreds of visitors and local dignitaries. Guests of honour were World War Two veterans who laid poppy wreaths in remembrance of fallen comrades.
Ron Cross, MBE, aged 99, was a Royal Engineer whose mission on D-Day was to lead Churchill tanks through the fortified German frontline.
Ron said: ‘It was our mission to make gaps in the the German’s coastal defence to allow troops through. We had to blow away many obstacles but by 9 am we had created four gaps through which troops could push through. We had expected a loss rate of 75 per cent but fortunately we had no casualties. It was a war we had to win – they had to be stopped. I am very pleased to be at today’s service and proud of what we achieved.’
Portsmouth resident, Geoff Rushton, 95, served in the Royal Air Force during the war.
‘I was a navigator in the RAF and in total I carried out 31 bombing missions in a Lancaster Bomber. We were all very young and just accepted the risks and got on with our jobs,’ he explained.
Geoff recalled one mission in particular when he nearly didn’t return.
‘We got shot up pretty bad on one mission to Stuttgart and I wasn’t sure we would make it home. At one point I thought we might have to put down in the Channel. I really wanted to be here today and it’s fantastic to see such a good turn out,’ he added.
John Clarke, 94, was brought to the ceremony by his daughter. During the war John served as a crewman on the hospital ships which would rescue casualties and provide medical assistance.
John recalled: ‘On D-Day our ship was stuck right in the middle of artillery fire. You had our warships firing towards the beaches and the Germans retaliating – there were shells exploding all around us. It was really important for me to come down here today and remember those who didn’t survive.’