Portsmouth cenotaph is ‘a thing of beauty and a mournful joy forever’ – Retro

On October 19, 1921, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught unveiled the Cenotaph adjacent to the Guildhall.
On October 19, 1921, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught unveiled the Cenotaph adjacent to the Guildhall.

No doubt many of you were in the Guildhall Square on November 11 for the centenary remembrance service of the end of the First World War.

You may have laid a wreath or placed a poppy in remembrance of a relative who lost their life in the conflict.

Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet politicians, wave from the deck of the cruiser Ordzhonikidze as they leave Portsmouth following a 10-day visit to Britain.  With them are Russian aeronautical designer Andrei  Nikolaevich Tupolev, and atomic chief, Dr Igor Kurchatov, 2nd left.    (Photo by Folb/Getty Images)

Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet politicians, wave from the deck of the cruiser Ordzhonikidze as they leave Portsmouth following a 10-day visit to Britain. With them are Russian aeronautical designer Andrei Nikolaevich Tupolev, and atomic chief, Dr Igor Kurchatov, 2nd left. (Photo by Folb/Getty Images)

The Cenotaph was unveiled on October 19, 1921, by Prince Arthur, the seventh child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The memorial was described at the time as ‘a thing of beauty and a mournful joy for ever’ and has had a place in the hearts of Portsmouth people ever since.

Although some said the money spent on it could have been put to better use – as was the case in Gosport where the memorial consisted of a new hospital of which the inhabitants were justly proud – the Portsmouth Cenotaph is indeed a noble edifice.

In the photo, right, we are looking down from the roof of the Guildhall (or Town Hall, as it was then) on to the unveiling scene.

At the top of the photograph can be seen several hundred people standing on the high level platform of what is now Portsmouth & Southsea railway station. As can be seen, many are down the ramp at the end of the platform. There was little danger as there was no electrified third rail at that time.

Unfortunately, the contrast makes the Cenotaph, which was pure white at the time, almost unrecognisable.

Against the wall surrounding the memorial are panels inscribed with most of the men of Portsmouth who went forth never to return.

In recent years, the names of those civilians lost during the blitz of the Second World War have been placed alongside, but outside the main memorial wall.

The photo of the interior of South Parade Pier I published on May 6 brought back a memory for Anthony Holley, of Havant.

He tells me: ‘As a boy I lived near the pier and can well remember the theatre looking like that. It was known by the locals and regulars as the Major Hall.

‘It used to have lots of shows, especially the summer shows, with Morecambe and Wise, Mike and Bernie Winters, Des O’Conner, Arthur Askey.

‘It also had a big Wurlitzer organ that used to come up through the stage with resident organists Reginald Dixon and Reginald Porter-Brown.

‘They would play  I do like to be beside the seaside followed by an organ concert or tea dance.

‘You could hear the organ booming out all over the pier and for at least 100 yards down the seafront. I can remember sitting in the theatre listening to it. 

‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to get the organ back on the pier? There are organs in store all over the UK having been removed from old theatres, cinemas, ballrooms and piers, looking for a new home. 

‘There was a smaller theatre called the Minor Hall, again loved by the locals and regulars on the pier which was more like an eating-and-shows type venue.

‘The restored pier is superb and I often visit it with my wife. I always joke and say I can hear the organ playing. There are two things that would complete the pier’s restoration –  the Wurlitzer organ in the Gaiety Bar and boats calling at the end of the pier. 

‘These two things could happen, the owners have done a remarkable job restoring the pier.’

Last week I wrote about the book that has been released about the disappearance of Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb, Crabbgate.

The cruiser Ordzhonikidze brought Russian First Secretary Nikita Kruschev and defence minister Nikolai Bulganin to Portsmouth. It was berthed alongside South Railway Jetty and it was open to the public to have a look around.

The then 12-year-old Henry Yelf  went aboard.

He tells me the two Russian leaders were driven to the station in the Lord Mayor’s car which carried the registration BK1. They were allowed to continue to believe the registration was arranged to honour them, although it was just a coincidence.

Henry’s memory is of friendly crewmen who were as interested in us as we were in them, despite the language barrier.

The sailors handed over red star cap badges and strange Russian cigarettes which were half tobacco and half cardboard tube.

Talking of government cover-ups, does anyone know where the sailors who were lost when HMS Dasher caught fire after an internal explosion in the Firth of Clyde on March 27, 1943, are buried?

Somewhere 56 sailors are interred. It was thought it would not be good for national morale for the general public to be informed and the sailors were interred in a mass grave.

The location of the grave appears to have been lost over time. 

The whole incident has been hushed up until 2040 – disgraceful.