On the 5th June the museum was given the opportunity by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) working alongside the Royal British Legion to have ten staff and volunteers attend 75th anniversary D-Day commemorative event in Portsmouth. Due to the high demand for places names were drawn out of a hat to ensure fairness. Below are two accounts of the day along with some pictures from two RAF Museum volunteer Barry Findlay and Alan Green who were lucky enough to have been given a place. Barry is a public events/ aircraft access volunteer in Cosford while Alan is a technical team volunteer in our London site. Hope you enjoy!
The event was very moving, and I was extremely proud to have represented the Museum and very honoured to have attended. I cannot thank all from the museum who made this opportunity for myself and the other lucky people to have attended such a moving and fitting event to mark the 75th anniversary of such an important occasion.
For myself I made my way to Portsmouth by train from Wolverhampton. When I arrived at Portsmouth Harbour I got the shuttle bus down to the main event. Once there I was not too sure where to go so what better way to find out than ask a Volunteer. The lady was wonderful and told me to wait and she would sort things for me, which I did. Next thing I was on a six-seater golf buggy on my way to the VIP entrance and red Carpet. There were a few looks but also smiles and applauds (if only they really knew who I was). Once at the event I was escorted to the main seating area which I shared with service personnel from the UK, Belgium and other guests.
The event was wonderful and very moving at times. For me a highlight was lunch not just because the food was good, but I had the opportunity to meet and speak with a few of the veterans. The time with them went so quickly but it was a real pleasure to hear what they had to say. A fitting reminder of what the whole day was for. Their service and sacrifice.
It was with considerable excitement that I opened my emails to find I was one of the very lucky few to be drawn out of the raffle at RAFM Hendon to attend the D-Day 75th event in Portsmouth!
The sun shone on the day, despite a steady breeze across the Southsea Common venue, from the nearby seashore. Despite hiccups with my security pass not arriving when it should have done, I was greeted at the main entrance and whizzed through the airport-style security procedures like a V.I.P!
Once inside the ground, I wandered around at will, taking photographs as I wished, before taking my seat in the arena. To say that security generally was, understandably tight, was to be expected given the importance of the event and the fact that HM the Queen and other world leaders were there.
Surrounded by Veterans sporting many rows of medals from not only WWII, but more recent conflicts as well. I was humbled by the respect they were all shown by both the civilians and modern military personnel who were in attendance.
We were treated to music by the Tri-Service Orchestra and The Bach Choir, conducted by Lt. Col. Kevin Roberts throughout the event.
Veterans Bert Edwards, Bob Roberts and Eugene Deibler recounted their experiences on D-Day through filmed interviews, there were excerpts read by actors from diaries by those who lived through those times, the then Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill’s inspiring ‘We’ll Fight Them On The Beach’s’ speech boomed clearly over the loudspeakers and also addresses were given by presidents’ Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron. The Queen also gave a short speech, recounting her own memories, and personally thanking the Vets.
The narrator throughout the event was actress Celia Imrie.
With only some 300 veterans remaining today, many comfortably into their 90’s, as they were escorted on to the stage to take a bow, the arena erupted with applause, a standing ovation and salutes from all those present, none more so than from the younger military from all three services. A very emotional moment for all…
Finally, there was a fly-past by UK military aircraft and a finale by the Red Arrows.
The whole event was well planned, humbling and inspiring, with stories of immense bravery by very young men and women, facing huge risks, to whom we, today, owe our freedom.
On a personal note, I would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to those involved at RAFM for organising the raffle that allowed me the opportunity to attend this ‘once in a lifetime’ event.