D-Day Museum – Portsmouth and Southsea
It had been a somewhat stressful train journey to Portsmouth Harbour. Trains were delayed and it took us some while to find a bus that would take us to Southsea and the D Day museum. We eventually found one that took us fairly close. Unfortunately the signage to the museum appeared to be non-existent but with the help of a friendly window cleaner and traffic warden we made it to the museum.
By then, seriously in need of coffee we adjourned to the museum’s café where we were soothed by the friendly ladies behind the café counter. As we sat recovering we realised that the café was very much an integral part of the D-Day museum – apart that is from dispensing nice looking cakes and exceedingly good toasted sandwiches, etc. Around the walls are various displays of the time, a uniform, a wedding dress, photographs and memorabilia along with placards telling part of the D-Day story, whilst overhead hang model planes.
Dragging ourselves away from the café and its displays we headed for the audio-visual theatre where an excellent film portraying the events of World War II was running which included archive film footage. It was a moving film, beautifully put together, and reduced us both to tears, nevertheless we watched it twice.
The Museum’s Overlord Embroidery bowled us over. It is magnificent portrayal of Overlord from 1940 to Normandy 1944. We spent at least an hour in the gallery examining it virtually stich by stich whilst listening to the audio commentary. It is made up of 34 panels each one 2.4 m long. It pulls no punches and the horrors of dark days and the heroism and sacrifice involved are graphically portrayed.
We lingered long in the reception area of the museum looking at the compiled books in various languages, many of them containing memories and poems written by the service men or their families.
In virtually every available space we found more photographs, uniforms and memorabilia accompanied by the words of those who lived through those days.
Running out of time
We thought we had seen it all, but a corridor led off the main area. Intrigued we followed its winding route through tableau scenes of Britain at War – a kitchen, an air warden’s living room, a forest encampment, the map room at Allied headquarters at Southwic k House along with wartime vehicles.
The museum suggests allowing about two hours in total for a visit. In total we spent five hours there and we both agreed that we had rushed the last section and needed to make a return visit to do it properly. It is a fascinating museum, and the£4.1m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund recently awarded to Portsmouth will give the museum and its displays the facelift it so well deserves.
We made our way back to Portsmouth Harbour station looking out over the harbour whilst waiting for our train. Standing next to us was a smartly dressed elderly gentleman. We started chatting and he told us he had been to the opening of a new gallery in one of the museums in the Historic Dockyard. He unbuttoned his overcoat showing us a row of medals, and to our question answered that yes, he had been involved in D-Day. A week later we were to learn a little more of his story.
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
A week after our D-Day Museum visit we were back at Portsmouth but this time visiting the unique Historic Dockyard where visitors can experience the Royal Navy – past, present and future.
Much as we love Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory, we had both explored her before. But whilst we had both seen the old Mary Rose museum, neither of us had seen the new one. We headed for the Mary Rose.
I happened to really like the original museum, but we both agreed that this new museum is absolutely stunning. From the outside it slightly resembles a partially opened mussel shell; inside it has the wow factor – giving visitors not only a glimpse of Henry VIII’s favourite warship but also an important look at Tudor life.
A treasure trove of artefacts
The surviving section of hull of the Tudor Mary Rose is no longer shrouded in its preserving spray and is now being dried out. The windowed viewing gallery allows visitors to see the inside of the hull. Across the walkway from each of the windows is a representation of that section of the ship that is being viewed – reconstructions of the cabins where the ship’s barber, carpenter, etc would have lived.
On another floor are showcases displaying some of the 19,000 artefacts which went down with the Mary Rose when she sank in 1545, many in astonishingly good condition. And thanks to forensic science we even know what some of the crew members actually looked like.
On arrival at the Dockyard we had called into Boathouse No 7 – one of several cafes. We had been so impressed with our scone that we returned for a light lunch and plan our afternoon. There was a interesting selection of hot and cold dishes but we both opted for a very good bowl of soup served with hunks of excellent bread.
National Museum of the Royal Navy
We realised that we would never have time to explore HMS Warrior or take one of the harbour tours, but bearing in mind that we had heard of the new gallery that had opened in one of the museums we decided to track it down.
The National Museum of the Royal Navy is a fascinating museum for children and adults alike. The galleries are full of interesting things to see and do. There is the Life Mask taken from Nelson’s face in 1800, the first Victoria Cross ever awarded in 1856. Have a go on a World War II Enigma Machine which helped win the Battle of the Atlantic, captain a 74 gun ship or try out the simulator and land a Merlin Helicopter.
Hear My Story
The new gallery turned out to be the Babcock Gallery which includes the Hear My Story exhibition. With video interviews by local school children some war veterans tell their stories of living and fighting from WWII to the present-day. We grieved with Dan Holder a Royal Marine Reservist as he told of his time in Afghanistan and of his three comrades who didn’t return home alive.
And it was here that we discovered who our charming companion on the railway station was. Tony Snelling was 19 when he served with the Wartime Convoy Protection, on one of the first ships to arrive at Normandy. The young interviewer asked about the medals he was once again proudly wearing. Tony agreed he had quite a few – amongst them the Atlantic Star, the Arctic Star and also ‘a French medal for D-day’.
The D-Day Museum and Overlord Embroidery, Clarence Esplanade, Southsea. Open daily, except 24 – 26 December, 1 January. 10am – 5.30pm April – September; 10am – 5pm October -March. Admission: free for children 17 years and under when accompanied by a full paying adult; £6.70 for adults; £5.70 for senior citizens; child, student and Leisure Card holders £4.60. www.ddaymuseum.co.uk
Historic Dockyard, Victory Gate, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth. Open daily April-October 10am-6pm, last tickets sold at 4.30pm; November-March10am-5.30pm last tickets sold at 4pm.
Admission: All attractions £28 adults, £26 seniors, £21 children, under-5s free, family (2+3 £78.40); single attraction tickets also available. Tickets valid for one year with unlimited entry (some days excluded). Attractions to visit in the Dockyard include the new Hear My Story exhibition in the National Museum of the Royal Navy, the Victory, HMS Warrior, Mary Rose Museum, Action Stations and harbour tours. www.historicdockyard.co.uk