D-Day 75 in Portsmouth must not be a one-off media frenzy

Stephen Morgan
© Chris McAndrew/CC BY 3.0

Nearly 75 years ago, armed with a postcard-sized picture of his family with “Good luck, Jimmie!” lovingly scrawled across the back and a false age that must have been believable enough to fool the army recruiters, my grandfather set sail from Portsmouth aged just 17 for the beaches of Normandy. Upon his return from the front, where he served in the Royal Army Service Corps, he continued to live in Portsmouth and helped found the local branch of the Normandy Veterans association.

The principles that he and so many others crossed the channel to fight for – unity, fairness and peace – remain just as important nearly three quarters of a century later. Perhaps more crucially, they remain under threat.

It is for good reason that the eyes of the world will be on Portsmouth today. Whether looking at Portsmouth Dockyard, where the innovative Mulberry Harbours were built, or Fratton Station, where so many wounded soldiers were transported from, my city’s historic ties with Operation Overlord are undeniable and I am immensely proud that the constituency has been given the honour of hosting these international events.

With 300 World War Two veterans, no less than 14 foreign dignitaries and thousands of visitors flocking to the city to join the commemorations, Portsmouth will be at the forefront of the global stage. While it is essential that this event gains the world-wide coverage and esteem it deserves, it is of paramount importance that we do not stray from the purpose of these commemorations – honouring our brave veterans.

D-Day marked the turning point of the war and altered the course of history. The bravery and sacrifice demonstrated by these men and women remains unprecedented, and it is vital that we celebrate the hard-won peace, democracy and diversity that they fought for. Regardless of who catches the attention of the media, we owe it to the 300 heroic souls who will be present at D-Day 75 along with all those who fell, to keep the limelight on them. For many taking part in the commemorations, social isolation and loneliness have replaced the bombs and bullets as their main fear, and to address this we must adopt a policy of sustained commemoration.

This event should not be a one-off media frenzy but a crescendo in our continued tribute to the many who fought and fell for our right to freedom. The excellent contributions made by organisations like The Royal British Legion embody the attitude necessary when sacrifice on this scale has taken place. Their efforts to ensure that veterans are continually engaged and honoured is something that society should aspire to match.

A key theme emerging from a recent meeting with the director general of The Royal British Legion was the contribution of the Allied Forces as a whole. A fact forgotten by many is that D-Day saw Polish pilots guarding British troops from the skies, Czech tank commanders supporting American infantryman and soldiers from across the Commonwealth laying down their lives in the fight against fascism. A plethora of races, colours, religions, creeds and beliefs all coming together as one to overcome oppression from the far right – a far cry from the vitriolic narrative that some try to create whenever commemorations of this nature take place.

Now more than ever, these notions of unity and togetherness must be celebrated. We find ourselves in a country divided by binary decision-making and it is impossible to ignore the prevalence of divisive language hailing from all across the political spectrum. Events like D-Day 75 in Portsmouth are an opportunity to celebrate what can be achieved when people from across the world unite behind one cause.

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