Thursday 6 June 2019

A Schoolboy in Portsmouth - Memories of D-Day

Watching the media coverage of the 75th anniversary of D-Day it struck me today how much my father would have enjoyed the coverage. Before he succumbed to what proved to be a terminal illness he jotted down some recollections of his childhood in Portsmouth during the war years. I thought I'd digitally transcribe what he had to say about D-Day. The picture shows my father and his mother (my Paternal Grandmother) strolling in Southsea a few months before the start of the Second World War.

"Early in 1944 Portsmouth became the centre for the D-Day preparations with the planning staff located just to the North at Southwick House. The Harbour, Spithead and the Solent were crammed with warships, freighters, tankers and landing craft each flying an attendant barrage balloon as a defence against low flying intruders. There were also giant sections of Mulberry Harbour which we found quite puzzling. We had only limited access to the seafront as it was isolated with concrete blocks and rolls of barbed wire. Many temporary piers were constructed to allow the troops to file onto transports.

We schoolboys did have access to Clarence Pier where we could watch the strange sight of Italian prisoners-of-war filling in the moats around Old Portsmouth to provide hard standings for the for the thousands of armoured and other vehicles parked for embarkation. We would beachcomb in this area and on one occasion we found the beach awash with American electric light bulbs and on another oranges - both presumably 'lost overboard' (incidentally these were the first oranges I'd seen since I found one in my Christmas stocking in 1939).

Amongst the measures taken to protect this armada and the city, harbour and Southsea Common were dotted with ant-aircraft rocket guns. These were of a very simple, sturdy design and when they were abandoned at the end of the war most of the local youngsters acquired the rubberised grips from the control handles and installed them on their bicycle handlebars. The ear shattering noise when these rockets were in action was extremely disturbing.

Action was frequent as in these were the days of the V1 Flying Bomb. Many of these 'doodlebugs' came over the coast on their way to haphazard destruction well inland. The distinctive 'phut phut' sound of their motors and their ominous shape and black colouring with the Luftwaffe Iron Cross symbol made them an eerie sight. On one occasion I can remember an RAF Meteor jet fighter pursuing a V1 as it crossed the promenade just opposite Eastney Barracks. RAF fighter planes tipped the wings of the V1s so they tipped harmlessly into the sea".

Michael Curme - Schoolboy Portraits