June – D-Day, English Oysters and the Royal Ballet, by Emma Beatty
To say that Southsea is in D-Day fever might be stating the obvious. The Queen (and, yes, President Trump) are due on 5 June for a major national commemorative event on Southsea Common. Heads of state from around the world will salute veterans, now in their 90s, whose bravery and ingenuity paved the way for the liberation of Europe 75 years ago.
The veterans are due to cross the Channel for Normandy once again in a grand flotilla – reminding us of Portsmouth’s historic role and its fundamental relation to the sea that surrounds it.
Security will be high and large areas of Southsea Common will be closed to the public. However, the events will be shown live on BBC, with large screens alongside. Later that afternoon there will be a flypast above Southsea Common by the Red Arrows. In the evening, MV Boudicca departs Portsmouth with 300 D-Day veterans on board for their trip to Normandy to represent the famous crossings that took place 75 years ago. Hundreds will gather to watch as it sails past.
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard was bustling last weekend (1-2 June) to commemorate the anniversary but there’s a slew of happenings all over the city . The City Museum has a one-off display of 12 new portraits of D-Day Veterans, commissioned by Prince Charles. Artists include: Paul Benney, Clara Drummond, Catherine Goodman— all students from the Royal Drawing School, one of the prince’s charities. Also on display is work by local portrait artist Karl Rudziak (including his portrait of local veteran John Jenkins, on loan from Portsmouth FC). The show runs until 1 September. Across the water in Gosport a new contemporary gallery has opened, The Yellow Edge Gallery. A not-for-profit, high street gallery, they plan to show a mix of local artists, artists from other parts of the UK and abroad.
St Mary’s Church has a D-Day concert (8 June) to celebrate the 75 years of peace in Europe, with a visiting a capella choir from Caen, the Normandy city that was at the centre of the D-Day operation, all but destroyed by allied bombing.
Southwick, the charming Hampshire village just over Portsdown hill, was the planning hub for Operation Overlord where Churchill, Eisenhower and Montgomery devised their strategy. It holds an annual D-Day revival but this year’s is extra special (8-9 June). Visit the D-Day map room, listen to the Military Wives Choir, watch the Royal Navy Cadet Field Gun Challenge in Squire’s Paddock, and see World War II military vehicle displays and motorcades.
The New Theatre Royal has its main D-Day event on 9 June. British and French performers mix drama, comedy, and song in a variety show led by Portsmouth comic Tom Swift.
Once the D-Day commemorations die down, there’s still lots to celebrate about our unique island city. Not least, the Portsmouth Seafood Festival in Gunwharf (28-30 June) reminds us of the amazing natural harvest in our seas, and the work of the local fishing community. Celebrate the Solent’s finest catches, and see local seafood chefs in action. The Fisherman’s Kitchen & Southsea Beach Café – two brilliant new fishy additions to our city’s food life – will serve up local produce alongside live music and events.
Portsmouth festivities, the annual summer arts festival, is in its 20th year, also celebrates our seafood culture. Guildhall studio has Poisoned Beds a “story of personal liberation, votes for women and the death of the English oyster industry” (20 June).
Take a picnic and a folding chair and head to Guildhall Square to watch the Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet (11 June) in a live feed from the Royal Opera House. And, then, get your best picnic rug out for an outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (13 June). The New Theatre Royal brings its performers off the stage to leafy Gatcombe House Park, just opposite Roko on the Copnor Road. It’s performed by an all-male cast with Elizabethan costumes, music and dance.
Quite a Southsea summer to look forward to!