Saturday, August 13, 2011

Portsmouth, England

Portsmouth was one of the major staging areas for the British component of the Overlord invasion, and therefore it is a deserving home for a D-Day Museum. It alos serves as my departure port for crossing the Channel (there was no way I was taking the tube – the soldiers didn’t!). I arrived in Portsmouth around 3:30 in the afternoon, and then decided to walk around a bit and get completely lost before dropping off my luggage at the ferry and then heading to the museum along the coast of the Channel. Unfortunately, the museum was closing an hour earlier than I had noted online, but I still had some time to digest the exhibit and the crown jewel of the museum – the Overlord Embroidery.

Many moons ago, a tapestry was created to depict William’s Norman conquest, and that tapestry is presented in Bayeux (I will report on it in a couple of days). In the 1990s, some artists in the Portsmouth area created a larger tapestry detailing the preparation, execution, and impact of the Overlord invasion. I had seen images of the tapestry online and thought it would be a pretty cool thing to see. I underestimated a bit … the tapestry is awesome, as a work of craftsmanship and as a historical story. Images truly do not do it justice (even though I will post some anyway), and the detail in the embroidery is something to behold. I loved how they took some of the most iconic images of the Overlord campaign and put them on cloth. The accompanying text was perfect – concise enough to have viewers read everything, but detailed enough to provide a great overview of Overlord. It reminded me of the bas reliefs on the WWII Memorial in DC, only on a much greater scale. I could see a Civil War tapestry as something that could be done in the US … but not by me, because I had trouble making a stuffed elephant in 8th grade home ec.

The rest of the museum is devoted to the D-Day invasion and Portsmouth’s role in Overlord. The city was shelled pretty hard by the Germans during the blitz in 1940, but still provided industrial provisions and a home base for British troops crossing the Channel. The exhibit was a bit older, so it didn’t contain a lot of the bells and whistles you will see in newer museum exhibits. Still, the text, accompanying audio, and awesome artifacts gave a great overview of Overlord. My favorite part was a mock up of the command map that was used by SHAEF to plan and monitor the invasion.

I also spent some time walking around Portsmouth, checking out a couple of war memorials and searching for some decent fish and chips. I was successful in both searches … but finding the stone was easier than finding the cod. I would love to come back to Portsmouth again and spend more time in the museum (especially with the embroidery), visit Southwick house where the SHAEF kept it’s command room, get to the top of the Spinnaker Tower, and wind around the streets with a little more knowledge of where I was. Maybe I will use a map on my next journey!

I feel I have gained a greater appreciation for the British role in Overlord through my travels today, and also a much deeper understanding of the challenges British citizens faced on the home front, during the blitz as well as throughout the entire war. Now it’s on to France!

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