2014 - Millin-Montgomery Voyage Ch. 10 - PORTSMOUTH


Due to increasingly demanding needs of the forthcoming 70th Anniversary Normandy Week, the Millin-Montgomery Voyage was faced with the need for a change of personnel. It was easier to deal with this by road and rail so Karl was taken by road from Dartmouth to Exmouth where he performed a piped ceremony at the D-Day ‘Wall of Remembrance’ Memorial in Phear Park on Wednesday 28th May.

millin-montgomery voyage exmouth

From there Karl was taken to Portland where an arrangement had been made to go aboard the next ‘Little Ship’, agreed with Mike Shipley, the Harbour Master at Portland Bill. Accordingly, Karl reported to the security gate at 0845 on Thursday 29th. He boarded the Pilot Boat for the crossing of ten miles to Weymouth Harbour. Portland was a fitting inclusion in the Voyage as it was a main base for the Mulberry Harbour sections to be stored ready for towing across the Channel shortly after D-Day. Piping the boat into Weymouth, Karl’s arrival coincided with the main D-Day commemoration ceremony organised by Naomi Turner, Chairman of the Weymouth Royal British Legion.

millin-montgomery voyage weymouth

The ceremony started at 1030 in Weymouth Harbour and included a wreath laying and scattering of poppy petals in the harbour at the exact spot from where the D-Day Invasion ships departed. The ceremonies all went off very well, attracting a large crowd. Naomi explained that Weymouth maintains an enthusiastic memory of its part in the D-Day Invasion effort. Afterwards Karl met a local Old Boy who had been watching the Event from the harbour wall. In cheerful conversation he explained that as a small child he had been there as the American troops prepared to set off for the Invasion. He recalled the troops asking if he and his chums had any sisters at home; one of the youngsters had replied “Yes, I have three teenage sisters,” whereupon he was swamped with gifts of sweets, stockings and other luxury items scarce in those days, The chap went on to admit that afterwards they all claimed to have teenage sisters!

For all these arrangements in Portland & Weymouth we are grateful to Naomi Turner, the team at Royal British Legion and of course to the Portland Bill Harbour Office.

For this final run through to Portsmouth, ‘D-Day Revisited’ was delighted to have secured the services of the ”MTB-102 Trust” operated by Richard Basey. MTB 102 is a genuine Dunkirk ‘Little Ship’ and was used during most of the dramatic evacuation in May 1940, in fact serving as the Royal Navy’s flagship during the closing three days of the effort. The MTB had subsequently seen active service throughout the War, finally being made ready for the relief of the Channel Islands in May 1945. Richard had been scheduled to arrive into Weymouth in time for the RBL D-Day ceremonies but unfortunately suffered a hull leak whilst overnighting in Portsmouth. The fault was happily rectified by divers effecting underwater repairs, but the MTB was half a day late into Weymouth.

On Friday 30th the plan had been for a departure of MTB 102 from Weymouth to Poole. However, the delayed arrival into Weymouth prevented an arrangement in Poole so it was decided to spend the day in Weymouth, making sure that all was in good mechanical order ready for the weekend and the main ceremony planned for Monday in Portsmouth.

Saturday 31st Shortly before 10am this remarkable historic vessel MTB 102 slipped its berth in Weymouth Harbour and Karl piped a salute as they headed for Southampton. A special thank you goes to Weymouth Harbour Master and Team for their support of the visit and free berthing for the MTB. This had been the case throughout the Anniversary Voyage all the way from Scotland.

The MTB arrived into Southampton shortly after mid-day and Karl piped the boat into the marina at the Southampton Royal Yacht Club. Prior arrangements had been made with SRYC for an afternoon reception and an overnight berth, once again free of charge in the spirit of the Commemoration. With all the ‘Millin-Montgomery’ team ashore and welcomed into the Admiral’s Lounge, a reception was held, joined by the Southampton Lord Mayor and members of the local Royal British Legion. This was a fitting tribute from the Yacht Club and the people of Southampton in recognition of the part played by the whole district in the preparations and execution of the D-Day Invasion armada.

After arrival the previous afternoon events and an overnight in Southampton, MTB 102 was berthed at Gosport for the day Sunday 1st June where it underwent mechanical checks for the final ceremonial arrival of the Millin-Montgomery Pipes into the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard due the following morning, and also for its subsequent Channel crossing as part of the 70th Anniversary Power Boat Squadron.

It was an early start for Karl on Monday 2nd June, with Eamonn back on the team. Having stayed overnight with the main veterans’ group, they both took an early ferry across from the Portsmouth side to Gosport. Karl reported to Richard Basey on board MTB-102 and made final preparations for the short river crossing. They set off at about 10 o’clock keeping a radio contact with Eamonn who was by then over at the PNBPT (Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust) Pontoon. As all the News Media were in attendance waiting for this grand arrival, we needed to be sure the timing was spot on.

british normandy veterans portsmouth

british and us d-day veterans

With 57 in the group ‘D-Day Revisited’ was the largest gathering of Normandy Veterans assembled together in the UK. Including carers, companions and medics, the whole party was 110 and all were taken to the Historic Naval Base for 0945. Disembarking the two coaches the veterans were then introduced to twenty US Army Normandy Veterans and treated to a reception of tea/coffee/cakes.

Millin-Montgomery Voyage Portsmouth

At around 1030 the whole party of British and American Veterans were escorted over to the PNBPT Pontoon in readiness for arrival of MTB-102. Moored at the jetty were MGB-81 a refurbished wartime Motor Gun Boat, HSL-102 a High Speed Launch used for wartime RAF personnel rescue in the Channel, and HMS Medusa which was in service as a marker for the D-Day approach to Omaha Beach. It was a grand and convivial assembly, all enjoying the broken sunshine and chatting over old times when Karl’s ‘Millin-Montgomery’ Pipes could be heard approaching. There was a loud cheer as MTB-102 slowly motored in to tie up at the jetty. Karl disembarked and marched across the pontoon onto MGB-81 where he took part in a Blessing Service involving the Padre, Admiral Rankin and a small group of local schoolchildren.

After this Service, John Phipps (Chairman of D-Day Revisited) introduced the formal ceremony in which Karl handed the Pipes over to John Millin. This was a moving moment as John Millin had last held the Pipes precisely four weeks previously when he handed over to Karl on the Town Jetty in Fort William – the very beginning of the ‘Millin-Montgomery’ Voyage.

john millim portsmouth millin-montgomery voyage

As he received the Pipes John Millin proceeded to make a speech, from which the following extract has been taken:

“In a hundred years’ time your children’s children will look back and say: ‘they must have been giants in those days’. Gentlemen – you are our living giants!”

john millin leads d-day veteran parade

Following the Jetty arrival and MGB-81 ceremonies, the whole joint veterans’ party was escorted back to the main PNBPT extended restaurant room where there was a grand reception and lunch, along with a special treat of Glenfiddich Single Malt for each of the Normandy Veterans. Special thanks go to Rear Admiral (retd) Neil Rankin CB CBE of the PNBPT and his Chief Executive, Peter Goodship, for this generous reception. The US Naval Attaché, Captain David Stracener, was in attendance and made a speech in which he welcomed both the US and British Veterans, at the same time expressing his personal thanks for being invited along with his parents visiting from the United States.

Captain Stracener referred to the ‘Millin-Montgomery’ Anniversary Voyage and what he explained as his own privilege to be able to join the special sea-borne tribute to the 946 lives lost during the training exercise, ‘Operation Tiger’ in Lyme Bay. Most especially, Captain Stracener commented on how delightful it was to see all these American and British Veterans mixing together once again as Allies, seventy years after the D-Day Invasion.

normandy veterans portsmouth historic dockyard

When the lunch was completed, the British Veterans’ contingent was brought to attention outside the restaurant. From there the 57 Veterans of the ‘D-Day Revisited’ Group marched (sort of) to the waiting coaches for the short journey to Southwick House.

Southwick House: Eisenhower’s HQ and Montgomery’s Rolls Royce

shaef headquarters southwick house

Owned and operated by the Ministry of Defence as a training centre, the Southwick Park site is home to the Royal Military Police Museum which was opened by HM The Queen in 2007. Southwick House itself was Eisenhower’s Headquarters (known as SHAEF - Supreme Headquarters for the Allied Expeditionary Force) during planning and execution of Operation Overlord. The Veterans’ party, both British and American, enjoyed a guided museum tour followed by a visit to the D-Day Map Room where they were addressed by the resident historian. Amusingly some of the veterans were able to offer minor corrections to the ‘established’ history of those final days running up to the Invasion. In fact, one of the group, Marsie Taylor BEM, had been on Eisenhower’s Staff at Southwick House and was present at the time of decision-making to postpone 24 hours due to weather conditions.

Refreshments were served as the Veterans’ Party was joined by Brigadier David Harrison in his official capacity of Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire. As guests arrived, the assembly enjoyed some relaxation in the well tended gardens and terraces surrounding the Manor House. A special attraction was the Rolls Royce staff car used by General Montgomery during this period in the run up to D-Day. Parked in stately glory outside the main entrance, the car seemed to be very much at home. In keeping with the ‘Millin-Montgomery’ Voyage theme, the veterans were delighted to welcome the Hon. Lady Arabella Stuart-Smith, Monty’s Granddaughter. Lady Arabella was accompanied by her son Ned and brought her father’s best wishes to the Normandy Veterans.

We finally brought the two key figures of our ‘Millin-Montgomery’ Story together: John Millin and Lady Arabella representing the Montgomery family, standing here together by Monty’s Rolls Royce.

john millin and lady arabella stuart-smith at southwick house

The grand reception continued as the British Veterans with their companions and distinguished guests were piped into the main Mess Hall in Southwick House for the 70th Anniversary Dinner. Leading the party of 120 diners was John Millin in Highland Dress playing the Millin-Montgomery Pipes. The veterans were greeted and shown to their seats, with tables named in accordance with the Normandy theme. The celebration meal prepared by Head Chef, Andrew Kitchen, and his staff was very much appreciated by all. The evening was rounded off with a series of short speeches by various guests.

normandy veterans at southwick house

D-Day Revisited Secretary Victoria Phipps began the proceedings with a reading of the June 2013 Good Wishes message sent by the then Prime Minister of Australia; this has been voted a favourite by the Veterans. Other letters of congratulations were read out including those received from the Rt Hon David Cameron Prime Minister and Hon. Tony Abbott Prime Minister of Australia. John Millin addressed the Veterans’ Party explaining his initial scepticism at the idea of the Millin-Montgomery Voyage when first proposed. Despite his first reaction that it was a crazy and impossible ambition, John expressed his delight at the tribute paid to his father through this coastal voyage of ‘Little Ships’. Paying a special tribute to all Normandy Veterans, John introduced Patrick Churchill who came forward to speak.

Commando Veteran Patrick Churchill Southwick House

Pat referred happily and with pride to his attendance at Spean Bridge and the visit to Achnacarry, followed by the start of the Voyage in Fort William exactly four weeks previously. Pat remembered his friend, Bill Millin, and concluded with an expression of delight at being once again with the veteran comrades about to return to Normandy.

Lady Arabella entertained the party with personal recollections of her Grandfather’s temperament and intolerance. She jokingly chastised the ladies for partaking of the wine – tut tut; not permitted by Monty! Mentioning her father, Viscount David Montgomery, she expressed his regret at being unable to attend but passed on his best wishes to the veterans.

Captain David Stracener, United States Naval Attaché, made a short speech in which he recalled his attendance at the tribute to Operation Tiger in Devon. In particular Captain Stracener drew attention to the comparison made between his son, Andrew, and US Normandy Veteran, Irving Locker (dining at the same table). David pointed out that Andrew is 19 years old – the same age that Irving was at Slapton Sands and then at the Utah Beach landings on D-Day. Looking across at his own parents who had been welcomed as guests this evening, David explained how he and his wife could not imagine the thought of their 19 year old son facing that historic challenge as the veterans had.

normandy veterans dinner southwick house

Finally, Neil Rankin produced a grand finale to the speeches, beginning by reading Her Majesty the Queen’s letter to the veterans; this referred directly to the “Veterans’ Send-Off Dinner at Southwick House” and included the line: “The Queen sends her warm good wishes to all concerned for a most memorable and enjoyable series of events in Portsmouth today.” A retired Rear Admiral, Neil is the former Commanding Officer of HMS Ark Royal and current Chairman of the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust. He paid tribute to the Normandy Veterans and thanked them for this evening’s special experience and invited them to join him and his colleagues on the 5th June at which he promised them a meeting with a VVIP – a Very Very Important Person.

Such was the sentiment (and the flow of wine!) at the end of the evening, several veterans and family members were moved to perform a rousing rendition of Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again!".

normandy veterans at southwick house

To read the next chapter in the tale of the Millin-Montgomery Voyage click here:
CHAPTER 11. Arrival at the destination: Sword Beach & Colleville-Montgomery