American, Canadian and British visitors to Lee-on-the-Solent, over the D-Day 70 Commemorations, were bowled over by the show put on by the townspeople. One American was heard to say, ‘Gee Whiz this is great’, and he was right. What an atmosphere the town had all week.
From the Dakotas and other aircraft arriving on Monday, (you can see more aircraft by using this link) to the Lee High Street Festivities in the afternoon and the Lancaster and Spitfire Flypast on Tuesday evening, the people of Lee did the town proud.
Families from all around Gosport, Fareham and Southampton area arrived by the thousands. They came into Lee to view the flypast and soak up the atmosphere. They took up their positions on Lee and Stokes Bay beaches and waited for the aircraft. On cue, the sun shone.
It is said an army marches on it’s stomach. Well there was an army of customers sampling the food on offer in Lee.
Teashops were full. Coffee and ice cream sales must have gone through the roof.
I haven’t seen queues that long outside the Fish and Chip shops for many a year. We British know how to queue!
Cafes were doing a roaring trade.
The Wine Bar was overflowing into Pier Street, thronged with uniformed service men and admiring young women. Forging new Special Relationships?
Families dressed up in 1940s clothes. Shop windows were filled with posters and memorabilia to represent the same era. Shopkeepers wore clothes depicting ‘doing their bit’ for the wartime effort.
A 1947 Chevriot caused a stir among car enthusiasts.
Even the High Street flower troughs were used to depict D-Day events, such as Gold Beach and Omaha Beach.
To keep everyone’s spirits up, there was dancing in the streets by the Jitterbug Jivers. Wartime swing singers performed live for the jivers.
Britannia ruled draped in her Union Jack.
Churchill was fund raising for the British Legion.
Dad’s Army Home Guard kept order, but nobody panicked. Everyone kept calm and carried on.
Sweet Lee somehow managed to get around the wartime rashioning of sweets, and children from 9 to 90 were able to buy their favourite ‘olde tyme’ sweets.
Solent Mobility Centre came to the rescue of anyone who suffered a fit of the vapours, by having a Red Cross Nurse on hand and provided a Morrison Shelter and a WRAF incase of aerial attack.
Green Grocers ‘All Seasons’ kept the Home Front healthy with fresh fruit and Veg. Dig For Victory!
Land Girl Maddy from the Fish Deli wished them luck as she waved them goodbye (Soldier and WRAC)
‘Allo, ‘Allo, Rene and his Land Girl were ‘iding ze French Resistance, though not very well it ‘ast to be said, at ze Tea Party Cafe. Herr Flick was not fooled by it!
Al and Lisa at the Art Pod (Gallery 77), posed for the occasion as Land Girl and wartime Shop Keeper. They created special commemorative D-Day mugs for that essential cup of Rosie Lee.
The good-natured crowd enjoyed it all.
Then they converged on the shore to await the flypast ot the Lancaster and two Spitfires, also the Dakotas.
Some older citizens, living witnesses to the 1940s era, enjoyed looking in the shop windows and reminiscing about wartime rationing.
Wartime fashion hung on the washing line.
People could sample food using wartime recipes.
Lee Flying Association deserve special praise for their remarkable organisation and smooth running of the D-Day Re-Enactment Parachutists event. They also arranged for local school groups to meet some of the D-Day Veterans, such as Arthur Bailey, which it should be remembered is who and what it was all about. This modest man from Portsmouth went right through the war. Then when it was all over, he volunteered for the Parachute Regiment.
This was a moment to pause and reflect on the beach scene today, full of spectators awaiting the flypast. So very different to 70 years ago. In 1944 the shoreline was full of over 160,000 servicemen awaiting embarkation for France. Among them was my uncle and his cousin. What were they thinking at that time? Arthur Bailey gave me some insight. He says he was one of the lucky ones. He went to Normandy on D-Day plus 1 and he believes that is what spared him.
“The first wave of troops who went on D-Day took the first attack from the Germans who were waiting for them. There was so many of us they couldn’t get us all across in one day. When I went the next morning and we got as far as The Needles, Isle of Wight, and we were all asked if we wanted to write a will. Then I knew we were in for something big.”
Below is a selection of the images that try to convey some of the atmosphere of a special week. You had to be there to really appreciate it.
Yes, gee whiz, it was great!
(Just a thought, but next year will be 70 years on from the end of WW11 and the anniversary of V-E Day in May 2015.
Can we hope there will V-E Day 70 Street Parties?)