03 April 2019

CWGC renovates Portsmouth Naval Memorial ahead of 75th anniversary of D-Day

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is renovating its iconic Portsmouth Naval Memorial ahead of the D-Day 75 commemorations this summer. The striking memorial bears the names of more than 24,500 men and women who died during the two World Wars and have no known grave.

Sailors and CWGC staff infront of memorial 

Among them are some who gave their lives during the invasion of Normandy, including Royal Marines Commandos who fought on Juno Beach and the crew of HMS Minster which was sunk off Utah beach on 8 June 1944. CWGC is conducting work on the memorial ahead of this June when tens of thousands of visitors are expected to flock to Southsea Common to take part in commemorative events to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Among those remembered on the memorial are Frank Sturmey. He was born on 3 August 1922 in Retford, Nottinghamshire. Soon after the Second World War began he joined the Home Guard, then became a Royal Marine. He served with Number 48 Royal Marine Commando who fought at Normandy, landing on Juno Beach at 8.45am on D-Day.

Sailors inspect memorial

Frank and his comrades had trained hard for this moment over many months. The brigade which his commando formed part of was given the task of seizing a number of coastal villages, before pushing inland to capture the heavily fortified strong point near the radar station at Douvres. As they neared the beach Frank and his comrades came under heavy German fire and several of their landing craft struck underwater obstacles in water too deep for wading to shore.
Tragically, it is believed that Frank was killed very early in the assault, possibly before ever reaching the beach. He may have drowned, or, killed by enemy fire, his body was washed out to sea and lost. He was 21 years old. He is commemorated on panel 87 of the CWGC Portsmouth Naval Memorial. He is one of more than 40 men of 48 Commando to die on D-Day.

The restoration project in Portsmouth to remember men like Frank includes painstakingly re-bronzing every single name on the memorial, more than two kilometres worth of repointing and horticultural works to the Grade I listed structure’s surroundings. CWGC conducts regular inspections and maintenance on its war graves and memorials in more than 150 countries and territories. This includes scheduling in works ahead of large-scale commemorations when possible.

Max Dutton, Assistant Historian at CWGC, said: “The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Portsmouth Naval Memorial stands proud on Southsea Common overlooking the entrance to Portsmouth harbour. It is a constant reminder of more than 24,500 men and women who never returned home from the World Wars. 

“Among those commemorated here are some of the first Royal Marines Commandos to leave Portsmouth for the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, like Frank Strumey, who sailed from here and died on the Normandy beaches. Sadly some of those who died have no known grave. This CWGC memorial symbolically brings them home. This summer we look forward to seeing tens of thousands of visitors flock to the area to remember those involved in D-Day, 75 years later.

“We hope many will take the time to pay their respects at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. It is only fitting we can ensure it is in top condition for this historic anniversary. It was an honour to welcome serving Royal Navy personnel to see CWGC staff at work keeping the names of their forebears alive.”

CWGC staff maintaining memorial

Assistant Chief Naval Staff (Ships) Rear Admiral Jim Higham of the Royal Navy, said: “It’s fantastic to see the makeover starting on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial ahead of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. My grandfather Percy Openshaw was an engineer officer in HMS Penelope and was Killed in Action when she was torpedoed and sunk off Naples in 1944. His name is engraved on the Naval War Memorial and throughout my naval career I’ve put a poppy next to his name for my mum and her sister.

“Last November as Naval Base Commander I had the huge privilege of joining several hundred people braving the wind and rain on Southsea Common to remember together the sacrifice made by those brave sailors and marines.

“The memorial clearly means a great deal to people of Portsmouth, and that means a great deal to both me and my family. Portsmouth and the Royal Navy have an incredible history of mutual support and this beautifully renewed memorial will stand as a powerful symbol of that enduring relationship.”

The CWGC’s staff began work on the memorial in March and will continue until mid-May. While the project is ongoing access to certain parts of the memorial may be limited to allow work to take place safely.