Review week 1 – Europe Remembers on tour! in the UK

This last week, the Europe Remembers’ Team had the opportunity to launch the first leg of Europe Remembers on Tour in the UK. This was the start of an amazing yearlong journey, which will take us across Europe from London to Berlin, tracing the footsteps the western allies took in liberating Europe during the final phase of the Second World War. From a launch event in London to a closing ceremony at the D-Day Story in Portsmouth, we hiked the trail over three days, discovering the natural beauty and rich history of this region and its importance in the liberation of Europe.

Day 1 London: Kick-Off

On Monday, we headed to London for the official kick-off of the tour. Our first stop for the opening ceremony was The Churchill War Rooms. It was extremely fitting that we started our journey in this location, as it was where Winston Churchill, his war cabinet, and military spent some of the darkest days during the war, planning for what would eventually become the invasion of occupied Europe and D-Day.

This was a significant event for us as we officially launched the crowdfunding campaign for Liberation Route Europe’s International Hiking Trail and Vectors of Memory. Broadcaster, presenter, and historian Dan Snow was on hand to interview veteran Mervyn King. As a surprise to the audience and the World War II veterans present, Zazi, the Dutch pop-trio, premiered the official theme song of Europe Remembers on Tour, their cover of Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again.”

In the afternoon, we went on a WWII tour of central London with Dan Snow and Frank Baldwin as our tour guides. We visited the Royal Military Chapel or the “Guards Chapel” at the Wellington Barracks – which was destroyed by a German V-1 rocket in June 1944. After we visited several memorials and monuments in the vicinity of Whitehall including the Battle of Britain Monument to the Royal Air Force; the statue of Viscount Montgomery, Field Marshal of the British Eighth Army; and the Monument to the Women of WWII near the Cenotaph memorial. After we walked to the former Headquarters of the French Free Forces, the French government-in-exile led by Charles De Gaulle, and then onto the Allies Statue of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and PM Winston Churchill. We concluded the walking tour at the Roosevelt Memorial and the Grosvenor House, whose Great Room served as the Officers’ Sunday Club and the largest U.S. mess hall.

The first day ended at the Armoury House of the Honourable Artillery Company, where we had a live panel discussion on the Preparations for D-Day with Dan Snow, Peter Caddick-Adams, Frank Baldwin, Dan Hill, and Anthony Tucker-Jones.

Day 2 Alton – Petersfield: “Friendly Invasion”

On Tuesday, we left London for Alton in Hampshire to start the first day of the hike along the Liberation Route Europe’s International Hiking Trail. After receiving a warm welcome from the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Alton, we departed from the train station and walked south along the Hanger’s Way trail to stopping at three pubs (The Three Horseshoes, The Selborne Arms, and Hawkley Inn) to talk about the theme of the day: the “friendly” invasion.

This part of Hampshire, like much of the United Kingdom, welcomed hundreds of thousands of American, Canadian, and Commonwealth servicemen who came to assist in the war effort. The Americans especially had a large influence on British culture during this period, bringing popular dances such as the Jitterbug and American foods (peanut butter and Coca Cola). At times, these invaders were “very friendly” resulting in a large number of wartime marriages. At the end of the war, these G.I. brides left Britain for a new life in America and Canada.

We also visited the Brookwood War Cemetery in Surrey, one of the largest military cemeteries in the UK. It was a somber moment to reflect on the sacrifice of these men and women, many of them Canadians and other Commonwealth soldiers who died during the evacuations from Dieppe. At Brookwood, there is a large monument to the missing of those who died outside other military theatres, including a number of British spies.

Day 3 Petersfield Rowland’s Castle: “Preparations for D-Day”

On Wednesday, we departed from Petersfield along the Shipwrights trail passing through the Queen Elizabeth Country Park stopping at the Village Inn and the George Inn for two history breaks. The topic for this day was the “Preparations for D-Day”. Seventy-five years ago, this region was abuzz with tens of thousands of troops preparing for the journey across the Channel to Normandy. Our final stop of the day, Rowland’s Castle, was an especially important location as it lay 13km north of Portsmouth along the main railway line to London. Much of the village during this period was turned into a major supply depot of equipment that would be used during the D-Day landings. The surrounding forests, through which we walked, were the home of elaborate camps that even had a cinema.

We visited the Droxford train station where Churchill had a war cabinet meeting leading up to D-Day. We also went to Moby’s House in Gosport, which was the location of the Air & Sea Rescue Command and Control Centre as well as a rumored meeting between Churchill and Field Marshal Montgomery. The Gosport harbor was also one of the departure points for D-Day, and it was rumored to have been built from the rubble of buildings destroyed during the Blitz.

We ended the day at the D-Day Column memorial in Rowland’s Castle, which marks the spot where HM King George VI watched the departure of allied forces on May 22, 1944, during the final phase of preparations for the D-Day landings.

Day 4 Rowland’s Castle – Portsmouth: “Embarkation D-Day”

On Thursday, our final day of Europe Remembers On Tour in the UK, we hiked the last portion of the Shipwrights trail from Rowland’s Castle to Portsmouth via Hayling Island. Along the way, we had the opportunity to see the location where the components for the artificial Mulberry harbor were constructed.

We also visited the Southwick House, a requisitioned manor house that became the HMS Dyrad. In the days leading up to D-Day, it became the headquarters of the main allied commanders with a notable map room where the movements of individual boats were charted on their way to Normandy.

On our final approach into Portsmouth, we had a guided historical tour with local expert Tom Stoneman ending the hike at The D-Day Story. Afterwards, we had a special celebration with the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, David Fuller. We presented him with a special certificate and vector, which will be the future trail markers of the Liberation Route Hiking Trail, and he was appointed a special ambassador of the Liberation Route. To finish off the evening, we had dinner at the historic Golden Lion Pub in Southwick, where Eisenhower had his last pint before D-Day. In the company of veteran Frederick Glover, historian Neil Barber, historian Stephen Fisher, maritime archaeologist Caroline Barrie-Smith, and managing director of Liberation Route Europe Rémi Praud hosted a livestream discussion. Just like allied forces 75 years ago, our journey in the UK ended here in Portsmouth.

Next week, Europe Remembers on Tour will be in Normandy celebrating the 75th anniversary of D-Day. You can follow our journey via our social media pages @EuropeRemembers. Be sure to checkout also the Liberation Route Europe’s YouTube channel for the latest videos from our tour.