Keeping the D-Day story alive

Four years after the award of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and thanks to the generosity of everyone who has given time and money to this special project, the D-Day Story has opened its doors to the public in March 2018.

Work continues however, as we approach the 75th Anniversary of D-Day in 2019.

What is special about this museum? Why did it merit investment?

The D-Day Story tells the story of D-Day, the largest invasion in world history, a turning point in the Second World War, the beginning of the end of the Nazi occupation of Europe, a story in which Portsmouth played a pivotal role as the place where some of the key decisions were made. As the 75th Anniversary approached the museum was looking tired and dated, and it was in danger of becoming irrelevant.

The museum holds a collection of genuine D-Day objects and archives – material with provenance and a story to tell; material worthy of preservation for this and future generations. The museum also holds an extensive oral history collection recording the personal experiences of veterans and civilians involved in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Of particular significance is our collection of vehicles, groups of objects that belong to named individuals, and a number of large archives such as the McAlpine Mulberry Harbour Archive.

In addition the museum is home to the magnificent Overlord Embroidery, commissioned to commemorate the people who took part in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.

Over the past 40 years the museum has been actively supported by Normandy veterans. They helped bring the museum into being and have been on hand to talk to museum visitors. They asked us to keep the D-Day story alive.

What has the investment enabled us to do?

  • To retell the story through the personal experiences of the people involved, told from a number of perspectives in a way that is clear and captivating, and includes things to do, look at and listen to. We want the museum to work for families, schools and young people – people like those involved in D-Day.
  • To create an open and inviting reception area, including shop and café, three new exhibition galleries, a dedicated activity and learning space and a new plaza approach to the museum.  The museum also has new branding and this new website.
  • To conserve some of our most significant objects – the Overlord Embroidery, landing craft and BARV– and smaller items such as flags and medals.
  • To employ three people to work on different aspects of the project – one of these posts will become permanent – and three young people as paid interns, giving them the opportunity to experience work in a museum environment.  In addition we have identified a range of volunteering opportunities and recruited and trained a team of volunteers to support the museum going forward.
  • To transform the museum’s activity and events programme enabling us to enhance our offer for schools – building on our established home front sessions – and develop a whole new programme for families and to enhance the offer for military enthusiasts. This activity is supported by the creation of a new permanent post of public participation officer and the availability of the activity and learning space.

Project statistics

  • 48 storylines
  • 3 galleries
  • 25 interactives and audio-visual presentations
  • 500 objects

What did we learn?

A whole range of people have helped us on this journey – from donors and other funders, to council colleagues and teams of specialists to the Heritage Lottery Fund mentors and monitors and case workers; each playing a key role.

Thinking about the things that have had most impact …

  • The Conservation Plan asked questions about the museum’s old displays – what we were displaying and why.  It focused our attention on authentic D-Day material; material with provenance and a story to tell; how we were using it and why we were diluting it with World War Two material without provenance.
  • The Activity Plan gave us permission to tell the story from different perspectives – including that of the enemy.  This was something of particular importance to the young people who were consulted. This approach was endorsed by the veterans who support the museum.  A disability advisory forum, convened as part of the Activity Plan, has worked with staff to ensure that the new displays can be enjoyed by people with a range of disabilities.
  • The Interpretive Planning process gave us the tools to effectively use object, images and quotes to convey the story and how to tell each story in a way that best suited the selected audience – family, school, young person. The approach included what the interactives and audio-visual displays would contribute, and enabled us to give prominence at certain points to women and children, the experience of the French and so on.  The rigour of this process meant that when it came to copy, everything to be included had already been decided – including ‘tone of voice’ – which meant that the staff involved could focus on writing.
  • The development of the new branding asked us to think about the essence of the museum and the story we were telling, drawing on the light and the dark of the story – its humour and horror – and its scale; the epic scale of the event and the personal sacrifice of the individuals involved. The D-Day Story logo captures the relationship between the south coast of England and the Normandy coast of France across the English Channel (La Manche).
2019: D-Day 75

6 June 2019 was the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

The D-Day Story commemorated this momentous occasion with a series of special events. Discover more about the community aspects of these commemorations here.