To celebrate the release of The Sea Before Us, I’m conducting a photo tour of locations from the novel that I saw on my research trip to England and Normandy in September.
Today—Southwick House near Portsmouth
Southwick House in the village of Southwick, not far north of Portsmouth, England, is not a common tourist site—but it has great historical importance. For the record, Southwick House is on an active military base, and you have to apply in advance for security clearance – but it’s well worth it!
On April 26, 1944, Adm. Sir Bertram Ramsay transferred his Allied Naval Expeditionary Force Headquarters from London to Southwick House as battle headquarters for Operation Neptune, the naval component of D-day. And in the first two days of June, both Gen. Bernard Montgomery and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower moved their headquarters to trailers (caravans to the British) on the manor grounds.
All these great and famous men, and many great and not-so-famous men and women, were at Southwick House on D-day, nervously studying the map and waiting for reports.
In the library of Southwick House early on June 4, Eisenhower heard an unfavorable weather report and made the difficult decision to postpone D-day from June 5 to June 6, which required recalling a great number of ships already at sea. At 0415 on June 5, while a storm howled outside, RAF Meteorologist Group Captain James Stagg forecast a mild break in the weather for June 6. Eisenhower faced a difficult choice. If he postponed again, it would mean waiting two full weeks for the proper tide and moon. But if the forecast was wrong, he could be launching the largest invasion in history in the middle of a storm, dooming it to failure. After some thought and consultation, Eisenhower quietly said, “Okay. Let’s go.”
In The Sea Before Us, Women’s Royal Naval Service (“Wren”) Dorothy Fairfax serves at Southwick House.
By the way, most of the people in these photos were with Valor Tours. They kindly gave us a ride on their tour bus onto the grounds of Southwick House and “adopted” us for the day. The nicest group of history buffs and an extremely knowledgeable guide!
Let’s start our photo tour outside…
Shall we go inside?
Last we enter the map room. This is the actual giant wooden wall map used by the commanders to monitor the progress on D-day. It’s set for D-day at H-hour.
While we’re in the neighborhood, we should see the darling village of Southwick.
Hungry? The Golden Lion in Southwick serves fine pub fare—and it’s a historic site as well. Eisenhower and Montgomery used to dine here!
Hope to see you tomorrow for “D-Day at Sea.” We’ll cross the English Channel by ferry and see sites pertaining to the naval aspect of D-day.