Selsey’s hidden D-Day legacy revealed and 80 Years on, Selsey’s public commemorative service

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Selsey played a critical role in the lead-up to and on D-Day. It is difficult to imagine that during the Second World War, Selsey endured more air raids than any other place in Sussex. On 6 June 2024 Selsey is hosting a Commemorative Service and the lighting of the Beacon at East Beach Green for the 80th Anniversary of D-Day to honour the bravery and sacrifice of countless heroes during D-Day.

Selsey was one of two crucial assembly points for the Mulberry Harbours, Phoenix Caissons, and other components essential for the D-Day invasion. Constructed in strict secrecy over seven months, the town was subjected to rigorous security measures. Visitors were barred unless on vital national business, and local fishermen were prohibited from accessing nearby waters. The mysterious arrival of massive concrete blocks off the coast fuelled speculation among residents, who were kept in the dark about their purpose.

In late May 1944, Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspected the Phoenix Caisson works in Selsey, where he famously emphasized the importance of overcoming logistical challenges with his directives. These innovative Mulberry Harbours, credited with significantly enhancing the Allied supply chain, played a pivotal role in the success of the Normandy invasion.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Concurrent with the harbour preparations, work on the Advanced Landing Ground near Church Norton, Selsey commenced in February 1943. By April 1944, the upgraded airfield hosted several RAF squadrons, including 135 Squadron of Spitfires, which provided critical air cover during D-Day. Squadron Leader John ‘Johnnie’ Houlton, flying from Selsey, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroics, including shooting down a Nazi bomber over Omaha Beach.

Mulberry Harbour Spud Pierheads at anchor off Selsey BillMulberry Harbour Spud Pierheads at anchor off Selsey Bill
Mulberry Harbour Spud Pierheads at anchor off Selsey Bill

The day after the D-Day beach landings, the Mulberry Harbour components were towed from Selsey across the Channel. After these giant structures mysteriously departed, local people were still unaware that they had been living next to one of the important assembly points for the artificial harbours, in preparation for the Normandy invasion.

Just off the coast of Selsey, in ten metres of water, is one of those Phoenix caissons that broke its back and sank in the storm on the night before D-Day, joining many wrecks off Selsey from both World Wars, this craft is known locally as the Outer Mulberry.

80 years on, the Outer Mulberry rests with the wrecks of a WW2 Infantry Landing craft and a Cuckoo Rescue Float, in a triangular configuration. It has become a British destination for divers, keen to explore history and sea life at one with each other. It is known to most as the D-Day Heritage Trail.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This is a nationally important archaeological site that was given Scheduled Monument Status in commemoration of 75th anniversary of D-Day and to preserve them for future generations after 10 years of hard work from Southsea Sub Aqua Club. These serve as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made and the town’s hidden role in one of history’s most crucial events.

Spitfire with D-Day Invasion StripesSpitfire with D-Day Invasion Stripes
Spitfire with D-Day Invasion Stripes

On Thursday 6 June 2024, as the sun sets over the picturesque horizon of East Beach, Selsey, Selsey Town Council is hosting a Commemorative Service including the lighting of Selsey’s Beacon to honour the bravery and sacrifice of countless heroes during the D-Day landings.

Selsey welcomes all to Selsey to come together to remember, reflect, and reaffirm our commitment to peace and freedom.

This Commemorative Service at East Beach Green, Selsey, for the 80th Anniversary of D-Day will begin with Chichester City Band playing at 8:30pm, the Service with hymns and the Tribute starts at 8:50pm, lighting of the beacon at 9:15pm.

Related topics: