The Princess Royal visited the D-Day Story museum in Southsea to formally open landing craft tank (LCT) 7074 today (April 21) – the only remaining LCT used during D-Day in the world.
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Volunteers who worked to bring the vessel to life, along with local dignitaries and the general public, all watched on to see the official plaque being uncovered.
Nick Hewitt, head of the restoration project, said the visit was a perfect way to cap off the project.
He told The News: ‘It was fantastic. She’s so engaged with the story of the navy, and she is so connected to the navy’s historical importance.
‘She really gets it, and that was lovely.
‘I can’t think of anyone better to do that, and it was very moving to come back here and take part in the celebrations.’
The recovery project took six years, and it has been a long road for the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) from when she was dredged out of the water in Birkenhead in 2014, to bring the landmark to Clarence Esplanade in August 2020.
She is the only one of 800 landing crafts from D-Day to have survived and been restored.
Mr Hewitt estimated the whole project cost roughly £ 7m, £ 5m of which was financed by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The former head of collections and research at the NMRN said it was emotional to watch her commemorated in such a way, from seeing her ‘full of muscles, gunk and rust’ to how she looks now.
Mr Hewitt added: ‘I love the fact it’s becoming this landmark on Southsea seafront.
‘It’s wonderful how you can see her quite across the common.
‘She’s clearly loved, you see people taking selfies with the ship and other things, which is exactly what we wanted from the beginning.
‘It’s great to see her become such a part of the community.’
Princess Anne stepped onboard the vessel, making her way round and thanking volunteers and employees at the museum for their hard work.
She stepped onto the bridge and talked to the curator, Andrew Whitmarsh, and others.
Afterwards, the Princess Royal gave a short speech, discussing the appropriateness of LCT 7074 being at the museum, and giving her thanks to those who restored the craft.
She said: ‘I would like to congratulate those who contributed to the presence of LCT 7074 here at Portsmouth at the D-Day museum.
‘It seems like entirely the right place to be, and I hope all of you who were involved are as pleased to see it as we are.
‘Above all, it is a pleasure to see this project come to fruition.
‘It seems amazing this landing craft is the only one left, but it does make it so particularly important.
‘This is an opportunity to thank a lot of people here, who make sure this story is told, not just of the landing craft, but of the people who sailed and traveled in it.’
Following the speech, the Princess Royal left the museum, and waved to onlooking crowds in the basking sunshine.
For many at the D-Day Story, it was a chance to celebrate LCT 7074, with previous openings being delayed in 2020 due to lockdowns.
Curator Andrew Whitmarsh said the historical significance of the vessel added prestige to Portsmouth.
He told The News: ‘It really adds a new dimension to the museum.
‘The wider story of D-Day is told on the inside of the building, but outside, you can stand on a landing craft that was actually there in 1944.
‘It’s such an important addition, and its become a new landmark for the seafront, you can’t miss it.’
Mr Whitmarsh thinks the unveiling, and the vessel, will definitely boost tourism in the city.
He added: ‘It will definitely boost tourism to Portsmouth, as it is the only surviving landing craft that took part in the D-Day operations.
‘There is no where else in the world you can stand on an LCT, so it will bring people from across the country and potentially the world.
‘D-Day is such an important topic that so many people are interested in.’
Other volunteers said it was great the museum, and their work, was being recognized in such a manner.
Rob Graeney, 63, has given his time to the museum on and off since January 2020.
He shows people round the craft and answers questions regarding its history.
The volunteer said: ‘It was very good Princess Anne was here to recognize the work we do.
‘It’s enjoyable work, and it’s nice to have so many people aboard the LCT.’
Daniel Jinks, the museum and visitor services officer, said: ‘It has been great to see everyone together who was involved in the project.
‘It is to celebrate the achievements and the hard work over those six or so years, it’s amazing to see.’
Mr Jinks added the museum has seen a huge increase in visitor numbers since last May, with over 1500 people touring the vessel during Victorious festival.
Not only was it a day of celebration for those connected to the museum, it was for Portsmouth.
Lord Mayor Frank Jonas, who attended the ceremony, said: ‘Due to Covid, the unveiling has been long overdue, but it is well worth waiting for.
‘They’ve made a few improvements to make ease of access better, and the fact Princess Anne is coming here is an honor.
‘She is one of the hardest working royals I know, and for her to open this for us, it’s special.’