The D-Day Museum has an extensive collection of archives and three-dimensional artefacts, including material that is arguably of national significance.
Donating new artefacts or archive material
We are always interested in offers of material relating to D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, whether items dating from the Second World War or later material such as veterans' memoirs. We are part of Portsmouth Museums Service, and also collect material connected to the city and to Portsmouth people as a whole during the Second World War (and in other periods of time). If you are planning to bring potential donations with you, please contact us in advance with more information about what you are offering, so that we can arrange an appointment for you with the relevant staff: contact us by email (main contact: Andrew Whitmarsh, D-Day Museum Development Officer). We are particularly interested in the history of the items (such as who used or owned them, if known), their size and condition. At present (summer-autumn 2017) we are having to focus on planning for our new displays and may not be able to reply or provide access to collections immediately.
The D-Day Museum's archive collections
Our archive collections have been drawn upon for a number of books on the subject, such as Jonathan Bastable’s "Voices From D-Day", and Martin Bowman’s "Remembering D-Day" (both published in 2004), as well as a variety of books published to co-incide with the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014 (authors including Max Arthur and Jonathan Mayo). Our collections are also regularly viewed by people researching their family history, or the history of an area in the UK where troops were based around the time of D-Day.
"The D-Day Museum in Portsmouth has some remarkable D-Day memoirs from local people and sailors and soldiers; they also have the full text of the German interviews made by researchers for Cornelius Ryan's classic D-Day book The Longest Day - all were extrememly useful." Jonathan Mayo, author of "D-Day Minute by Minute (Short Books, 2014).
"The quality of material kept in the D-Day Museum Archive is exceptional. After an initial consultation, [Museum staff] prepared for me a comprehensive bundle of papers which I found invaluable. I would urge anyone researching this topic to consult the D-Day Museum’s Archive first." Emma Stoffer, blogger at http://comestepbackintime.wordpress.com/ (quote from her thoroughly researched D-Day article - read here)
Given the nature of the museum, our collections do not include large groupings of official papers such as are found at The National Archives. Most of our archive collections were given to us by individual veterans and their families.
Larger archive collections
We hold material relating to several major aspects of the D-Day story. The Mulberry Harbours are well represented, with papers from the War Office’s Tn5 department concerning early designs for the Harbours. Also held are technical papers from the construction firm McAlpine, concerning the design and construction of the Phoenix caissons (concrete breakwaters for the Harbours).
Also in our archives are the papers Commander Eric Middleton RNVR, who was senior naval experimental officer on the Combined Operations staff, 1942-1944. He played a key role in the development of PLUTO, and his papers comprise his memoirs, wartime documents, as well as post-war letters and memoirs from many other people who were involved in PLUTO.
Commander Rupert Curtis RNVR commanded the landing craft flotilla that carried the commandos of Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Service Brigade to Sword Beach on D-Day. After the war he built up extensive papers – now part of our archives – about 1st Special Service Brigade, the experiences of naval personnel in his flotilla on D-Day, and the characteristics of his landing craft (the LCI, or “Landing Craft, Infantry”).
A recent (December 2013) donation is the archives of the LST and Landing Craft Association, which were mainly compiled by the Association's late archivist, Tony Chapman. We are still cataloguing this collection so that it can be more easily accessed, but please contact us if you would like to view it. The archive includes the memoirs of around 500 veterans as well as many photographs, copies of wartime documents, and so on. Click here to read some thoughts on this collection by our apprentice Joseph Rabbetts, who catalogued a large part of it.
Another particular strength of the Museum is material relating to personal experiences on D-Day. One significant resource is the author’s research papers from three books on D-Day: Warren Tute’s "D-Day" (1973), Russell Miller’s "Nothing Less Than Victory. The Oral History of D-Day" (1993), and "We Remember D-Day" by Frank and Joan Shaw (1994). The Tute and Shaw collections comprise hundreds of letters written to these authors following public appeals, giving the memories of service personnel and civilians who took part in or witnessed Operation Overlord.
The Russell Miller collection includes copies of material from a variety of American archives, such as the US National Archives and the Eisenhower Centre. It also includes copies of transcripts of some 50 interviews conducted by Cornelius Ryan with German veterans for his book The Longest Day (the originals are now in the Cornelius Ryan Collection at Ohio University). These Ryan interviewees include Rommel’s adjutant Helmut Lang, and the German Naval CinC West, Admiral Theodor Krancke.
Film and photographs
The museum holds some interesting photographs that were taken by individual veterans during the Normandy campaign, but has only a handful of original films. The main British official (produced or collected by government and armed forces) film and photograph collections for the Second World War are held by the Imperial War Museum and the UK National Archives. For film footage of Hampshire in the Second World War, we recommend that you also contact Wessex Film and Sound Archive. Similar material for other countries is generally held by the equivalent instiutions in those states. We have copies of some of this material which we may be able to provide access to for reference purposes, but to obtain copies you will need to apply to the institution that holds the original material.
Veterans' memoirs and documents
In addition to these larger collections, the Museum also holds a variety of wartime documents, maps, letters, veterans’ memoirs, photographs and other material concerning D-Day. Coverage of the Battle of Normandy is not so comprehensive, but some material is held. Other archive collections concern the local Home Guard, the 57th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment RA (a local Territorial Army unit that manned anti-aircraft guns defending the Portsmouth area during the Blitz, and served overseas later in the war), and life on the home front in Portsmouth during the Second World War. Portsmouth Records Office (a separate but closely connected organisation) also holds extensive archive material about the city during the Second World War.
Oral history recordings
The D-Day Museum has a significant oral history collection, consisting of around 200 interviews with Normandy veterans, most of which were conducted by Museum staff. There are also around 100 recordings of local people’s memories of wartime Portsmouth. There are written transcripts for many of these interviews, which makes it much easier and faster to go through the interview and check for interesting material.
The Normandy Veterans Association video archive
The Normandy Veterans Association (NVA) and the Veterans' Video Archive Charity The Legasee Education Trust are working with the D-Day Museum in a project that has involved filming and preserving the incredible stories of over one hundred Normandy Veterans. The NVA disbanded on 22 November 2014, but the legacy of the Association and its members will live on through these interviews. The project was initiated by the NVA because most surviving Normandy veterans are now in their 90s and it is vital to capture their memories, in their own words, before they are lost forever. The films will form a national oral history archive of the Normandy landings and will be available online through the Legasee Education Trust website as well as being held by us. The first batch of these interviews were presented to the D-Day Museum in November 2014, and we plan to make them available to the public over the course of 2015. The Heritage Lottery Fund have made a grant to Legasee and the NVA for putting 100 of the interviews online, and producing educational resources for schools that make use of the interviews. The NVA are also completing an additional 60-80 interviews, which will be archived and made available by the D-Day Museum. Please contact us (see details at top of page) if you would like to find out more about viewing these interviews.
Research and how to access the archive collection
Any members of the public are welcome to consult the D-Day Museum archive material described above for research purposes. Generally it can be viewed at the Portsmouth History Centre by prior appointment with D-Day Museum staff. Because the archive collections are stored at a different site, and depending on your enquiry and staff workloads, it will typically take 2-3 weeks to get the archive material ready for you. Please note that due to the Transforming the D-Day Museum project in 2017-2018, there may be periods of time when access to our archive may be more limited than usual, so please give us as much notice of your visit as you can. To make an appointment, please contact Andrew Whitmarsh, D-Day Museum Development Officer (click here to email). See the Portsmouth History Centre web page for information on the History Centre's opening times and other arrangements. Please note that you need to bring proof of your address and identity, such as a driving licence or passport. Documents may be photographed for personal reference only, and there is a £10 per day photography fee if you do this (paid at Portsmouth History Centre).
Our catalogue contains around 20,000 military history items, much of which is archive material, and not all of which relates to D-Day: as we are part of Portsmouth Museums Services, we also collect material connected with Portsmouth and Portsmouth people. The catalogue is not yet in a state where it can be made available to the public in its entirety, but if you contact us well in advance to ask what material we hold on a specific subject we can send you a pdf listing of material that may be relevant. We do have an on-line catalogue of our oral history collections.
Viewing three-dimensional artefacts
Many but not all of our artefacts are on display at the D-Day Museum. If you have a specific interest, please contact us as described above.