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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

A day of roses, cockleshells and the sea

I visited a rose garden the other week. Late October isn't the ideal time of year to do this of course. The sheer headiness and intoxication you get from inhaling the scents of  scores of rose bushes was sadly lacking.

There again, I hadn't planned this visit to the Southsea  Rose Garden. My daughter, husband and I were walking our three dogs along the beachfront on a sunny Monday morning....

that was when my daughter said the magic words "rose garden", and there was a sudden detour to the rose garden.


Actually, it's the ideal time of the year to see the bones of a garden.

I liked the simple design, the weathered brick , the trellises,  the clean lines of the paths and the fact that there were lots of benches to sit down in different parts of the garden.

Of course at the end of October, you expect patches of brown earth, and true, many of the roses were had lost their blossom, but there was still enough colour to gladden my heart.

I do like this ruby wedding rose even if it only has a faint fragrance 

This beauty, which I don't know the name of, was a vision of pastel prettiness...and its scent was just as subtle.

It's not a huge rose garden, but it's a perfect place to sit and ponder, away from the harsh winds of the sea front and the noise of the cars, to just relax.

But there's so much more to the site of this rose garden. It was previously an eighteenth century fortification called Lumps Fort. After a chequered history, in World War II, this area was used as a training base for the Royal Marine Boom Patrol Detachment.

 Have you ever heard of the Cockleshell Heroes? It's the title of a film made in 1955, which honoured the incredible bravery and fortitude of the men who trained here before launching a raid by canoe, on the harbour in Bordeaux a mere thirteen years earlier. They were an elite squad housed in two nissen huts , and trained for their mission in the Solent a few yards away.

The raid was called Operation Frankton, and back in those days Bordeaux was a key port for the Germans. The mission for the men was to attack all the cargo ships  which kept the German army supplied after paddling into the harbour by canoe.

Five canoes and ten men managed to not only sink one ship and badly damage four others with limpet mines, but they succeeded in curtailing the use of the harbour for months. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be taken to France by submarine, then sailing into a heavily guarded German occupied port in the depths of December?

Such a daring plan, but it was one which cost eight of the men their lives. Six were executed by the Germans and two died from hypothermia. Major Hasler and Bill Sparkes were the only two to survive.


It's said that Winston Churchill believed that their mission shortened the duration of World War II by six months. What a feat of courage, and how wonderful that this site wasn't built on in the post war frenzy of building.

I love the fact that this small rose garden, just a minute away from the rush of modern life, has been created as a place of tranquillity, of quiet beauty, where we can remember those heroes of World War  II.