Surface Sites

Christ Church Portsdown

 Created 18-04-2004   Last update 20-04-2005

The Victorian Garrison

During the 1860s 5 Forts and 2 Redoubts (Palmerston Forts) were built on Portsdown as part of a French anti-invasion defence and deterrent. John Deverell, the Lord of the Manor at Farlington, was concerned about the lack of spiritual welfare for the troops based in Fort Purbrook and Fort Widley and consequently the Parish of Portsdown was created in 1870. This was achieved by taking land from the existing parishes of Farlington and Widley cum Wymering. The original Widley village was shifted wholesale three-quarters of a mile to the east and it has been suggested that the War Department of the time was responsible for this so as to give a free field of fire from Fort Widley. The original Widley Church then went into decline from which it never recovered.

The Secretary of State for War granted a one acre site for the building of the new church and John Deverell agreed to finance the building which was to be known as Christ Church Portsdown, a parish in its own right. In return for donating the land the Army was given rights to hold services in the church and the churchyard was to be used for military burials as required.

In 1872, although not completed, Christ Church Portsdown was roofed and given a certificate so that it could be used by the soldiers in the forts. Records of baptism in the church began in 1871. On 30th July 1874 Christ Church, Portsdown was consecrated.

The British Second Army

On the morning of 4th June 1944 (the eve of the D-Day Normandy invasion as it was planned for the 5th), Christ Church, Portsdown was the venue for one of the most important services of the 20th Century. The service was the Knights' Vigil, a service organised by the Vicar (the Reverend RBS Gillman) and General Sir Miles Dempsey (Commander of the British Second Army). 

Two miles to the west and one hundred feet underneath Fort Southwick was the Underground Headquarters; the nerve centre for Operation Overlord (D-Day).


The Knights' Vigil

 On 4th June 1944 the Headquarters staff of the Second Army, which was to represent British Arms in the liberation of Europe, met at Christ Church on the eve of battle "to dedicate to Almighty God the task which lay before them". The service was organised by the vicar, the Reverend RBS Gillman, and General Sir Miles Dempsey, Commander of the British Second Army. 

On 6th June 1948 they returned to give thanks to God and to rededicate themselves to His service by helping to heal the wounds of war and to strive to create a world in which war should cease. To mark their consciousness of God's help, without which they could not have prevailed, they presented two windows to the church to commemorate their Vigil and these were unveiled by their Commander, the late General Sir Miles Dempsey, G.B.E., K.C.B., D.S.O., M.C. It was the wish of Sir Miles that the practice of meeting each year at Christ Church for thanksgiving and rededication should continue. Every year, on the Second Sunday of June a special D-Day Service is held. 

In dedicating the windows, the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth, Dr Anderson, prayed that all who worshipped in Christ Church, remembering the Vigil of the Second Army, its task completed and its duty done, should likewise dedicate themselves to the service of God.


With thanks to Paul Norton the Vicar of Christ Church Portsdown for 

allowing me to quote from the Christ Church Portsdown website. 

Grid Ref SU668065

Google Earth Aerial View

Christ Church Map

 Map showing Christ Church (arrowed) and its relationship with the two Forts it was to serve.

Christ Church

 South east view of Christ Church Portsdown. The two D-Day windows are to the left of the tower.

The D-Day windows

 NEW - 20-04-2005

The north (left) and south (right) D-Day windows as seen from inside the church.

Military Cemetary  

 The Military Cemetery at the rear of the Church. These graves and the monument at top centre are from World War One. For a more detailed account visit the Church website.