Surface Sites - Memorials

Dead Man's Copse

 Created 02-05-2002   Last update 30-09-2013

The Men of the Trees

On top of Portsdown, between Fort Purbrook and Farlington Redoubt, is a copse with an intriguing history. It was planted in the 1930s by 'The Men of the Trees' an international conservation group. As their name implies, they quite liked planting trees, and so as to give their actions more impact they associated their tree planting with some significant purpose. In this case they planted a copse to "enable airmen to better find their way to Portsmouth Aerodrome and to Langstone Harbour which in all probability will become a great air terminus for transatlantic flying boats". There were various other reasons including a tribute to the Lord Mayor (Councillor F J Spickernell), which has traditionally been an excellent way to obtain co-operation from a Local Government.

The initial planting was carried out with great ceremony; many City dignitaries were present along with a sprinkling of Generals. The trees were planted in the shape of a shield, with the apex pointing to Portsmouth Airfield (now a housing and industrial estate), and the site was referred to as a 'beacon'. The arms of the City of Portsmouth (star over a crescent moon) were supposed to be picked out in the centre, but it is un-likely that this ever happened. The rent for the copse was fixed by the landowner - the War Department - at five shillings (25p) a year, in July 1938.


Dead Man's Copse

In the 1950s it seems that the Men of the Trees returned and erected several small memorial plaques in the copse. The exact number is not known, and not all the memorials are necessarily attributable to the conservation group. Three of these plaques remain today. One is a memorial to an RAF flying officer from Widley, James Kelly, who was killed in action over Normandy in 1944 and was chosen to represent World War II Servicemen. The second  was in memory of Hampshire Servicemen who died in Korea. The third is desecrated and illegible, but was dedicated to 2nd Lt. Wilfrid Hanbury Grenville-Grey, 1st Bn. K.R.R.C. killed in action at Festubert, May 15th 1915, aged 19 years. These memorials are low in height, and resemble tomb stones, hence the name 'Dead Man's Copse'. It is sometimes referred to locally as 'Dead Man's Wood' or even 'Dead Man's Forest', but I am assured by a tree surgeon friend that it is a Copse.

Portsmouth City Council acquired the land from the Ministry of Defence in 1969 as part of the development of the surrounding area, which became Crookhorn Golf Course. 


With thanks to Peter Rogers

Here is an extract from an email received:

...When I was younger my friends and I would investigate the chalk pits and caves. One legend amongst my friends was that Dead Man's Wood got its name because the Tombstones or Memorials were that of fighter pilots who crashed there in the war!!! We would regularly go up there at night with torches and scare ourselves stupid!

Lucy Jones - November 2003


Aerial photo site location    Panoramic photo site location

Google Earth Aerial View

Grid Ref SU683065

aerial photo of Dead Man's Copse

 A 1969 aerial photo of Dead Man's Copse looking west. Fort Purbrook is at the top left, Farlington Redoubt at the lower left. The shield shape of the planting shows up well here.

dead man's copse

 Looking north to Dead Man's Copse situated on top of Portsdown, with the houses of Farlington in the foreground.

Plaque found in the woodsClose up of plaque

 Inside the copse are 3 plaques commemorating the combatants of various wars. 

This one relates to combatants of the Korean War.

Kelly Plaque

 Dedicated to Flying Officer James William Kelly RAFVR (169438) who failed to return from a sortie over France in 1944.

Photo: Gary Bramwell

NEW - 19-10-2012

Kelly's Spitfire in Normandy 1944

 Crash site of F/O Kelly's spitfire in occupied Normandy 1944. After the war he was reburied in Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery, Calvados, France.

Source: Kate Tame -  Aircrew Remembrance Society

NEW - 30-09-2013

I’ve just come across your site after looking for information about Dead Man’s Copse. The war memorial to (amongst others) James Kelly is of particular interest to me as my Mother was engaged to him until to his death in France in 1944.

I’m so please to see someone documenting what is a fascinating area of Portsmouth. I spent so many happy hour exploring the old Forts and The Downs as a child; very fond memories that I had pretty much forgotten until now…

My Mother later met and married my Father and their first house was a pre-fab on Portsdown Hill.
The area has changed so much since then……
Keep up the good work!!

Jayne Hopkins - September 2013