Years of planning, hard work and fund-raising came to fruition when the Step Short charity’s impressive commemorative arch on The Leas at Folkestone was craned into position.
It took a team of experts most of the day to finish the painstaking task under the guidance of Lend Lease, the international construction company that has donated its project management skills to the arch installation, and the final result was stunning.
The arch, shining in the midsummer sunshine, has been erected in tribute to the millions of men and women who passed through Folkestone on their way to and from the western front during the 1914-18 conflict.
It remembers nurses and civilians as well as all the soldiers from many nations, many of whom would have heard the order “Step Short” as they prepared to descend the steeply-sloping Road of Remembrance – then known as Slope Road.
Member of Parliament and Step Short chairman Damian Collins was one of the first to pay tribute to the value of the arch in raising awareness of Folkestone’s vital role in the First World War, while vice-chairman Ann Berry and finance director Paul Emden watched much of the construction work during the day.
Also on hand to show his support for the project was Shepway District Council leader David Monk, who backed the council’s decision to commit £200,000 in support of the scheme. He said the arch would be a long-standing reminder of the debt the town and country owed all those who fought.
The arch, just one part of a wide-ranging programme of educational initiatives driven by Step Short, will be dedicated by His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales during a parade on Monday 4 August.
An exhibition supported by Step Short that highlights Folkestone’s important role in the First World War will open to the public in the Sassoon Room of Folkestone Library on Monday, 7 July.
Folkestone in the Great War will include artefacts as well as photographs and has been organised by Step Short in association with Folkestone Camera Club and the Folkestone and District Local History Society.
Library staff are hoping to arrange child-friendly activities in the history resource centre and displays in the local history room at the library during the summer to tie in with the free exhibition, which will remain in place until 21 September and is being staged with generous support from Kent County Council. The displays and activities will complement both the exhibition in the Sassoon Room and the National Army Museum’s major exhibition in the Town Hall.
The NAM exhibition, entitled Your Country Calls – Enlistment to Embarkation, is being staged in partnership with the town council and draws on a host of artefacts, photographs and local stories from the museum’s collection.
The National Army Museum is currently closed for renovation and is staging exhibitions around the country as part of an extensive First World War commemoration programme. Entry to the Folkestone exhibition, which runs from 24 June through to 8 May 2015, is free.
The Sassoon Room exhibition, mainly photographic but with some First World War memorabilia, will cover topics including the Belgian refugees, Folkestone Harbour during the war, recruitment, Shorncliffe Camp, rest camps, the arrival of Canadian troops, the air raid of 25 May 1917 and spies in Folkestone.
Visitors will be able to see an audio-visual display prepared by Folkestone Camera Club showing the town during the First World War, while on some days there will be online access to a database of articles in the local paper of the time about local people who were killed during the war.