On Saturday 24 June, Step Short joined a host of community groups on the Leas in Folkestone for this year’s Armed Forces Day.
The event is held annually across the UK on the last Saturday of June to honour the work of the country’s servicemen and women, including those currently serving, veterans and cadets.
This year’s local event ran between 11.00am and 4.30pm and featured displays and stands from organisations such as the Royal Gurkha Regiment, Ministry Of Defence, Battle of Britain Experience, Royal British Legion, and the Army, Air and Sea Cadets.
The day also included a formal parade, military show, aircraft display, local schools and a programme of entertainment at the bandstand. Folkestone Town Council bought a new set of drums for the Folkestone and Sandgate Sea Cadets which they played on the day.
On Thursday 25 May 2017, more than 200 local people gathered at the Methodist Church and Garden of Remembrance in Folkestone to remember those lost in the tragic air raid on Folkestone exactly 100 years earlier.
Here, Margaret Care, one of the event’s organisers and great granddaughter of Frederick Stokes, a greengrocer who died as a result of the bombing, has written for Step Short about the day and what it meant to her.
We had the dream – but all those who gathered on 25May 2017 made it come true. At 6:22pm, on that day, in Folkestone’s Garden of Remembrance we unveiled a plaque to remember the 81 civilians who died as a result of the Great Folkestone Air Raid.
This all started three years ago when Martin [Easdown] and I met in Keppels Bar at the Grand Hotel in Folkestone to discuss the possibility of marking this 1917 event, 100 years on. Ideas were discussed; a plaque; a booklet; and a church service. There followed three years of planning, travelling, research, correspondence and meetings which culminated in the very successful day enjoyed by all who attended.
With thanks to the assistance of many, the event started at 2pm at the Methodist Church, Folkestone, with displays from local historian Alan Taylor, artist Roy Eastland, and Kent County Libraries; Martin Easdown’s latest book Poignant Journey made its first appearance.
Refreshments were available and a very emotive service was led by Rev. Sam Funnell. Some 106 descendants and relatives were joined by the Deputy Lieutenant of Kent, Ros McCarthy; Damian Collins MP for Folkestone and Hythe; the Mayors of Folkestone, Hawkinge, Hythe and Ashford; the BBC Radio 4 Home Front Team; two representatives of the Folkestone Fire Service and approximately 90 people from local history societies and those interested in Folkestone’s history.
At the beginning of the Service, Damian Collins made reference to the tragedy that had taken place in Manchester at the beginning of the week, when again several children had died in a bomb attack.
After the service it was over to the Garden of Remembrance where the plaque was unveiled jointly by Vic Thorogood of the Folkestone Fire Station as a recognition for the work carried out by that organisation (as indeed they continue to do in London as I write this) and Ted Cotterill, the great grandson of Isabella Wilson, who was the oldest person to die in the Raid.
It was without a doubt a very poignant occasion, made even more so by the weather which replicated exactly that of 100 years before: A beautiful sunny summer’s evening with a bright clear cloudless sky.
This year, Step Short’s annual march along the Leas in Folkestone (Sunday 6 August) will honour those lost in the Battle of Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres.
The notoriously muddy, bloody battle in the West Flanders region of northern Belgium began on 31 July 1917 and continued until 6 November the same year. One of the defining campaigns of the First World War, it is estimated that at least half a million Allied and German soldiers were wounded or died in the hellish battle of attrition – which finally resulted in Allied gains of just five miles.
During the offensive the flat landscape, churned up by months of shelling and flooded by the heaviest rain in 30 years, became a deathly quagmire. Along with well-established German defences and Douglas Haig’s misplaced confidence, this led to a futile struggle in which hundreds of thousands of soldiers, horses, mules, tanks and weapons were lost to the mud.
The huge massacre occurred just a year after the horrors of the five-month long Battle of the Somme in northern France in which more than a million men were killed.
On 6 August, Step Short, Dymchurch British Legion and other local groups will meet outside the Leas Cliff Hall at 10.30am before marching along the Leas to the Memorial Arch for a remembrance service at 11.00am. All are welcome.