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.
A group of Canadian and French visitors will settle down to tea and cake at the Mole Cafe, Folkestone Harbour Arm on Wednesday 29 March 2017 as part of a 20-day First World War centenary trek marking the anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
Marching across Canada, England and France in the footsteps of Canadian Private John Arsenault, the event has been organised to honour all Canadian veterans of the Great War, and the enduring relationship between Canada and France.
The tour began on 19 March in Chéticamp, Arsenault’s hometown on the island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, and will end in Givenchy-en-Gohelle, Pas-de-Calais (site of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial) on 8 April.
On arrival in Folkestone on Tuesday 28 March 2017, the group will attend a reception at the Town Hall (1.30pm). They will take a walking tour of Folkestone the following day to include the Memorial Arch on the Leas and the Harbour Arm.
The Mole Cafe is being opened especially for the occasion at 10.30am, ahead of its official opening for the summer season on Saturday 1 April.
John Arsenault was a coal miner who enlisted in the 85th Canadian Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) on 5 October 1915. He passed through Folkestone on 10 February 1917 on his way to Boulogne and on to Artois. Arsenault fought in the landmark Battle of Vimy Ridge (an opener to the British-led Battle of Arras) in April 1917 in which all four Canadian divisions fought together for the first time.
The Canadians successfully achieved their objective of taking the German-held ridge, though John Arsenault died on 9 April 1917 during consolidation work after the battle.
Our trusty volunteers are busy preparing for the 2017 opening of the Mole Cafe and Visitor Centre at Folkestone Harbour.
Folkestone Harbour Arm reopens on Friday 31 March, with the Mole Cafe welcoming its first visitors of the season on Saturday 1 April.
Located on the old railway pier, the First World War cafe (or Harbour Canteen as it was also known) will serve up tea, coffee and cake between 10am and 4.30pm every weekend and bank holiday until the end of October.
Step Short volunteers in period dress recreate the canteen, which was the last stop for British servicemen and nurses before they sailed across the Channel to the Western Front during WW1.
More than 40,000 men and women enjoyed free refreshments and signed their names in visitors’ books provided by the Folkestone women who established the cafe. Today visitors can still sign a guest book.
Our Visitor Centre at the bottom of Tontine Street reopens on Wednesday 12 April at 9am. Here visitors can read about life in Folkestone during WW1; view wartime artefacts and memorabilia; and become supporters of Step Short for just £10 a year. Check with our volunteers for specific opening times throughout the season.
Tontine Street in Folkestone has had its ups and downs over the years. Many local people will be unaware of its lofty origins as an upmarket Victorian shopping thoroughfare, and more familiar with its gradual decline to deprived urban street. Today it’s on the up again and a key location at the heart of the Creative Quarter.
A century ago, while the Great War raged on, Tontine Street was a bustling hive of enterprise, lined with colourful shopfronts, street vendors and shoppers. And on Friday 25 May 1917 it became the site of the First World War’s largest single incident of civilian casualties outside of London.
This devastating event has been largely forgotten since then except by a handful of local historians, artists and the families of those involved. As we approach the 100 year anniversary of the Tontine Street Air Raid, it is time to remember.
A New Kind of War
WW1 was a new kind of war in many ways, not least because of the long-range German Gotha planes and the threat they brought to normal people, miles from the frontline. At the end of May 1917, Tontine Street was packed with local people shopping for the long Bank Holiday weekend. It was payday and there were rumours of a prized potato delivery at Stokes Brothers greengrocery. Late into the day, mums, children and workers thronged the street in the warm spring sunshine.
Just like today, the locals were accustomed to the sounds of the army training so paid no attention to bombs heard in the distance. At 6.22pm, without any warning, a single bomb fell outside Stokes Brothers, opposite Gosnold Brothers Drapery.
Horror at Home
The injuries, deaths and aftermath were horrific. Ten men, 28 women and 25 children were killed and more than 100 injured on Tontine Street that evening. Greengrocer William Stokes and his youngest son Arthur were among the dead. Frederick Stokes died from his injuries a year later.
Gotha planes returning from an aborted daylight bomb raid on London (the first ever) had decided to shed their load on the Folkestone area. At Shorncliffe, 18 servicemen were killed and there was substantial damage to Central Station; but it was Tontine Street that took the brunt.
The change in German plans had not been detected by the air raid warning system and with no anti-aircraft guns to protect the town, the people hadn’t stood a chance. The English Channel could no longer keep the war at bay, and the community was in complete shock. Many suffered long-lasting emotional, mental and physical problems after the bombing.
To allay public fears following the tragedy, the Mayor set up the Air Raid Relief Fund which helped to install anti-aircraft guns, sirens and shelters in the town.
A Poignant Tribute
Margate artist Roy Eastland has been intensely moved by the Tontine Street bombing and for a number of years has worked on a piece called “They looked like silver birds. The sun was shining on them…“ – the title based on quotes from eyewitnesses at the time. This series of detailed images (small silverpoint portraits with handwritten text) tells the stories of the people who were there, and includes poignant personal detail. Roy continues to work on these drawings.
100 Year Memorial Service
To raise awareness of this tragic moment in Folkestone’s history and to remember those who were lost, Frederick Stoke’s great granddaughter, Margaret Care, and local historian Martin Easdown, author of A Glint in the Sky, are organising a memorial event.
The centenary of the Tontine Street bomb will be marked at 5pm on Thursday 25 May 2017 at the Methodist Church, Sandgate Road, Folkestone with a memorial service. It will be followed by the unveiling at 6.22pm in Christchurch Memorial Gardens of a plaque listing the names of the 81 killed on Tontine Street and the surrounding area.
Refreshments will be available in the Methodist Church from 2pm on the day, where information about the raid will be on display. Margaret and Martin welcome any stories and details that relatives of the families affected would like to share.