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.
Folkestone children took part in a poignant commemoration of the last day of the Battle of the Somme last Saturday.
To mark 100 years since the end of the British army’s bloodiest battle, families and schools from the area came together on the Leas on the morning of Saturday 19 November 2016 to plant hundreds of steel poppies around the artwork Folk Stones.
Created by artist Mark Wallinger for the 2008 Folkestone Triennial, Folk Stones features 19,240 numbered pebbles representing the British servicemen lost on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Wallinger himself attended Saturday’s event along with the Mayor and Mayoress of Folkestone, Martin and Sheila Salmon, Folkestone and Hythe MP and Step Short’s Chairman Damian Collins, and organisers Roger Joyce of Shepway HEART Forum and Ann Berry of Step Short.
The local community turned out in their hundreds, including pupils from St Martin’s, St Eanswythe’s, St Mary’s and Sandgate primary schools.
According to Centenary News, Martin Salmon said: “Today’s proceedings are a fitting way that this town can remember the sacrifices made to enable us to live in freedom and peace 100 years later.
“At their peak, the three camps in the town were seeing in excess of 10,000 men passing through every day. The rest camps were a blessing for the men, for many of whom it was their final day on English soil.”
Roger Joyce, Chairman of Shepway HEART, read a poem written by Eric Berridge, an officer from Folkestone who died during the Battle of the Somme.
Damian Collins said: “What has been wonderful throughout this series of important and poignant centenaries is that people have demonstrated their interest, and their understanding, and their desire for remembrance and commemoration of these terrible events and the sacrifices that men made.”
On the evening of Remembrance Day, Sunday 13 November 2016, Bugler Bryan Walker played under the Step Short Memorial Arch for the last time before retiring.
Bryan has played the Last Post every Sunday at 7pm for Step Short, from the first Sunday in August until Remembrance Sunday, for the last few years. This event is timed to coincide with the Last Post played daily at the Menin Gate, Ypres in Belgium – a memorial to British and Commonwealth WW1 soldiers who were lost in battle on the Ypres Salient and whose graves are unknown.
Step Short would like to thank Bryan for his great commitment, and send him the very best wishes for retirement. We look forward to continuing this moving service next year with a newly appointed bugler.
Step Short’s annual Armistice Day service took place under the Memorial Arch on the Leas at 11.00am on Friday 11 November 2016.
The event was well-attended by the local community, including schools Stella Maris Catholic Primary and Folkestone Primary Academy.
Bugler Kevin Bradley played the Last Post and Reveille; and Piper Ben Millbery played the Lament Flowers of the Forest. Wreaths were laid and poppies attached to the railings close to the top of the Road of Remembrance.
Don’t forget that there are a number of events taking place in Folkestone this November to remember the servicemen and women lost during past and more recent conflicts.
Armistice Day on 11 November 2016 will be marked at Cheriton Rd Cemetery, Folkestone. The Machine Gun Corps Ceremony consists of a short service and two minute silence held at 11am.
Step Short will also hold a service at the Memorial Arch on the Leas between 10.30 and 11.30am.
A live webcast of the Royal British Legion’s ‘Silence in the Square’ event on Armistice Day from Trafalgar Square, London will also be available on the British Legion website.
The annual Remembrance Day Parade in Folkestone takes place on Sunday 13 November at the War Memorial on the Road of Remembrance from 10.45am to 11.30am.
On Saturday 19 November at 11am, Poppies on the Leas will mark 100 years since the end of the bloody Battle of the Somme. Local schoolchildren will plant 1,000 symbolic metal poppies close to the Folk Stones artwork on the Leas. Mark Wallinger’s piece features 19,240 numbered pebbles representing the British men who died during the first day of the battle.
After five bloody months, the devastating Battle of the Somme finally came to an end on 19 November 1916. To mark the 100th anniversary of the event, a special ceremony will take place on the Leas in Folkestone at 11am on Saturday 19th November.
A symbolic planting of 1,000 metal poppies by local schoolchildren is planned close to the ‘Folk Stones’ artwork by Mark Wallinger. This piece represents the 19,240 British men who were lost during the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
The planting will be followed by a short ceremony to be attended by Folkestone Mayor Martin Salmon, the artist Mark Wallinger and town councillors. The event is open to the public.