Commemorative arch now in place

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.

The arch nears completion

Folkestone Library to house joint photographic exhibition

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.

BBC to feature Folkestone (again)

Folkestone’s importance at the heart of troop embarkations during the First World War will again be emphasised in a BBC ‘docudrama’ being broadcast on Monday 2 June.

Entitled The Spies Who Loved Folkestone, the film will be broadcast on BBC One (South East) at 7.30pm and will then be available to watch on iPlayer for a week.

The 30-minute film features interviews with Step Short Trustee, historian and author Michael George and uncovers a fascinating side of Folkestone during the 1914-18 conflict.

The BBC’s own curtain-raiser for the programme explains: “As Folkestone became a hotbed of espionage, writer Anthony Horowitz discovers the remarkable men, women and children who risked their lives operating as spooks during the First World War.”

Help fill our time capsule and play a part in history!

Stake your claim to a place in history by contributing to our time capsule, which will be buried close to the commemorative arch being unveiled in the presence of HRH Prince Harry on 4 August.

The plan is that the capsule will stay hidden for the next 100 years before being opened in 2114 and what the people who open it find inside is down to you.

Organiser Ann Berry, Step Short’s vice-chairman, has written to 24 local schools inviting them to put forward items for inclusion, but other groups or individuals can also contribute.

Song lyrics, photographs, diary entries, poems, event programmes and stories about life in 2014 would all tell the people of 2114 a great deal about the world we live in today.

Small artefacts such as toys, key rings, jewellery and other items could also be placed in the time capsule, but the items must be wrapped carefully so that they do not deteriorate over the next century. They should also be clean and in good condition.

“We want everyone to get involved in submitting items and material for the time capsule,” said Ann. “Any written material needs to be no bigger than A4 and the other items should be small but interesting.”

The deadline for items to be submitted is Saturday 7 June. They should be sent to Ann at 35, Birkdale Drive, Folkestone CT19 5LP – or telephone 01303 278644 for more information.

The are lots of internet links about how to present and wrap material so that it will still look at its best in 100 years. One of the best places to look is the British Library site at Go to the FAQ section for advice.


Get close to the event as a volunteer marshal!

Organisers of the Step Short First World War commemorative event on Monday 4 August are looking for a few more volunteers to help make sure the day runs smoothly.

With His Royal Highness Prince Harry in town to dedicate the new Step Short arch on The Leas that day, it is vital that there are enough people to help with marshaling along the route.

Shepway District Council is  looking to recruit 200 marshals for the day and evening events taking place on The Leas and in the harbour area – and you could be just right for the job.

Marshals will have the task of ensuring that visitors to the town have a safe and enjoyable viewing experience during this ‘once in a lifetime’ event to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the 1914 – 18 war. You will need to give information to visitors and help with event safety.

To find out more about the role and to apply to become a volunteer marshal for the event, visit or telephone the council’s customer services team on 01303 853498.

The deadline for applications is 9 June 2014. Please note that there will be a briefing on Sunday 13 July.


Harbour canteen books already producing results

Our online harbour canteen visitors’ books are already helping people find long-lost relatives who crossed to the Western Front from Folkestone between 1914 and 1919.

The books, which were signed by 43,000-plus men and women as they went to, or returned from, the battlefields, have been digitised and transcribed by Step Short to create a fantastic resource for historians and family members alike.

Anyone can access the scanned pages, but only members of Step Short can use the index which makes searching for a relative so much easier. Membership costs just £10 and allows for unlimited access for a year. Follow this link to find out how you can search the books.

One subscriber, who signed up as Sheena, got in touch to say she was “chuffed to bits” with how well the site was working for her.

She added:  “Might just have found one of my grandmother’s brothers – which, if it proves correct, will be amazing

“Excellent site – am thoroughly enjoying browsing both it and the books.”

We would love to hear from anyone else who finds a relative through the online database or who thinks we might have transcribed a name wrongly. This is very much ‘work in progress’ and we know that in interpreting 100 year-old handwriting, done in pencil on the way to or from a battlefield, our volunteers will not have interpreted every name properly, so please help us to help you.

National coverage continues

Excitement is continuing to mount as Step Short prepares to unveil the 42,000 names contained in the Harbour Canteen visitors’ books.

After a full page feature in Britain at War – the leading magazine of its kind – stories have now appeared in Discover Your History and Family Tree magazine, both well-respected national publications. Another magazine has been gathering material for a feature at the end of this month as interest in these historic documents continues to grow.

Every page of the eight, red-bound visitors’ books has been scanned and will be available on this website from the end of January following an official launch of the database. In the meantime volunteers have been transcribing the information given – usually name, rank and regiment but sometimes with an extra message – and indexing it.

Anyone who joins Step Short will then be given a password that will allow them to go ‘behind the scenes’ and search for a particular name amongst the 42,000 signatures. Reading the handwriting has not always been easy 100 years later, and the charity is hoping that some people who access the database will be able to throw new light on some of the names.

Keep an eye on the website for the date when you can find out more about the 42,000 men and women who signed the books on the way to or from the Western Front a century ago.

Family Tree mag DYH

National magazine features our visitor books

Britain at War, one of the most respected magazines of its kind, was so impressed with our work on making 42,000 names in the Mole Cafe visitor books available to everyone that it devoted a whole page to the project in its  December issue.


The visitor books are due to go on line as part of this website in the new year and will be available to researchers, family members and historians around the world. You can read more about the project here.

Access to the original scanned images of the eight visitor books will be free of charge, while those who wish to see the transcribed detail or use an index that will allow them to search for a particular name will be asked to pay a nominal charge of just £10 to join Step Short. The charity sees this as a valuable source of funding for its educational projects.

You can click the link below to see the Britain at War feature.






Visitor books to be uploaded in the new year


Our team of volunteers is putting the finishing touches to an online database that will provide an exciting and unique new resources for First World War scholars and family historians alike.

Early in the new year, Step Short will be uploading the names contained in the Mole Cafe visitor books and revealing the details of 42,000 soldiers, nurses and others who passed through the town on their way to the Western Front between 1914 and 1919.

The names are contained in eight visitors’ books that were kept at the Mole Cafe on the harbour, where many of the millions of soldiers who boarded troop ships on their way to the battlefields paused for a last cuppa and a bite to eat.

Amongst those who signed the books were Major General Hugh Trenchard, war artist John Lavery, VC recipient George Saunders and Major Winston Churchill, posted to the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards in November 1915.

Step Short has scanned every page of the historic documents, brought to the charity’s attention by historian Charles Fair a few years ago, and is now finishing the job of transcribing every one of the handwritten names.

The information will provide a unique resource to historians, family researchers and anyone with an interest in those who crossed from Folkestone to the Western Front during and just after the First World War. Publishing the database is one of the main strands of Step Short’s work to commemorate the centenary of the conflict.

The commemorations will include the unveiling of a memorial arch on The Leas in August – another project masterminded by Step Short in memory of those who marched through the town to an uncertain future 100 years ago.

Every race, creed and social class, from King George V to the humblest private soldier, is represented in the Harbour Canteen books. The date, rank, name and corps or unit is included alongside most of the names, while some visitors added their regimental number and a few included comments or short poems.

Major General Trenchard, whose rank at the time – April 5, 1918 – reflects the fact that the organisation he had played a part in founding just four days earlier had its roots in the Army, added the initials CAS – for Chief of the Air Staff.

Another signature in one of the books is that of Roger Keyes, Vice Admiral, Dover Patrol, who was in the canteen on February 16, 1918. He masterminded the famous raid on Zeebrugge on St George’s Day, 23 April 1918 and may have been inspecting the harbour rather than travelling to France.  Official war artist John Lavery was not well enough to visit the Western Front, but the Harbour Canteen books show that he at least visited Folkestone on May 23, 1918.

The scanned pages will be free to access, but there will be an option for visitors to pay a small fee to use an index that will make searching easier and provide a full transcript of the hand-written entries. You can see a sample page by following this link.

Folkestone to take centre stage for 2014 commemorations

Folkestone will take centre stage next August as the country pays its respects to the fallen, 100 years on from the start of the First World War.

News that the unveiling of the town’s commemorative arch on The Leas will form a major part of the country’s commemorations has been welcomed by Step Short, the charity which is leading the project.

With a big national media presence expected at the unveiling ceremony and military parade on 4 August, 2014, the event will raise awareness of Folkestone and the its historic role as the stopping-off point for up to ten million soldiers on their way to the Western Front

The Department for Culture, Media & Sport has declared that the unveiling of the arch will be given national event status alongside religious services at Glasgow, Westminster Abbey, Belfast and Mons.

The imposing stainless steel arch, which includes a timeline of the 1914-18 conflict, has an educational theme and will be unveiled 100 years on from the day the British Empire joined the conflict that was to cost so many lives.

Step Short hopes that the arch will inspire significant interest in Folkestone as the town which, for so many people, marked the start of their war. The arch is likely to encourage some of the many thousands of visitors who currently tour First World War battlefields in northern Europe to spend time in the town as part of their trip.

Meanwhile other educational themes are being pursued by Step Short, which has arranged for the National Army Museum to bring a unique, ten month-long exhibition on Folkestone’s home front to Folkestone Town Hall from July next year through to May 2015.

Step Short, which is continuing to raise funds towards the cost of the project from local people and organisations, will be transforming the Tram Road visitor centre into an education resource.

The initiatives are all part of Step Short’s aim of increasing awareness, particularly amongst young people, of the war and the sacrifice made by the millions of soldiers who passed through the town between 1914 and 1918.

The DCMS information booklet here highlight’s Step Short’s importance in the national programme of 2014 events.

Aide memoire booklet – public