Local Hero – Walter Tull

Walter Tull has been making the headlines a century after his death on 25 March 1918, amid calls to posthumously award him the Military Cross he was believed to have been recommended for during the First World War, but never received.

On Sunday 25 March 2018, a centenary commemoration service for Walter took place at the Step Short Memorial Arch in Folkestone, close to the plaque that bears his name. Military historian Liam Tarry (right of photo) spoke about Walter’s life and his inspirational military career which ended in battle at Favreuil. Piper Ben Milbery (left of photo) then played the Lament Flowers of the Forest.

Second Lieutenant Walter Tull’s story resonates today for many reasons, most notably for the racism he fought and rose above to become the British Army’s first British-born mixed race officer to lead troops into battle. Walter’s experiences also help to raise awareness of the diversity of those involved in WW1, extending far beyond the traditional representation of the British ‘Tommy’ or upper-class officer. The Indian Army, the Chinese Labour Corps, other black soldiers such as Private William Nurse, and thousands of women all played a significant part in the war, along with Commonwealth troops.

Walter was born in Folkestone in 1888 to Daniel and Alice Tull, a Barbadian carpenter and his wife who came from a local farming family. He seemed to enjoy happy working class family life until the deaths of both his mother and father in quick succession. At the age of nine, Walter and his brother Edward (the youngest boys of five siblings) were sent to a children’s home in Bethnal Green, East London. Despite this very tough end to his childhood and the prejudice rife at this time, he went on to become one of the country’s first black professional footballers before enlisting with the 17th (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment in December 1914.

Awareness of Walter’s story and support for his posthumous award has been growing in recent years. Campaigner and biographer Phil Vasili recently spoke at Folkestone Museum about the launch of the latest edition of his book Walter Tull 1888 to 1918, Footballer and Officer. The museum is planning an exhibition about Walter to open in autumn 2018.

For more information about Walter Tull and his legacy, go to the Walter Tull Archive, Lives of the First World War and Phil Vasili’s website.

One Woman’s War

Dorothy Earnshaw Manor House Hospital FolkestoneDorothy Earnshaw was a VAD nurse (Voluntary Aid Detachment, the Red Cross) based at the Manor House Hospital in Folkestone during the First World War. Like many others during this unique and life-changing time, she kept a friendship album.

According to Red Cross records, Dorothy came from Wimbledon, Surrey to serve full-time in Folkestone for two periods between June 1916 and September 1918. Interestingly though her friendship album begins in Folkestone in November 1915, when she was 22 years old.

A small hardback notebook, it is stuffed with signatures, sketches, photographs, poems, letters, newspaper cuttings and heartfelt messages from servicemen from Canada, the United States and Australia as well as Britain. She was clearly popular with her patients and some messages hint at stronger feelings. Extremely personal, it is also a fascinating and poignant glimpse into a time that was to have such an influence on 20th century life.

Take a look at Dorothy’s album here, with the kind permission of Kent County Council.

The Manor House auxiliary hospital opened in October 1914, led by local philanthropist Commandant Florence Daly. The impressive building on the corner of Earls Avenue and the Leas Promenade was originally built for Folkestone’s fifth Earl of Radnor in 1895 but later sold, and loaned for the war effort by new owners.

Auxiliary hospitals were generally smaller, less formal and more homely than military hospitals, making them a very welcome retreat from the Front for wounded and convalescing soldiers. In such close proximity to the battlefields, Folkestone is thought to have had up to 47 hospitals by the end of WW1.

Dorothy’s album is now held by Folkestone Library. The Manor House still stands today, a Grade II listed building containing eight apartments overlooking the Channel towards France.

Learn more about VADs and the various roles women took on during WW1 on the Red Cross website.

Folkestone’s Forgotten Tragedy

Roy Eastland Tontine St Air Raid
Image: Roy Eastland

The Tontine Street Air Raid, 25 May 1917

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.

Tontine Street

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.

Roy Eastland Tontine St Air Raid Annie Beer
Image: Roy Eastland

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.

Roy Eastland Tontine St Air Raid Gwennie Terry
Image: Roy Eastland

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.

Please email [email protected] or [email protected] if you would like to get involved.

It’ll Be Over By Christmas…

Despite the commonly-held belief that the First World War would be over by Christmas 1914, four festive seasons passed during the long and brutal conflict.


Vintage Christmas card image on homepage courtesy of Snapshots of the Past.

Image: Belgian Tourist Office
The Daily Mirror reports the infamous and poignant Christmas Truce of 1914.
Christmas postcard sent on Christmas Eve, WW1
A postcard sent on Christmas Eve 1915 by Kenneth Carter of the Canadian Field Artillery training at Shorncliffe, Folkestone, to his brother. Image: Step Short
Cameron Highlanders Christmas postcard, Metropostcard.com
A Christmas card made for Scottish regiment the Cameron Highlanders in 1917. Image: Metropostcard.com
German WW1 Christmas Card, Metropostcard.com
The German forces produced a huge number of military Christmas cards throughout the war. Image: Metropostcard.com
VAD Nurse Drawings WW1, British Red Cross
Festive sketches by WW1 Red Cross nurse Edith Maud Drummond Hay. Image: British Red Cross
WW1 Unit Christmas Card, Metropostcard.com
A melancholy Christmas message from the 7th Division in 1916. Image: Metropostcard.com
German WW1 Christmas Card, Metropostcard.com
Another striking German army Christmas card from the Great War. Image: Metropostcard.com
Mole Cafe signatures Christmas Day 1916
Signatures of those who passed through the Mole Cafe (Harbour Canteen) in Folkestone on 25 December 1916. Image: Step Short

The Directors of Step Short wish all our members and supporters a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Stained Glass Window Tells A WW1 Story

A tweet we received last weekend highlights the importance of the Canadian Army in the First World War, particularly their presence in Folkestone.

Folkestone resident Graham Adams visited the National Railway Museum in York at the end of September 2016 and happened to notice a stained glass window bearing the Kent Invicta insignia.

On closer inspection he discovered that this was in fact one of eight memorial windows presented by the Royal Canadian Army to the South Eastern and Chatham Railway (SECR) in 1919. The donation had been made in recognition of the role played by Shorncliffe railway station during the Great War. The windows also feature the SECR coat of arms and Kentish hops.

Originally the windows were installed in the Refreshment Room at Shorncliffe Station, now Folkestone West Station. Today they are part of the National Railway Museum’s collection in Yorkshire.

During the First World War, more than 100,000 railway royal engineers served the front by keeping supplies and troops moving by train. The SECR railway played a key role in the war, with 556 of the company’s men lost whilst serving during the conflict.

The National Railway Museum exhibition Ambulance Trains opened in July 2016, and shares the largely forgotten stories of the trains carrying millions of injured soldiers from the battlefields to safety between 1914 and 1918.

Tens of thousands of Canadian soldiers based in Folkestone during WW1 had a huge impact on the seaside town. As well as training hard to do their job on the frontline, they were an exciting addition to the community. More than 1,000 local girls married Canadian soldiers and later returned with them to Canada!

Every year the community continues to honour the Canadian troops on 1st July (Canada Day) at a special service at Shorncliffe Military Cemetery, which holds the bodies of 305 Canadian soldiers who died during the Great War.

Read more about Folkestone and the Canadians during WW1 in this article by military historian Michael George, published in the Western Front Association Bulletin.

Somme 100


The Battle of the Somme raged for five bloody months, from 1 July to 18 November 1916. A joint operation between France and Britain, the unprecedented action was designed to finally end 18 months of deadlock in the trenches and to force the Germans back from the Western Front.

Somme Strategy

British military strategy was largely the work of Sir Douglas Haig and Sir Henry Rawlinson, commanders with no previous experience of planning such a huge offensive.

Enthused by Lord Kitchener’s recruitment campaign, newly recruited battalions of ‘Pals’ made up Britain’s volunteer army. They were trained and ready for action by the summer of 1916. British forces also included servicemen from Ireland, Newfoundland, Canada, West Indies, South Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The First Day

On the first day of the battle, 57,470 British soldiers were injured and of them 19,240 died. This video from the Imperial War Museum shows a Battle of the Somme War Office film following British forces on the first day. Many now believe that a combination of misplaced optimism, flawed tactics and inadequate/defective weaponry characterised what was a battle of attrition, and a massacre.

Legacy of the Somme

By its close, this brutal and unforgettable battle had claimed 420,000 British, almost 200,000 French and 500,000 German lives. There were 1,300,000 casualties in total. The Allies had gained just six miles of territory and the First World War was to continue for another two long years.

There has been much debate about the strategy and legacy of the Battle of the Somme, but despite its devastating consequences it is considered by many to have been a significant step towards the Allies’ victory in 1918.

To all of those who lost their lives in the Battle of the Somme, 1st July to 18th November 2016.

A poem written by Mr A Wilson, brother-in-law of Ray Whitewood who shared it with Step Short. Mr Whitewood is a veteran of the Fusiliers. His grandfather, James Albert Moore, died in the Great War.

Thousands of soldiers in meadow green
The biggest army the world has seen
I hope you died bravely I hope you died clean
All of you slaughtered in 1916

They killed their first foe with a bullet so true
They didn’t care and neither did you
The boy thought it was rain he felt on his face
But it was tears that were falling
For the whole human race

I hope you died bravely I hope you died clean
All of you slaughtered in 1916
The trains they are coming they all look the same
But for all of you waiting you all wait in vain

The biggest mass slaughter in 1916
Why did it happen nobody knows
The pain is intense it goes on and grows
It’s no good waiting for them to return
They won’t be back I just hope we learn

I hope you died bravely I hope you died clean
All of you slaughtered in 1916

Find out more about the Battle of the Somme and Centenary events on the British Legion website.

Feeding the Front Line

One of the most remarkable facts about Folkestone during the Great War is the number of men and women who set out for the Western Front from the town’s harbour. The figure is in the millions! Perhaps even more astonishing is the fact that not a single person was lost to enemy action while crossing the Channel to France. Add in the freight, horses, food, clothing, armaments, then the scale of the operation begins to become apparent.

As a snapshot, and by no means complete, here is a table of some of the troops who made the crossing in July 1915:

Date July 1915
4 July 12th Btn Highland Light Infantry 814 men plus officers
10 July 10th Btn Worcester Regiment Part of the 19th Division
10 July 7th Btn KOSB
10 July  11th (Service) Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
? July 7th Btn The Buffs(East Kent) Regiment
15 July 12th (Service) Btn Manchester Rgt 30 officers 975 ORs
15 July 10th (Service)Bn Lancashire Fusiliers
15 July 10th (S) Sherwood Foresters
18 July 5th Btn Canadian Infantry(Saskatchewan)
19 July 10th Worcesters
25 July 8th(Service)Btn Norfolk Regiment 997 men and 34 officers
25 July 10th (Service) Btn Essex Regiment
26 July 7th Btn Bedfordshire Regiment 820 men and 31 officers
27 July 8th Btn East Surrey Regiment Part 55th Infantry Brigade
27 July 7th(Service) Btn The Queens Regiment 55th Infantry Bgde
29 July 7th Btn Leicester Regiment Part of the 110th Brigade
31 July 8th(Service)Btn East Lancashire Regiment

The logistical organisation behind this achievement is often overlooked.  It required close co-operation between the railways, the billeting officers in and around Folkestone, the Harbour Master, the troopships and the warships Dover Patrol. The image below is a schedule of sailing times for the the transport and Royal Navy ships from Folkestone-Boulogne and Dover-Calais in June 1917. Click on the image to open in new window.

The Channel was patrolled by airships and warships to protect the troops crossing to France from Folkestone

The Christmas Truce; born in Folkestone?

The diaries of Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch, a  German WW1 soldier , were discovered by his son while clearing out the family loft. Rudolf was astonished to find  that his father had helped initiate the infamous ceasefire of 1914 . “My father had studied in France. He also visited England. He went on a day trip to Folkestone in 1913,”  Read the full story reported in The Guardian here

The account of the truce, drawing upon the diary and letters, is told in Der Kleine Frieden im Grossen Krieg, or The Small Peace in the Big War, by Michael Jürgs. It is a rare glimpse of the incident from a German perspective. This was followed by a film, Merry Christmas, released in 2005

The Chinese Labour Corps

Men of the Chinese Labour Corps