Battle Of The Somme Centenary: Poppies On The Leas

School children at Poppies on the Leas, Folkestone, 2016
Sandgate Primary schoolchildren get stuck in, poppy planting on the Leas.

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.”

The event was organised by Shepway HEART Forum (a local heritage and arts organisation), Step Short and the Shorncliffe Trust.

Ann Berry & Mark Wallinger, Poppies on the Leas, Folkestone 2016
Step Short’s Chairman Ann Berry and artist Mark Wallinger on the Folk Stones.
Counting the Folk Stones, Poppies on the Leas November 2016
Local children tackle the impossible task of counting the Folk Stones.
Mayoress Sheila & Mayor Martin Salmon, Poppies on the Leas, Folkestone 2016
Folkestone’s Mayoress Sheila and Mayor Martin Salmon.
St Martin's pupils, Poppies on the Leas Folkestone 2016
St Martin’s pupils preparing to plant their poppies.
Local children at Poppies on the Leas, Folkestone 2016
Folkestone’s young people mark the Battle of the Somme Centenary.
Schoolchildren at Poppies on the Leas, Folkestone 2016
Folkestone families get busy planting.
Local schoolchildren at Poppies on the Leas, Folkestone 2016
Children from St Mary’s Primary Academy help Folkestone to remember the end of the Battle of the Somme.

Bugler’s Last Post

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.

Bugler Bryan Walker Step Short Arch Remembrance Day 2016
Bugler Bryan Walker plays the Last Post on Remembrance Sunday, for the last time.

Folkestone Remembers

Child & Poppy Armistice Day Step Short Arch Folkestone 2016

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.

Piper Armistice Day Step Short Arch Folkestone 2016
Piper Ben Millbery playing alongside bugler Kevin Bradley, Royal Marine Cadets and veteran Philip Jones.
Laying of wreaths, Armistice Day Step Short Arch Folkestone 2016
Wreath being laid by WO2 Guy Sargent REME.
Local schools & attendees, Armistice Day Step Short Arch Folkestone 2016
Attendees at the Step Short Armistice Day service 2016, including children from Stella Maris Catholic Primary and Folkestone Primary Academy.

Remembrance In Folkestone, 2016

Step Short Memorial Arch Folkestone
Folkestone’s Memorial Arch. Photo:UpSticksNGo Crew

Folkestone Remembers

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.

Poppies On The Leas, 19 November 2016

Folk Stones by Mark Wallinger, Folkestone, Kent
Folk Stones by Mark Wallinger. Photo: Avidly Abide

Commemorating the end of the Battle of the Somme

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.

Mayors Enjoy A Cuppa At The Mole Cafe

Two of Step Short’s projects featured on a recent local history tour of Folkestone organised by The Mayor, Councillor Martin Salmon.

The guided history ramble was led by local historian and Step Short director Eamonn Rooney on Tuesday 4 October 2016, and raised funds for the Mayor’s three nominated local charities: Folkestone Rainbow Centre, Folkestone Division Guides and For Young People (FYP Charity).

Ramblers walked from the Town Hall on Guildhall Street to various sites of historical interest in the town, including the Memorial Arch on the Leas and the Mole Cafe on the Harbour Arm. Here participants, including visiting mayors from the local area, enjoyed a refreshing cup of tea and slice of cake from our volunteers in WW1 period dress.

The event also included lunch at Blooms in the Creative Quarter. Tickets were available to the public with all proceeds going to the charities.

Folkestone History Ramble, visiting mayors at Mole Cafe, Harbour Arm 2016
Mayors from the local area gather at Step Short’s Mole Cafe on the Harbour Arm, Folkestone.
Martin Salmon mayor at Mole Cafe, Folkestone History Ramble 2016
Folkestone’s Mayor Martin Salmon at the Mole Cafe with Step Short’s Vice Chairman Ann Berry (right) and Debra Jones.
Mole Cafe, Harbour Arm, Folkestone History Ramble 2016
Ramblers enjoying a cuppa at the Mole Cafe, Folkestone Harbour Arm.

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

somme100poster1

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.