“Two thousand miles I roam
Just to make this dock my home, now”
It is one of the great joys of Folkestone. To be down at the harbour watching the fishing boats. Bright blue sky and the ferry sailing from Dover to Calais. Talking to the fishermen and trying to tract down the one object that describes Folkestone in WWI. It was going to be World War One Folkestone in a Hundred Objects.
But i thought One hundred Objects from Folkestone in WWI the list would get rather tedious and join the every growing reject pile of WWI garbage that people write. Stick to one. So there I was sitting on the quayside looking for it. It is surprising what one can see. The trails from jet airliners high over head. The harbour mole. the old Harbour Masters house, train station. Life belts, fish shop, a touch of paradise. Everything under the sun except for that one exclusive object. What was it, what one thing could be held up to describe the role Folkestone played in World War One.
Back to talking to the fishermen.”I’m looking for an old Life Preserver”, “Sorry mate they have all gone”.
The one great contribution to the Great War has vanished from Folkestone.
The symbol for Folkestone’s contribution to the Great War is not really the Arch, it is not the Canadian Soldier often seen on posters and flyers around the town and.it is not the Road of Remembrance. What it should be is the Life Preserver.
Worn by the passengers and crew of the Sussex.
Worn by millions of soldiers who crossed from Folkestone.
Just two good reasons for being Folkestone’s great War in One Object. Although every ship that went to sea carried Life Preservers. Nothing to mark out the one’s from Folkestone.
Folkestone’s Life Preservers finest moment was to be on the 29th September 1918. Far from Folkestone or the English Channel. The 46th (North Midland) Division crossed the St Quentin Canal and broke the Hindenburg Line. The Hindenburg Line was Germany’s last line of defence and they regarded it as impregnable. Captain A. H. led a company of the 1/6th North Staffordshire Regiment stormed and captured the Riqueval Bridge while the rest of the battalion crossed the canal. In two and a half hours the north staffs had broken through the Hindenburg Line. To give the soldiers confidence that they would not drown when crossing the canal, life preservers were issued.
Every historian has seen the photograph of soldiers of the 46th (North Midland) Division taken shortly after the assault. The men are on the banks of the canal next to the bridge.
looking at the photograph you can see some, more than a few, still wearing their Life preservers. Everyone of those life preservers came from a Folkestone-Boulogne Ferry.
Folkestone’s war winning contribution seems to only survive on photographs.