In summer 1914 Folkestone was a fashionable and busy seaside resort, but all that changed overnight when in early August Britain declared war on Germany.
The town quickly emptied of visitors - to be replaced by thousands of Belgian refugees, fleeing the shelling of their towns and cities. They arrived exhausted and injured, in all sorts of makeshift craft, and were given a warm welcome, put up in many of the now empty hotels. Explore their stories through a famous oil painting, given to the town as a thank you by refugee artist Fredo Franzoni, and some incredible documents belonging to the Lejeune family who escaped war-ravaged Liege.
Frontline Folkestone played a key role in World War 1 as the main harbour in the UK from where soldiers boarded troopships to France.
A harbour canteen run for the soldiers provided tea, buns and a place to sit and chat. Leaf through pages from the canteen visitors’ books, signed by thousands of service personnel, and which provide a poignant reminder of those who went off to fight.
Folkestone district was also the place where hundreds of thousands of soldiers, including many Canadians, underwent basic army training before marching off to war. They were stationed at Shorncliffe and in many temporary army camps, including at Hythe and Lympne. Find out about the life of Canadian army cook Charles Theobald. Read his battlefield will, written the day his unit went over the top, and discover if he survived.
This topic also explores the incredible story of Folkestone-born Walter Tull - a professional footballer, soldier and war hero, who overcame prejudice to become the first black officer to serve in action in the British Army. Investigate a piece of trench art from the Battle of Piave, where he led his men on a daring raid.
It highlights the important and changing role of women - serving on the Home Front as nurses, railway workers, farm workers, aircraft technicians and in many other crucial jobs.
And we remember raids on the town by Zeppelin airships and Gotha bombers, including eyewitness accounts, newspaper reports and photos of the tragic Tontine Street bombing which killed over 60 people and shocked the nation.
Finally, we celebrate and commemorate some important and long forgotten contributions… of the Chinese Labour Corps, of Gurkha soldiers on the Western Front, and of the Royal Naval Airship Station high on the cliffs at Capel le Ferne with a vital job of protecting the Channel from U-boats.