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Folkestone Harbour Railway Ltd

The Military

World War I

J. C. Carlile D.D. in his book "Folkestone During the War" (republished by HardPress - ‪SBN  9781290654715‪ ‬) introduces it with the words "No town in England has a record of war work comparable with that of Folkestone.   The coast-line from Dover to Hythe forms a strategic point of vital importance.   It was not only the nearest to the fighting line, but the key-position to England. Looking back, it is wonderful to observe how little it suffered and how nobly it bore the strain of continual anxiety. Folkestone Harbour soon became one of the vital strategic positions during the war."


The Harbour Station’s finest hour was arguably in the Great War when millions of men passed through. It can be argued that the Western Front really began at the English side of the Channel given that the Dover Patrol fought a constant battle to keep the sea lanes clear. It was the last building of "Blighty" that many men and nurses would have seen when they left for the Western Front, and the first they would have seen when coming home on leave. Boulogne-Folkestone was the usual route of the leave boat for most of the war.


Many wounded were loaded onto hospital trains here, and this commenced shortly after the Battle of Mons. On the 27 August 1914 the afternoon boat from Boulogne to Folkestone brought over the first of the British wounded to return to this country.  There were about 30 men, nearly all of different regiments and most of them only comparatively slightly wounded in the legs, but not too seriously to prevent them from limping along without assistance.  A few had to be carried to motor ambulances waiting to take them to Shorncliffe Camp.


The Station was also very important in the evacuation of Belgian soldiers.  The first contingent of wounded Belgian soldiers arrived at Folkestone on Saturday 10th October 1914 and were conveyed in sixteen motor cars to the Voluntary Aid Hospital, Ramsgate.  On Thursday 15th October 120 arrived on the ‘Invicta’ and were taken to Shorncliffe in three of the red motor buses and several ambulance cars, being conveyed thence to the Bevan Home Sandgate.  In the evening 1,000 arrived unexpectedly and the task of distributing them all was no light one.  They were dispatched by train to Ramsgate, Margate, Canterbury, Bromley and Bickley.  One hundred and seventy were sent to the Royal Victoria Hospital and as the ordinary patients could not be disturbed some beds had to be made up in corridors for some of the wounded.


People passing through the Harbour Station included men and women came from all over the British Empire (particularly Canada) and represented every race, creed and social class from King George V and Sir Douglas Haig to the humblest private soldier. Evidence of this is borne out in the visitors’ books for the tea room/canteen which have recently come to light in the local archives. We have identified the precise location of this tea room/canteen on the Outer Pier and believe that this structure is of international importance.


In November 1914 the eminent Victorian soldier Field Marshal Lord Roberts visited the front to see the recently arrived Indian troops. He sadly died at St. Omer and ‘his remains were brought to Folkestone where they were placed for one night in a room, on the Harbour, converted into a Chapelle Ardente. Troops mounted guard throughout the night and acted as an escort on the journey to London.’












The volume of troops, medical staff and freight that passed through the harbour was huge: -


          
























 

 World War II

The Station also played its part in the Second World War, with some of the BEF of 1940 passing through the port from Dunkirk and Boulogne. In 1940-44 Folkestone Harbour was on the front line: there are some superb photos in the local archives of the damage inflicted on the Station by the cross-channel guns at Cap Griz Nez.


Again Folkestone was on the front line but times had changed and the mechanisms of war had also moved on.   By the time war was declared in September 1939 Folkestone had its ARP system in place and everyone had been fitted with gas-masks. There had been black-out tests in the July and people had received leaflets of instructions.


A minefield, known as the Dover Barrage, of 9,897 mines was established over time.   During the very cold winter of 1939-40 several of these broke loose and were washed up onto beaches.   Drifting mines were constant problems for shipping, often braking loose during heavy seas.   This also made fishing a very dangerous task for the fleet berthed in the inner harbour, the FE61 “Young Harry” being lost on 4th January 1940 when they either hit or trawled a mine.






Ironically Folkestone was initially considered a place of safety and refugees arrived from the continent via the harbour and children from London. The town with its harbour was eventually declared a “Garrison Town” and everyone carried identity cards.   The foreshore and harbour became restricted areas for use by the military.


As with World War I the harbour became a transport interchange for troops, particularly during the evacuation of Dunkerque in May 1940.   Every Folkestone boat that was capable went to bring troops back to waiting trains at the harbour station.   Thousands were landed and train after train climbed the bank out of the harbour station carrying exhausted troops to inland camps.   Many soldiers threw letters out of the windows asking for them to be posted to their families.


Folkestone was not only bombed but because of its position within sight of France gunfire across the Channel commenced in late 1942 and many of the towns buildings were destroyed..


One occurrence of fete occurred when a number of commandos crossed from the harbour to France and attacked Germans on the very day that the German-French armistice was signed.   Returning they were almost prevented from landing because they carried no identification. One boat load was delayed at Folkestone Harbour for several hours.

 

Will the harbour return to its great importance during times of conflict?  Will the branch railway once again move huge numbers of troops to and refugees away from danger?   Probably not but its new value for connection with ferries for France may be recognised as being one of new value and those ferries will, one hopes, bring new trade to the town in which so much national heritage was created and can be found.

Passengers

   Freight (tons)

9,253,652 British officers & men

192,468 SE&CR traffic

537,523 Allied officers & men

91,000 Government stores

846,919 Red Cross and other workers

11,641 Red Cross stores

3,592 German Prisoners of War

383,098 Mails & Parcel Post  

10,641,686 Total Passengers

63,985 Expeditionary Force Canteens

plus

402,968 Tones of coal (shipping fuel)  

3,416 Motor cars (for ships’ holds)

1,145,160 Total Tons of Freight  



Ships turned around (aproximate)

Trains turned around (approximate)

10,500  Military Services

7,000  Military Services

8,000  SE&CR Services

8,500  SE&CR Services