With a diary full of events to mark the centenary of World War One, Folkestone has launched an exhibition with the National Army Museum to mark the start of the town’s commemorations.
‘Your Country Calls: Enlistment to Embarkation’ puts Folkestone’s role in wartime Britain into context, with photographs capturing the plight of tens of thousands of Belgian Refugees who fled Nazi Germany, before being welcomed into the homes of Folkestone’s locals.
Janice Murray Director General of the National Army Museum told The Folkestone Status that she was persuaded to exhibit three years ago after a meeting with Folkestone and Hythe’s MP, Damian Collins, and colleagues from Step Short and FTC.
“When I saw what you had and found out about the story of how Folkestone had been the launch point for five million troops across the sea, when I saw the books where they had signed their names including Arthur Conan Doyle who signed his signature. When I saw the plans for the very interesting Arch, I thought yes, actually this is a really really interesting place to come and very very important place to come to mark the launch of the outbreak of the war in 2014.”
There was also another important factor that has enabled the museum to exhibit away from their base in Chelsea, London. Janice said: “The National Army Museum itself is closing for two years between 2014 and 2016 for our own redevelopment and we were looking to partner with organisations around the country so that we could bring our exhibitions to places while we were closed.”
We asked Damian Collins MP, how much of a bonus it was for the town. “This is a great exhibition for Folkestone. “It tells an important national story about the role Folkestone played in the war and also a little bit about the impact that had on local people to. I think we can be very proud of the role Folkestone played in the First World War.”
The town’s involvement cannot be underestimated and the start of the commemorations with this exhibition may go some way to showing locals and visitors alike What Folkestone’s role was: “The scale of what Folkestone did, the fact that well over Ten million movements of military personnel through the town during the war, more than any other port in the UK, the fact that people from all over the world came to be in Folkestone during the First World War as well, I think this was a story that was little known and this year we have a chance to tell that story again” said the MP.
In partnership with charity Step Short and Folkestone Town Council, the exhibition marks the town’s selection as an official centre of commemoration for the Great War.
The highlight of the exhibition for me is the posters used to recruit soldiers, which appear more like invitations to a private gentleman’s club rather than a recruitment drive for soldiers. Janice agrees: “I think it gives an impression of the light heartedness in some quarters at the outbreak of World War One because people really didn’t think it would still be going on 4 years later.
'Your Country Calls: Enlistment to Embarkation' is exhibiting at the Town Hall, Guildhall Street untill May 2015. The Town Hall is open to the public Monday to Friday, 9am - 4pm.