The Last Step at Folkestone – The Slope

I arrived in Folkestone at about the same time that William would have done. The harbour has been redeveloped over the years, but the main buildings are still in the same place. Soldiers marched along The Leas, which is to this day the promenade on top of the cliffs overlooking a sandy beach, which was out of bounds to soldiers.

At the roundabout in the photograph, the promenade gives way to a steep slope down to the harbour wall. This is The Slope, which is now the Road of Remembrance. Every soldier, private to general, would have marched down this slope to the waiting troop ships. Almost 10 million soldiers, nurses, medics, airmen and an occasional spy, would have heard the command “Step Short” at the top of the slope to allow the keeping of time marching down the steep incline. The sea on the right still offers an eerie view out towards France and the journey to come, usually to Boulogne. I can imagine marching down this slope, full of uncertainty, perhaps taking up the offer of a last cup of tea in the Harbour, offered with cakes and biscuits as a last gift of home to the departing troops. This was their last step on home soil or English soil, for there were over twenty-five nations departing from Folkestone.

Incoming ships brought the wounded and prisoners. In 1914, German, Austrian and Hungarian Magyars were paraded in Folkestone to intrigued locals. There was little animosity or jeering towards these unarmed soldiers because the public in general would have expected these soldiers to have suffered badly at the hands of the British Expeditionary Force.

The wounded coming up the slope would have offered the soldiers marching down, often singing and usually full of zeal and patriotism, a sobering sight. William witnessed this.

I can only imagine the awful few minutes marching down seeing limping, broken and damaged bodies returning up the slope having most likely “gone over the top”.

Riding up and down the slope today was quite an emotional event in the day. Imagining 10 million going to war, dutifully and without hesitation, all passing through this place, was quite humbling.

I am following William’s journey in the morning, but taking a ferry to Calais at the same time that he sailed. He would have arrived at Boulogne, perhaps bewildered, perhaps afraid, but very much excited by the prospect of fighting the enemy and righting the wrongs inflicted on the returning wounded on the slope.

See you tomorrow.

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