‘The great Folkestone air raid’ or ‘Gotha bombing”

25th May 1917 was a Friday. It had been a warm and sunny late Spring day, and the shops in Tontine Street were still doing a brisk trade, although it was nearly six o clock.

It was Whitsun Bank Holiday on Monday and many wives were purchasing extra provisions for the long week end. Mothers chatted as they queued for the green grocer or fruiterer, while their children played in the sunshine. An aeroplane circled overhead but few were alarmed, as most thought it was ‘one of ours’ from Dover.

There were a series of crashes in the distance but again it was thought to be gun practice from one of the army camps in the vicinity. So the people of Folkestone were taken completely by surprise when the Gotha ‘planes swooped down on the town, dropping their loads of high explosive bombs.

The aeroplanes approached the town from the west at about 14,000 feet. Some attacked Hythe and Shorncliffe Camp, others the west end of Folkestone itself, around Central Station and Bouverie Road East. They then made their way to the town centre and here the majority of the fatalities occurred when one of the bombs made a direct hit outside STOKES’ Brothers greengrocers in Tontine Street.

The greatest number of killed and injured was caused by the bomb which fell on Tontine Street. Nearly 60 were killed instantly, many others died later from their injuries and over 100 suffered wounds. For those who witnessed it, the carnage was so appalling it could never be forgotten.

The Fire Brigade, Red Cross, Ambulance Corps, and Police were soon swamped by calls for help, and the Canadian Army Medical Corps and the Special Police were brought in to help with the removal of the dead and to rescue the injured.

The cemetery and Royal Victoria Hospital mortuaries were soon filled, and the military hospitals at West Cliffe and Shorncliffe were also used for the injured.

The total number killed was 71: 16 men, 28 women and 27 children The total number injured was 96, but certainly this is a minimum number as there were many with minor injuries who did not attend hospital and were therefore not counted.

Source: viewed 25/11/2015


The graves, many still unmarked, of many of the children killed in the Tontine Street bombing are in the old Folkestone cemetery.

Author: Peter Anderson (WW1 Blog