The Grosser Kurfurst and the Folkestone Air Raid. 25th May 1917

On the 31st May 1878 people gathered on the Leas to watch three German warships exercising in the English Channel. The Preussen, Koenig Wilhelm and the Grosser Kurfurst.

The people on the Leas were enjoying seeing the manoeuvres of the ships. Suddenly their joy turned to disbelief, shock, and horror as the assembled crowd noticed that the Koenig Wilhelm was now on a collision course with the Grosser Kurfurst.

A small Norwegian vessel had arrived in the area and the two German warships had turn to avoid hitting the Norwegian ship. The Koenig Wilhelm hit the Grosser Kurfurst tearing a hole below the waterline.

Within minutes the Grosser Kurfurst had disappeared beneath the waves. As fast as they could local boats were at the scene trying to rescue the survivors. The boats, mainly fishing boats, rescued over 70 and the two remaining German warships between them over 200. Life boats from the area also arrived but by then nearly 300 sailors had lost their lives.

Bodies started to be washed ashore. Over a hundred of these sailors are buried in a mass grave where the monument to the Grosser Kurfurst now stands. As a mark of respect local businesses closed while the funerals were taking place.

The Germans started their attacks on British towns in the Great War towards the end of 1914, Scarborough from the sea, and Dover from the air in December 1914 being the first two. The people in Folkestone thought it could never happen to them. They, after all, had helped rescue sailors from the Grosser Kurfurst, and buried large numbers of the deceased in the cemetery here. The Kaiser and the Germans liked Folkestone.

Sure enough the town seemed immune from the increasing number and scale of attacks on British towns and cities. That is until the 25th May 1917. The German Gotha bombers approached the town not from the sea but from the west and few people paid much attention.

The sounds of explosions at Shorncliffe did not turn heads. To this day gunfire can be heard from the ranges at Lydd in 1917 it was part of everyday life, why should anyone have paid much attention?Already soldiers had been killed at Shorncliffe, there had been fatalities in Folkestone.

Then a single bomb landed in Tontine Street. One bomb outside a shop. Just one bomb in a busy little street amongst ordinary people like you and I.

Over sixty people died then, or in the 24 hours following the raid and around a hundred wounded. One of whom, Mrs Lily Bowbrick died in 1925. The youngest victim was Walter George Moss 3 months old. (Buried in St Martins Graveyard Cheriton). The youngest buried in the Old Cemetery is William Alfred Norris 10 months old