While I was in the UK earlier this year, I visited Folkestone and learned about the 50,000 Canadians who came there to join the forces. Here are a few excerpts I found about their story from Michael George…
(I took this picture as it was the first time I discovered the Canadian story. I also took the picture above of the poppy flowers (many were knitted) on the fence from the same point overlooking the sea.)
August 1914 the Army (British Expeditionary Force) had been shattered; its place over the next five years would be taken by a generation of young men from all walks of life, and from all corners of the world, who answered the call to arms.
Forty thousand Canadians came to the area in 1915 and, in the towns of Folkestone and Hythe many local people even started to talk like Canadians, saying ‘sure’ instead of ‘yes’. The local people welcomed and liked the Canadians. The Maple Leaf Club was started by a small group of English women to provide home comforts, such as a bed, bath and a meal at reasonable rates.
The Canadian soldiers did lots of things which helped to make them popular with the people of Folkestone. Their bands played music in the bandstands on the Leas and at local churches, and they also marched through the town. They arranged sports days at Radnor Park and showed how good they were at horse riding.
As so many of the Canadians were buried so far from their homes and families, the people of Folkestone and Hythe decided to help remember them and this led to the idea for Canadian Flower Day. Children from local schools would go to Shorncliffe Cemetery each year to say payers and place flowers on the grave of a Canadian soldier. The first time this happened was in 1917 and, apart from a short break during the Second World War (when local school children had been evacuated to safer parts of the country) the ceremony has happened every single year since. Some of the children who, today, attend the ceremony have parents or grandparents who did the same when they were children.