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Anniversary of the day thousands of Belgian refugees fleeing invasion from Germany Army landed in Folkestone on August 20, 1914 during First World War

By Matt Leclere

It didn’t take long for Folkestone to be thrust into the throes of the First World War.

Exactly 100 years ago, thousands of Belgian civilians were forced to flee their homes from the marauding German Army.

When German soldiers marched into neutral Belgium in early August 1914, thousands of innocent men, women and children were forced to leave their homeland for strange shores.

Belgian families huddled together on their way across the Channel. Picture courtesy of Alan Taylor

They landed in Folkestone “like dumb-driven cattle” - as the Rev John Carlile described in his book ‘Folkestone During the War’ published in Folkestone in 1919 - exactly a century ago this week with an estimated 20,000 arriving in a flotilla of fishing boats and coal ships on August 20, 1914 - 100 years to the day today.

Weary and terrified from the attacking Germans, refugees from “gallant little Belgium” arriving in their droves at the harbour were welcomed into the town with open arms.

To mark the centenary Shepway Heart Forum, which is working with Folkestone Town Council, schools, churches, the community and the Belgian tourist board, is hosting a commemoration event to mark the anniversary at 7pm tonight.

It will take place on The Stade beside Folkestone Harbour followed by a fish supper at the Smokehouse.

Joined by the Belgian tourist board and descendants of refugees the event will carry out a short ceremony and balloon release representing how Belgians became scattered throughout the country.

The Belgian families families seen here are on the wooden jetty at the side of the railway branch line to the harbour. Picture courtesy of Alan Taylor

It was the first involvement the town had in the war which was supposed to end all wars.

It would later become one of the main embarkation ports for British and soldiers from around her empire and at the centre of the country’s spy network which set up vital links to the nation Folkestone had shown so much compassion to at the start of the gruelling four year conflict.

Heartrending stories are told in Carlile’s book of how each strand of the town helped from schools to the Royal Victoria Hospital.

See next week's Folkestone & Hythe Express for the full story of how Folkestone welcomed the Belgians.

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