Kent

'Unique' WW1 ledger from Folkestone published online

  • 31 January 2014
  • From the section Kent
Signatures on the cafe's guest book
David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill are among the 42,000 people who signed the cafe's guest book

Relatives of more than 40,000 people who passed through Folkestone on their way to war in France between 1915 and 1919 can now search for their names.

Eight visitors books were kept at the Harbour Canteen and signed by some of the soldiers, nurses and others who passed through.

The pages have all been scanned and the details transcribed by volunteers.

The 42,000 names in the books include Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George and Arthur Conan Doyle.

The pages were scanned by Kent County Council, who made them available to the charity Step Short on the condition that the public could have free access.

Step Short was set up to educate children in Folkestone about the role of the town in World War One.

'Unique record'

Folkestone Harbour cafe was used by soldiers about to make the crossing to, and those coming from, Boulogne.

The route was the main passage used by soldiers returning home on leave or returning to the fronts.

Free tea, cakes and buns were provided to those passing through and the station was staffed by volunteers including two sisters, Florence and Margaret Jeffrey, who started the guest books.

Harbour Canteen with guest book on the table
The Harbour Canteen was staffed by volunteers and the guest book was on a table beneath the flags
The Harbour Canteen in 2014
The Harbour Canteen was on the platform of Folkestone Harbour station

A team of volunteers from Short Step spent an estimated 10,000 hours cataloguing the entries from the eight visitor books.

The first name was entered on 9 June 1915 and the last on 29 October 1919.

Volunteers had more than 3,000 pages of names, ranks and other details to transcribe.

Mark Simmons, from Step Short, describes it as "a unique record".

OBEs

As one of the volunteers on the project he said it took several months, working several hours each day on his commute to London, to transcribe one book.

"The privates' names were easier to read as they would write their names, whereas the officers would tend to use signatures rather than print their names."

He said millions of soldiers would have passed through the town on their way to and from war.

"The books hold the names of a very small proportion of those soldiers," Mr Simmons explained.

The Jeffrey sisters were both later awarded OBEs for their work in the Harbour Canteen.

Access to the images online is free, and members of Step Short will be able to use the database to search for names. Membership costs £10.

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