This year has seen the passing of a Remembrance Sunday unlike any other since the Second World War. The COVID lockdown restrictions meant that none of the usual civic services took place but that couldn’t stop people from paying their respects to those who have sacrificed their lives in the defence of our country. The government guidance allowed for small, simple and socially distanced commemorative events, but they were not allowed to be advertised. In Folkestone, the Vice Chair of Step Short, Councillor Ann Berry, organised a ceremony at the Step Short First World War Centenary Arch on The Leas, to mark both Remembrance Sunday, and the transfer of the ownership of the arch to Folkestone and Hythe District Council. I was pleased to attend both as Member of Parliament for the town, and the Chairman of the Step Short charity. As part of this service, David Monk, the Leader of the District Council, was also in attendance to receive a presentation of the ceremonial spade used by Lord Boyce, the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, to dig the first square of earth to be removed for the construction of the Arch in August 2013.
This ceremony concluded with prayers for the war dead, just before 11am. However, it was great to see so many residents who had come out to be near to the Arch and the Folkestone War Memorial at the top of the Road of Remembrance, in order to observe the national two minutes silence. People maintained social distancing and had decided to attend not in the expectation of there being a civic service, but just to pay their own respects.
This year the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has added two other Folkestone memorials to the National Heritage List. These are the Machine Gun Corps First World War memorial, and the memorial to the 284 crew members of the German vessel SMS Grosser Kurfürst, who died when it sank following an accident in the English Channel near Folkestone in 1878. Both of these are located in the Cheriton Road cemetery, and I’m pleased that their importance to our heritage has been recognised.
This week in the House of Commons, in questions to Home Office ministers, I raised again the importance of finding a solution to the problem of migrants crossing the Channel from France in small vessels. The numbers of people doing this has increased throughout the year, leading to tragic loss of life, growing concern for residents on the Kent coast and all for the profit of people trafficking gangs. Ministers continue to reassure us that they are working with the French authorities to stop crossings before the vessels have left the shore. However, we need to deter people from attempting this dangerous crossing or else there will be more fatal accidents. The best way to do this would be to demonstrate that vessels not stopped on the coast, will be returned to France if found at sea.