DOVER KENT ARCHIVES

Page Updated:- Sunday, 07 March, 2021.

Published 8 November 2001

 

LES Harris, a Normandy veteran, still has the bravery medal his father received from the Railway for his part in securing a dangerous mine that threatened to devastate the harbour soon after the Second World War began.

Floating in the entrance it could have exploded the minute a heavy sea caused one of its projecting 'horns' to strike a solid object - like a ship.

The mine incident, recalled in Memories recently by Miss Eileen Martin, of Folkestone, was in 1940 just before Les joined the Navy.

Miss Martin, who is 84, couldn't recall the names of the men who lassoed the mine, and secured it safely for bomb disposal men to deal with later.

Les Harris, 80, of Shorncliffe Road, recalls the occasion vividly because he had had 'words' with his father, William 'Nimble' Harris, about it. Shortly before, he told me, soon after he was 17, he had asked his father to help him get a job on the boats operating out of the harbour, where his father worked for 39 years.

His father wasn't keen on the idea because, in wartime, he said, it would be too dangerous!

Then came the mine incident, and Les told his father: "You have a wife and five children, and yet you went and did that," to which his father had replied "Well, someone had to do it!"

Early in the Second World War Les became one of the work force that dug tank traps around the town to deter invaders, put up poles in fields across the district to prevent gliders or other enemy aircraft landing, worked briefly on an airfield at Peterborough, and then drove a tractor at an ironstone mine.

Then, wishing to go to sea, he had to persuade
the Ministry of Labour to allow him to leave the "reserved occupation" work he was doing, in order to volunteer for the Royal Navy.

He wanted to follow his father's example in the First World War. Fortunately his employer agreed to release him and he joined up for the duration of the war. Meanwhile the family had been evacuated to Wellingborough.

On leaving school Les served an apprenticeship in printing with a Folkestone firm producing a magazine size free newspaper in the town with a weekly print run of around 12,000. Called "Day by Day."

After the war Day by Day was revived as a paid-for newspaper, becoming the Herald's popular midweek paper the Folkestone & Hythe Gazette. Sadly, this later became a free newspaper again.

On leaving the Navy after the war Les worked for the Herald's parent firm of F.J. Parsons Ltd, at Lewes and Hastings briefly before moving back to Folkestone to work for another printer for several years. Then a vacancy came along at the Herald printing works at The Bayle.
Manager’s post
Les worked in the printing department which produced a number of magazines and did other print jobs, and was machine room manager by the time his department closed and he was made redundant at 55.

He then worked as a caretaker, at Channel High and then St Mary's Primary School until retirement.

Brother John Harris, of Downs Road, Folkestone, also contacted me about the mine incident. He enclosed a 1940s copy of a press cutting from the Folkestone Herald which told of a series of mines washed up that week. One of them did explode on the beach, shattering bungalow windows and fore-
Mine threat
LOCAL newspapers in Folkestone go back to the Folkestone Chronicle, which started in 1855 and ran until 1886. Then there was the Folkestone Observer, 1861-92; Folkestone Express, 1868-1940; Folkestone News, 1877-90; and the Folkestone Herald from 1891 along with its former midweek paper, the Folkestone St Hythe Gazette, which ran for many years after the Second World War. The style and title changed to South Kent Gazette on October 6, 1976. It later became the People, the Citizen and then came under the umbrella of Adscene.
GRAPHIC artist and teacher Patricia Wren, of Glebe Studio, Lydd, has lent me several early aerial photographs of Folkestone, of which this is one, and several other local photographs. The picture above dates back over 60 years and depicts Folkestone in its heyday as a coastal resort, with its popular Victoria Pier, which featured a great variety of attractions, particularly in the fine pavilion, and shows both cliff lifts in active use.
ing open the doors of the nearby lighthouse.

John, who was 13 at the time his seaman father earned a bravery award, said the cargo boat referred to by Miss Martin had been lying by the South Quay when the mine was noticed inside the East Head.

"They secured the mine between the "Hawk" jetty and a large buoy. I saw it after it had been made secure.

"After Dunkirk the harbour was shut down and the workers transferred to other parts of the Southern Railway. But, some time in October or November the men concerned had to report to Waterloo Station where, in father's words 'a large banquet was laid on. However, before they could
sit down the air raid sirens went off!

"Jerry was daylight bombing London at that time." And, he said, "as they all rushed for the shelter an official of the railway thrust the medal and a 5 note in my father's hand!"

John says his mother used to have a clipping from the paper naming all the men involved in securing the mine, including four volunteers, but he didn't know what had happened to it.

The cutting he sent told how the fishmarket area was evacuated and nearby roads closed while a naval mine party attempted to deal with the mine.

But a heavy sea hampered their efforts and the heavy mine broke free and came to rest on the mud. Eventually, however it was made safe.
 

‘Appalling' court facilities slammed by a top lawyer

m Qri'f FOLKESTONE'S top loyal man, the Recorder, slammed the appallingly inadequate courtrooms of the town. For one case alone, ;in appeal. then: were 50 to 60 witnesses, "and yet the court boosted neither wailing rooms nor lavatories," he commented, saying this could not be tolerated any longer, il was a damning indictment for a resort building up ils tourism trade. The criti cism came on the eve of Boer War hero Lord Roberts' visit. The Herald editor warned that if nothing was done it could load to a loss ot grants for running the police. The Folkestone Herald was calling for the Monday of Lord Robert's visit 10 be made a public holiday. Sgt Croucher reporting to the paper on the local Volunleers' experiences while fighting in the Boor War, in South Africa, told of the manner in which the Boers, experienced guerrilla fighteis. walked rings round inexperienced volunteers sent out from England, hoodwink-ing unsuspecting 'greenhorns' on night patrols by mimicking Cockney accents and lulling them into a false sense of security.

 
Smart work by skipper frees steamer aground with VIPs

f QOC SHIPPING of all kinds was subjected to JL7&0 a terrific battering in a severe south westerly gale coming at the worst time, on a high tide. Great seas constantly broke over the Harbour pier, but ferries managed to maintain services, although both the Engadine, bound for Boulogne and the steamer Mecidenherg, for Flushing, were swept from stem to stern, and some 30 passen gers put off their crossings to France hec.iusc of the conditions Not so fortunate, tiowever, was the ss Biariitz with distinguished passengers including Prince Arthur, of Connaught. Earl Haig and President Hertzog and other members of a South African party off to France for a memorial unveiling service. As she entered the fairway at Boulogne she went aground owing to the strong currents at low tide caused by the gale. Smart work by Capt Harrison, however, using a hawser from a capstan on the breakwater, got the vessel refloated within 20 minutes. Back on the Sunday in Folkestone she put into the inner harbour where an inspection revealed slight damage to her fore rudder, which was bent, requiring a trip to Southampton to put it right.
 
Last ditch appeal to stop St Michael’s demolition

A qfj A LAST, desperate appeal was be J. ing made by a Herald reader, Mrs M Hambrook, to save St Michael's and All Angels' Church, which was threatened with demolition. She said it should be possible to save it, with prayer arid donations great arid small. She recalled that in her parents' day it was called simply the Red Bain and wrote of memorable events such as organ recitals given by the Vicar. Patients in the surgical ward at Shorncliffe Military Hospital had to be moved to safety when a 300ft long wing of the building caught file and half was destroyed, including the operating theatre and x-ray department. A gale and low water pressure hampered fire fighting at first. No one was hurt. The paper featured a photograph of nine members of the Gatehouse family, of Wood Avenue, Folkestone on their annual 'holiday' hopping trip to the 43 acre hop gardens at Swarling Manor, Petham, near Canterbury which used to employ 600 pickers. Other local families were also featured in a long article Shcpway was asked to com pete in a big dance contest at The Hague in January with France. Denmaik and Holland.
 
Falling nirtn rate is senous threat to number of schools

■ Q7CA FALLING birthrate in the country as a JL57/0 whole; was proving a threat to local schools, as primary school numbers dropped 150 in a year and were expected to decline fuither, leading to fears that some schools would close altogether. Plans for a new middle school at Sellindge were expected to be scrapped. It had been intended that it should serve 9 13 year olds from the outlying rural areas of Shepway and Ashford education divisions. Cost of school trails port hi Shepway was expected to rocket again in the coming year, with the estimate for 1977-78 put at 225,000. When George Drew retired after 50 years in the bus service industry he recalled that when he started driving buses in the late 1920s for the old London and South Coast Motor Services, based locally, ho was simply told to get in a drive. His only previous experience was in driving a car. The first vehicle was a Dennis single decker with solid tyres! But for some 20 years George, of Cheriton. was involved in training dri vers - 500 of them lie estimated! And all except four passed the stringent psv test at the first attempt. He was in good company with his father-: in law driver 'Sonny' Champion who completed 40 years with the East Kent bus company.

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