Thursday was the one hundredth anniversary of the 25th May 1917 Folkestone Air Raid.
Here are some pictures of part of the commemorative event which included an exhibition in The Folkestone Methodist Church in Sandgate Road, a memorial service, an unveiling of a plaque and a walking tour.
It was organised by Margaret Care (a descendant of William Stokes – one of the air raid’s victims) and local historian Martin Easdown (Martin has researched and written two books about the air raid). They originally expected about 40 people to attend. As it turned out, there were a lot more than that and there weren’t enough seats for everyone at the church service.
I displayed my silverpoint drawing “They looked like silver birds. The sun was shining on them…” . This work is about the people killed by the bomb in Tontine Street.
I’m glad I was there – a mixture of being drawn close to a horrible event of a hundred years ago and of connecting a moment in the past with the present moment and of one hundred year old threads of memories being drawn together in a room on a hot sunny day in Folkestone. I had fascinating conversations with relatives of people who were there a hundred years ago and I am sure that I must have missed out on many other conversions. At times I had the strange experience of seeing, or imagining I was seeing, family-resemblances in people that I had made drawings of.
I’m still processing what I experienced on Thursday but here’s one little detail from the event: Annie Beer was killed in Tontine Street along with her daughter and nephews. Her husband eventually remarried in the 1930s but he didn’t speak much about his first wife and family and so when he died, so the story goes, friends were surprised to find that he had a picture of his first wife within a locket (on the inside of a pocket watch in fact) which he had with him at the time of death. I already knew this story and I had included it in my drawing. However, I had no idea this object still existed anywhere in the world. And yet, there, on one of the display tables, was the actual pocket watch and that photograph of Annie Beer. Later in the afternoon I found myself speaking to a woman who was the granddaughter from that second marriage.
I’m glad I made my artwork about those people. I hope it’s a good work of art. First and foremost it is a work of art and not an illustration of historical details. I hope it’s a true and respectful work of art.
Some of the relatives of people in my drawing had seen the work in The Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibitions or via the internet. Even before yesterday, people had contacted me and shared family memories which I hope I can place in future work. Ideally I would like to make a new body of work about this. Time will tell.
This memorial event coincided with an excellent Radio Four Afternoon Play, ‘A Lightening’ by Sarah Daniels – I recommend you have a listen to it on BBC Radio4 iPlayer.
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